Letter Writers Help To Put Record Straight (10 May 1974)
If there is one sure thing about writing a column of this kind, it is that you live and learn. And at time you live and unlearn too.
Right from my first article – now nearly 70 weeks ago – I have frequently mentioned that I have no first-hand knowledge of Bletchley prior to 1946, which was when I arrived here. It has been to a certain extent hazardous to write of previous events and circumstances and two or three times I know I have fallen into the trap of making wrong assumptions.
One, which is very interesting, is from Mrs. M. Green, who now lives in the Mansion Flats at Luton Hoo, but who as a child lived with her parents at the corner of Park Street and Queensway over a butcher’s shop belonging to her father’s uncle.
For Schools Read School
Referring to my article about Staple Hall Camp and about soldiers also being billeted in “the schools,” she kindly suggests I shall find that this applied only to the old High Street school.
She then adds the useful information that the first soldiers to arrive in the town during that war came only a few days after the outbreak and were the Royal Worcesters. They had been kept waiting in a train at Leighton Buzzard most of the afternoon. It was a very hot day and Sunday too. Then they were marched from Leighton to Bletchley, where they arrived in the evening.
Before they arrived an officer and a small number of NCOs went round the streets getting billets for them and chalking the proposed number of billetees on the gates.
“On our side gate they chalked two officers and so many horses. I suppose they thought that as there were outbuildings, there was accommodation for horses,” she writes.
‘Mown Down Like Corn’
“These soldiers were in Bletchley only about two days. They were not fully-trained and were sent from Bletchley to France where, it was reported, the poor fellows were mown down like corn.
“I well remember the Monday morning after they arrived. The bugle sounded at 6a.m.
“I jumped out of bed and watched them being issued with their rations. This took place on the opposite side of the road.”
Mrs. Green goes on to refer to the Royal Engineers’ arrival at Staple Hall and also to describe the Bletchley Road (Queensway) of the time.
She also writes of the night she saw a zeppelin flying over Bletchley – “but I don’t think any bombs were dropped.”
This could have been the same incident as that referred to by Mr Joe Fennell in his memories of Bletchley published by the Gazette in 1949. Writing of his service as a special constable during that war he says:
The Unseen Zeppelin
“One cold night when I was on duty with Tom Coffee, of the Grange Lodge, a zeppelin was brought down over Bannet. All the others saw it except we two.
“Our lieutenant, Mr Hedley Clarke, said he could not understand why we had not seen it. He thought we must have been in the Park Hotel.
“We truthfully denied this. For the truth was that when we were in Bletchley Road Mr. Edwards, the butcher, came to his door and said: ‘You’ve got a cold job – would you like a drop of Scotch? Come in.’
“Did we say no? Who would on a cold and frosty night?”
My second correspondent, who does not sign his or her letter, suggests I was mistaken in saying that the Mr. J. Garner, who was a founder-member of the Working Men’s Club was the same Mr. J. Garner, who was one of the original district councillors.
My correspondent think the club’s Mr. J. Garner lived in Brooklands Road and worked on the railway, whereas the council’s Mr. J. Garner was Mr James Garner, who was a blacksmith and lived in the High Street between the church and the Bull Hotel.
I have no doubt my correspondent is right about this. I cannot add any more about the club’s Mr. Garner. I can, however, add considerably to the information about the council’s Mr. Garner, for at one time he was a prominent figure in the town and lived until 1956 when he was aged 93.
He came to Fenny from Cranfield and took over a forge formerly kept by Mr. G. Sear, moving later to Stuart’s old foundry in Denmark Street. In 1919 he and his son, Mr. Joe Garner, started the well-known building firm of Garner and Son, one of whose developments was the Staple Hall estate.
Methodist and Teetotaller
He was a stauch(sic) Methodist and teetotaller and had helped to build the Queensway Methodist Church.
He served 12 years on the council.
In his later years he lived at The Chestnuts in Denbigh Road and had been retired for 25 years when he slipped from a chair, broke a tigh (sic) and died from the complications that set in.
It is interesting that in 1908 there were three James Garners living in the urban district. One in Western Road, one in Duncombe Street, and one in the Bletchley parish.
I am much obliged to these correspondents for helping me to keep the record straight.