ROY FREDERICK GRANT 1927- 2010
Roy Grant spent his childhood and teenage years in Leigh and Charcott before emigrating to New Zealand. His family have sent some notes of his memories of his early years.
Roy was born in 1927 in Charcott next door to Mr Grayland’s bakery and opposite Mr Skinner, the blacksmith. His father, Fred, worked at various times for Mr Cardon who made chestnut paling fences and as a gardener at Hall Place. Roy initially went to the school at Chiddingstone Causeway and remembers walking to school in the winter along frozen ditches “which sometimes gave way, filling our gumboots”. “Country life was always by the seasons. Winter days spent pumping the bellows at the Forge for Mr Skinner’s roaring fire. He made horse shoes and repaired the ironwork on farm implements. He also made iron hoops which we ran behind for miles”. Winter also meant being allowed to skate on Hall Place lake which everyone loved. The boys would also help Fred Grant with “the game shooting pheasants for the gentry to whom we boys would be stops. Cold frosty mornings, keeping the birds in the woods until the beaters came and drove the birds into the open where the guns were waiting. A well-earned half a crown, a ham sandwich and a bottle of lemonade, all for the gentry’s fun.” Summer meant things like Scout Camp and at the end of summer there was fruit picking and hop picking. “With the autumn came chestnuts. We roasted the sweet chestnuts for fun – we called them ‘Spanish nuts’ and the horse chestnuts were for conker games and for selling to the farmers for pig feed”.
When Roy was about ten, his mother, Alice (nee Burr) died and so Roy, his older sister, Maisie, and his father, Fred, moved to the Green at Leigh, in half of what is now Old Wood Cottage to live with Roy’s grandmother. Initially Roy travelled back to Chiddingstone Causeway School but, when war broke out and only essential travel was allowed, he had to transfer to Leigh School under Mr Gibbon – leaving all his friends behind. “But I found some good new mates”. When war broke out in 1939, the Scouts were at their summer camp in Studland, Dorset. “We had to break camp and embark on a train back to Tonbridge. The journey ended up taking several days as troop movements to France had priority”. A year later the Scouts were again caught up in the War when trains carrying the Dunkirk soldiers passed through Leigh. “The Scouts handed out tea and buns to the Tommies and the Belgium and French troops who had survived. I never wanted to be a soldier after that”.
Continuing the memories of Roy Grant in Leigh and Charcott.
In 1940 there was the Battle of Britain “exciting to a thirteen year old. There were dog fights overhead and after school it was on your bike to any one of the crash sites – marked by a plume of smoke. We ended up with shoe-boxes of aircraft remnants – Hurricanes, Spitfires, Messerschmitts, Heinkels, Dorniers – we could identify them all. But we were severely told off when we brought home belts of live ammunition”.
“After the Battle of Britain, the night bombing commenced – daylight raids had proved too expensive for the Luftwaffe. Every night the siren would sound; and mobile searchlights and AA batteries would move into position, sometimes on the Village Green. Without warning a 3.7mm would burst into action and it wasn’t safe outside without a steel helmet, because the falling shrapnel could kill”.
“My last year at school was not the happiest and I was keen to leave at 14. I became an apprentice hairdresser, gents only, for a Mr Jim Gregory at 60a High Street, Tonbridge where he and his wife lived. He was a very experienced hairdresser from London, Junior Army and Navy Club. I still lived at Leigh and cycled each day via Powder Mill Lane and the river walk. The mornings were ok but often after work in the evening, I had to cycle home in black-out conditions – as the Blitz was underway – and I had a very inadequate headlamp – 3 slits in a jam tin deflecting light down on to the road which made cycling by the river dangerous. However, searchlights and the occasional shell burst showed me the way! My wages of 15 shillings a week, which left little over, and food rationing and clothes rationing took what little was left. A hair cut was 10p and with the prevalence of servicemen, not a lot of tips came my way. Dry shampooing, which was a spirit sprayed on the hair, lathered up and sponged off with a wet sponge, was very popular, and still the odd shave by cut-throat razor”
“Every business in the High Street took its turn at fire watching, which meant spending many hours at night, sometimes on rooftops with a bucket of sand, long-handled scoop and, of course, tin hat, to dowse incendiaries. National Conscription required all 16 year olds to register for Military Service and to enrol for duty in the Home Guard cadets. I did and got a khaki uniform.”
In due course, after the War, Roy emigrated to New Zealand where he joined the Post Office, finally ending up in a senior position. He and his family have returned to look at Leigh and Charcott – and continue to think our Green as a perfect piece of England.
Parish Magazine Articles: July and Sept 2014: by Chris Rowley