This article follows a previous interview with Eunice Hall, one of the few Long Marston residents to be alive when, in 1941, a bomb was dropped on Long Marston School. Eunice’s very personal account caused us to want to know more and this led to another interview, this time with our near neighbour of many years, Neil Dean.
We were of course surprised to think that someone so young and sprightly as Neil (!!) could possibly be old enough to remember 1941 but he soon assured us that he was in fact slightly older than Eunice at the time, an even more sprightly six year old.
Personal Memory of January 13 1941
Neil’s memories of that fateful moment are as clear as if it was yesterday. Though he can remember nothing about the school day before the bomb fell at 4pm, he remembers exactly where he was when the explosion happened. He was round at Redmays where his Uncle Bert lived, having tea. This consisted of an apple sandwich which was typical wartime fare, using apples from Uncle Bert’s orchard. He remembers rushing back to his parents’ shop, running through layers of clay on the garden path, through the back door which was largely intact. He went through to the shop where the floor was covered with sweets and broken glass from the jars that the sweets were displayed in. He couldn’t understand what had happened.
For Neil and his parents – Di and Don – the shop was also their home and the damage was so serious that Neil had to be sent to Shropshire as an evacuee. This was an ironical development after so many evacuees came to Long Marston to escape from bombing danger. But he returned before too long after Eunice Hall’s father – Cyril Chandler – had rebuilt the family’s home and shop. Neil confirmed that he heard the unlikely rumour at the time – that British planes had dropped the bomb – but did not believe it was taken seriously.
On return, he took his place at the now widely dispersed school, initially at the Baptist Chapel. Like Eunice, he remembers an atmosphere of strict discipline with the cane being used for those who misbehaved, administered on the hand rather than the backside. But Neil did not suffer such punishment himself, being ‘a goody two-shoes’ in those days. It now seems strange that such punishments were the norm in those days and for some time after the war (based on my own painful memories!).
More Wartime Danger
Another wartime memory described by Neil was the crash of the US airplane in 1945. He recalls rushing, through very thick mist, towards the sound of the explosion and seeing the crashed plane in the middle of a field, with bullets flying all over the place, fired by the heat. Thankfully the emergency services were there quickly enough to stop Neil and his friend getting too close to the wreckage. One other memory, which our research had not previously unearthed but was probably in 1944, was the dropping of one of the infamous doodlebugs – effectively bombs with wings – into a nearby field, leaving an enormous crater where it fell. One wonders what it was that the Germans had against our little village!
Families and Businesses
Our conversation then moved on to the post war period and the way in which Long Marston quickly developed into a lively social and business environment. This was mainly driven by a few families who were committed to getting things done . In addition to those who have been mentioned in previous articles, Neil also recalled the Bignalls – who provided six of the cricket team eleven – as well as the Greens, Evans and Stevens.
At this point Neil’s wife Joan joined us and our conversation moved on to the role of the Dean family in the development of the village and the Deans Eggs business in particular. The Dean family not only started the largest local business but was also totally committed to the village, one of the driving forces behind many aspects of life in the community.
Development of the Deans Eggs business
Neil’s and Joan’s grandfather William Dean founded the business, starting with a pony and cart, collecting eggs in baskets from nearby farms and distributing these to local customers. Neil’s Dad – Don Dean – then joined his father and they operated a packing station from the shed next to Cymric House which has recently been cleverly turned into a house called The Packing Station! They were then joined by Don’s brother Len and the business expanded rapidly, with the building of the packing station at Gubblecote and its gradual expansion to become the main local employer. Neil’s entire career – apart from two years of National Service in the army – was spent in the family business, until his retirement 24 years ago.
Dean Bros, as the business was called in those days, had its roots firmly entrenched in village life, going on to employ over 100 people in the community. The little Deans van used to go round the villages picking up staff in the morning and returning them in the evening. Having transport was a big plus in the village and Neil remembers, in the 1950s, going round in that same van, with Len’s son John driving, distributing school dinners to other local villages. These had been cooked in the canteen of Long Marston’s newly built school.
Lessons from the past
So, apart from the fascinating personal story of the bombing, what else did we learn from this latest interview about life in Long Marston pre and post war? Firstly, that life was so very different in those early days. For instance Neil remembers there being only three cars in the village around the time of the outbreak of war. Secondly that Long Marston was extraordinarily unlucky to be hit by bombs and a doodlebug in such a remote part of the country. And thirdly, the development of the village from those early days was driven by the energy and commitment of a few families who worked together to improve the lives of those who lived there.
By Jenny Warner