My previous interviews with The Winfields, Eunice Hall and Neil Dean led me to enquire whether there was anyone who could remember even further back, providing insights into what Long Marston was like before the second world war.
Everyone was of the same view, that there was only one person who could go back that far and that was Don Winfield. So after a quick phone call, I went to his house on Bromley, uncertain what to expect.
The hour I spent with Don exceeded my expectations to the extent that I do not want to dilute his reminisces by summarising them. It’s better to just report what he said in response to my questions. Here we go:
Can you tell me something about life in Long Marston in the 1930s when you were at school?
Marvellous it was. I really enjoyed it. I was born in 1930. As children we never worried about anything. All the kids got on and played together in the village. You don’t see that so much these days. And everybody knew everybody
What about the school and the headmaster Mister Savage?
School was good except that I didn’t get on with Mister Savage. He used to hit me on the wrist with his cane and there was a big weal all the way round, didn’t half hurt. My Dad went mad and told Savage that he shouldn’t be using his cane on children. Savage by name, Savage by nature. (interesting that Don still found it difficult to call him Savage without the ‘Mister’).
Do you remember the first Village Show in 1936?
It was a real event for the village, bringing people from Tring and Aylesbury and all around. It brought us all together, put Long Marston on the map.
Presumably then there were very few cars in the village?
It was lovely then, just with the old horse and cart. I remember one Christmas, Percy Mead bought an old trap and had a black horse which he drove fast right through the village to Wingrave and back again with snow on the ground. It was absolutely fantastic. I can see it now, you don’t forget those things do you?
How did things change when war broke out?
It changed dramatically. Life before the war had lots going on. Gymkhanas in the field by the recreation ground and we had one of the big military bands who were marvellous, they marched from Gubblecote right through the village. And the Dagenham Girl Pipers came one year. And we had our own brass band who used to go all around Tring and other villages to play.
Tell me more about the changes when war broke out.
You couldn’t do this or that. You couldn’t go out and it was dark all the time. You couldn’t even carry a torch in case a plane was passing. They reckon that’s why the bombing happened, because there was a light on in the school.
So what do you remember of evacuees in Long Marston?
We had lots of children here from London, we had Ronnie at our place, my Auntie who lived on Cheddington Lane had two, they mainly came from Bethnal Green, from one little area.
Where were you when the bomb fell?
I was at playing in the road by the Parish Hall, half past five on a Thursday night it was (Note Eunice Hall and Neil Dean said 4pm but Don was certain it was 5.30). My sister who always looked after us since I was five when we had lost mother was out at the time. She used to go to Tring on her bicycle every Thursday to see Dad’s father who lived there.
So all the children were out of school then?
Yes, but if it had been the night before, we would have been there rehearsing for a school concert and there wouldn’t have been one of us left cause it was a direct hit.
But a teacher was killed?
Yes, because she lived in a little flat at the back. Miss Whelan, infant teacher, good teacher she was.
OK, so you were playing in the road when the bomb fell, what then?
Yes, in the road, that’s where we used to play football or whatever, there were very few cars then, maybe look out for the odd horse and cart. I wondered what on earth it was at first, you see everything going up in the air and you wonder what it is. I was thinking about my sister getting home from Tring cause all the roads were filled with clay and stuff and water from the brook overflowing all over the place. They had to go and block it at Gubblecote the next day and it was only a temporary job. I’ve always wondered if there’s something in there that’s stopped the water getting through.
What did you do after the bomb fell?
Well I went indoors a bit quick, our home was second house from the church, the only one I lived in with Dad, until I came here (Bromley)
Did you hear the other two bombs that fell soon after?
No, I didn’t hear those. The only other bomb I heard was one morning at 6 o’clock, back behind our house and the church, they dropped land mines because I think they were after the bomb dumps on Cheddington Lane on the left hand side quite near what is now the cricket club. I think they used to drop what they had left as they went home, we were near the airfield you see.
And do you remember the Doodlebug being dropped?
Oh yes, there were several of those, in the back fields.
So what happened to your schooling after the bombing?
First the bigger boys like me had to go back to the wreckage to help find what books we could. After a week or two we were put in the old Parish Hall. Then later we were sent to Puttenham, we had to be there at 9 o’clock in the morning, come back to Long Marston for lunch, then finish at Puttenham at 4 o’clock. But we had some fun, we had a teacher from London who came and we didn’t half lead him a life.
Do you remember the plane crash, the US Air Force plane, in 1945?
I was working in the old packing station with Don Dean, my boss when I started working there at the age of fourteen after leaving school. There was this bang and I said to Don – that’s a plane crashed. We ran down Chapel Lane, across the brook and we were the first one there. We could still see the bodies of the pilots sitting there. It wasn’t very nice with bullets flying around.
Were you working at Deans all your career?
All my life until I was sixty five. It was a job, in those days they weren’t easy to find.
So you must have seen the organisation grow over that period?
Yes and it was Len Dean, Don’s brother who drove it forward, he came in later and he was the man. He lived in Aston Clinton and he had links in London. There was a man called Fred Salter who used to come down and takes loads of eggs to London. Len’s contacts were the start of it all.
What was your job there?
Anything. There were times of the year when the hens weren’t laying and Don decided to buy a field and have some cattle and I had to do the fencing. I had to turn my hand to anything. Then I started driving and that was that.
So your retired in the mid 1990s?
It was Good Friday and I said on the Thursday, that’s it, I’m not coming in tomorrow. Don asked why and I said it’s my 65th birthday and that’s it, I’m finished.
And you haven’t worked since?
No, except at the cricket club where I spent too much of my time looking after the ground. You know I was involved in the buying of the ground at Marlins. We used to play at the recreation ground which was horrible with concrete slabs for the wicket. The vicar Reverend Anthony owned the land which were allotments in those days. I heard that Marlins was up for sale so I told Len after one of our Monday night meetings. Len then asked Chris Procter, whose mother looked after the vicarage, if he could ask ‘his majesty’ (how they referred to the Reverend in those days) if this was true.
How did this go down in the village?
There was uproar because of the loss of the allotments. Len spoke to the next Monday night meeting and asked everyone to stand by him and Len. Because it was perfect place for a cricket ground, 6 acres, near square and completely flat, just perfect; and there was nowhere else suitable. Anyway the Reverend did come back to us and said that it was for sale for £400 and we bought it.
What was life like in Long Marston after the war?
It was marvellous. There was always something going on. Each Saturday night there was a dance, we were never stuck for something to do. It was a fantastic village to live in, everyone got on with everybody else.
But Wilstone didn’t seem to have the same sort of social activities?
That has been true until more recently. It now seems to have taken over from Long Marston which doesn’t have as many things going on as before, though there are things going on in the daytime, with the school being there.
Were you involved in the opening of Victory Hall in 1956?
I was, I was involved in everything, perhaps too much. Len used to say to people, oh ‘Don will do that’. The new hall was a big thing for the village. I was really surprised to hear that they are going to knock it down. I don’t think it will happen, not at the price they are talking about. I don’t think people really understand what went into that hall. We used to pay so much per brick to build it, if you knock a hole in that wall, you’d find a cavity with bricks with people’s names on. It’s too good a hall to knock down.
What was the impact of Long Marston having a few families who were driving things forward?
If you wanted anything done in Long Marston, you’d ask one of those families and it would be done. That’s what I call a village community but it doesn’t happen now. The people in those families got older and took back seats. And in those days most people used to work on nearby farms, potato picking and such, but now a lot of villagers work in London or wherever. So it’s not the same.
Listen to the interview
This dialogue speaks for itself so there is not much more to add. It confirms the picture revealed by previous interviews that before, during and soon after the war, Long Marston was a thriving social community despite the relatively poor economic situation and the deprivations of wartime. The key question is whether we, in a very different age and social context, have anything to learn from Don and those who lived in Long Marston during this period of history. Readers should draw their own conclusions.
by Alan Warner