Childhood recollections from Swavesey 1914 - 1918

By F.C.Wood B.A. Cantab

Part 1 - Refugees and Prisoners


The War made little impact on us as children as it was part of our everyday life and, so far as my generation knew, it had always been so. We occasionally heard grown-ups discussing things in the uninteresting way grown-ups did. Everyday after schools we saw a batch of German prisoners of war marching back past the school up High Street.Peter Ding the roadman walked behind them with a rifle carried most unprofessionally over his shoulder.It never occurred to us to enquire where they were billeted - they were just part of the everyday Swiavesey scene.1 can remember they wore grey uniforms. In later years 1 was told that they were employed to maintain the ditches and drainage channels. Peter Ding said they,were a docile lot, worked well, and were not particularly well supplied with rations. During their midday break they made a fire and brewed up soup from turnips and swedes, many old wurtzels, kohlrabi and rosehips that they scrounged. Had they decided to try and escape it would have been childs play as Peter Ding had never handled a rifle in his life and knew nothing whatsoever about it !

We did have other newcomers to the vintage - the Belgium refugees - the "Beljums". I recall two lots - there were probably more. Two children Henri and Marie de Stickeres from Bruges lived with Mr and Mrs Aldred, a father and mother and two children were housed in one of the semi- detached cottages on the Turn Bridge - the house next to the Bridge parapet itself. The two boys, whose names 1 forget, used to come to School House to play with me.

At School we learned suitable poems from a book issued to all Schools - "Poems for Young Patriots". On Empire Day, May 24, we all assembled if fine, in the Infants playground round the flagstaff where the Union Jack was flying, and sang the National Anthem. The flagpole was put up in 1909 (“ ...... it was resolved ...... that the Education Committee be asked to give a grant to provide a Flagstaff to be placed in the School Yard"). In 1916 we had a half holiday on Empire Day ("Mr Aldred proposed and Mr Key seconded that there be a half holiday on Empire Day").

One aspect of the War that was always being talked about was the German Spy and "Spy mania” was universal. It penetrated also to Our Childish minds and was more exciting than Buffalo Bill and Red Indians! So every stranger we saw in the village was, to us, a potential spy. We went round in groups and made ourselves damned nuisances to every commercial traveller, tramp, gypsy or visitor of any sort who came into the village.

One practical contribution to the war effort that we made in School was the providing of silk by breeding and maintaining silkworms. I don't know who supplied the caterpillars in the first place but we each had one which we fed on lettuce leaves (as a substitute for mulberry leaves) until it was fully grown when it was put in a paper cone and allowed to spin its yellow silk cocoon. The cones were then collected and sent off to a centre where the silk was spun off.

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