Memories of Stock - Jim Sargant
Memories of war-time
The Sargant family moved to the garage in Mill Road late in 1939 and things must have been very difficult for my father, petrol rationing being followed by the government closing down many petrol filling facilties such as our's. Th petrol pumps were taken over by the army depot at Mullet Camp, on the road to Ingatestone.
Most cars being off the road, there was little repair work, so Dad charged wireless accumulators for the many people who did not have mains-operated radios, as well as batteries for the few cars and motor cycles still on the road. He also sold paraffin and started buying and repairing old bicycles for subsequent sale. After a while, he bought two Austin Seven cars - one 1932 and the other 1933 vintage. He hired these out on a self-drive basis, mostly to soldiers at the camp wishing to go home, usually in the Romford area, at weekends. Maybe they could wangle extra petrol ! Somehow they used to squeeze as many as half-a-dozen men into each car.
One day, my sister Kath became very ill. I remember my parents being very worried and ambulance men carrying her out to take her to Chelmsford Isolation Hospital. We used to visit the hospital, off Baddow Road, and look through a window at Kath. There was great concern as the illness was often fatal and Kath was very young. Thankfully, she recovered and returned to us, where she and I continued to plague each others' lives, as many brothers and sisters do !
The growing threat of air raids prompted Dad to start converting the tiny swimming pool in our garden into an air raid shelter. The first work was to break up the much of the concrete floor to make it deeper, leaving a shelf of concree around the edge where we would sit. The hole was excavated, but promptly filled with water. When it rained, the water level rose above the shelf. One afternoon, I came home from school with several pals to play. While I went indoors to change into older clothes, the lads remained in the garden and I heard Bert Weston utter the unforgettable words "I don't care how deep it is, I'm going to jump". There was a big splash as he had leapt into nearly five feet of water. Mum rushed outside, dragged him out and escorted a very soggy Bertram back to his home in Mill Lane.
The shelter was completed with large timbers supported a roof covered with turf. We spent several nights or part-nights there during air raids, sitting on old car seats, the only illumination being from a couple of candles, plus torches. One night, we were in the shelter and could hear the noise of aircraft and ack-ack guns, plus the occasional crrummmpp of a bomb exploding, when Kath gave a loud scream. A frog had jumped onto her lap. That scared us more than the Germans did and I can't remember us using the shelter again.
Early in the war, Dad was a member of the Home Guard and then transferred to the ARP (Air Raid Precautions). Their headquarters was in the library, near the Bakers Arms. A consignment of tin helmets (steel really) arrived for their use. Dad put them in our attic, out of the way for a few days until he had time to distribute them among the other ARP members. I think they were still in a corner of the ttic when we left Stock some years after the war !
Among my most vivid memories of the war at Stock were the dark evenings when we looked outside and saw the network of searchlights around the sky, fingers of light criss-crossing - probing for signs of enemy aircraft. Our nearest searchlight emplacement was probably the one in Dowsetts Lane, Ramsden Heath, but the largest accumulation of beams came from those which encircled Chelmsford. I remember the deep sound of anti-aircraft guns and the sharp staccato sound of 'planes firing.
One morning during the Battle of Britain, my grandfather was visiting and was sweeping the floor of the old wooden workshop beside the main garage building, when Mum called him for a cup of tea. At the time, there was a 'dogfight' going on overhead, RAF fighters engaging enemy 'planes. When Grandad returned to his task, he found a line of tracer bullets had struck the floor through the open doors - just where where he had been working. Grandad was to live on to 1970 and it was not until a few years before he died that he revealed that he was related to one Harry Sargent - better known as Max Miller !
Monday was wash day and one fine morning Mum was hanging out the clothes and chatting over the fence to neighbours Mrs Keeble and Mrs Curtis, when several aircraft came out of the bright sunlight to the east, flying very low over the rooftops. The ladies waved whatever washing they had to hand in greeting. As a laugh, we sometimes tuned the radio into to hear William Joyce, known as 'lord haw-haw' broadcasting enemy propaganda to Britain from Germany. That evening, in his plummy voice, after his initial "Garmany calling. Garmany calling", he announced "Garman planes flying low over East Anglia this morning reported British housewives waving to them in their gardens".
By then operating a taxi service, Dad was occasionally called upon to perform jobs for the police and other authorities. One evening, he was called by Chelmsford police to collect two German airmen who had parachuted to safety when their aircraft had been shot down over Galleywood. They were taken to Chelmsford prison. The following morning, Mum went out to clean the car interior - a daily chore - and saw a strange object on the rear seat. Dad being out, she called George Keeble, the village policeman from next-door. He gingerly opened the car door and realised it was an airman's helmet. He took it away and that was the last we heard of it. Mum carried on cleaning the car and spotted what looked like a silver coin down the side of the seat. Fishing it out, she discovered it was a medal carrying an engraving of the Eiffel Tower and the inscription Bezetzung von Paris and a date. This was presumably awarded to those who took part in the occupation of the French capital by the Germans. Mum kept this but it seems to have disappeared from our family's 'treasures'.
When the Americans entered the war, there was considerable resentment against the 'Yanks', with their money and ability to 'sweet talk' many of the girls. Their coming had a considerable effect on my father's taxi business, which benefitted from the demand for evening travel between Chelmsford and the various air bases as close as Boreham and as far away as Wethersfield. Occasionally, the US airmen would find themselves short of funds and would pay Dad 'in kind' - with catering size tins of ham, fruit, jam and marmalade and personal items such watches.
Towards the end of the war, Dad started a regular weekend taxi job, ferrying a Mr W. T. Ditcham from his home at Fryerning to one of the Stock pubs. Mr Ditcham had been one of Guglielmo Marconi's assistants in the pioneering days of wireless. In the Golden Jubilee book of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Co Ltd, published in 1947, it states "In 1919, Mr W. T. Ditcham, of the Marconi Company, broadcast speech from Ireland to Canada, using only 2 1/2 kilowatts on the relatively long wavelength of 3,800 metres". Mr Ditcham owned a field in Mill Road, between the doctor's house and Weir Pond. Dad bought it from him for £100 and we used to play there at times. Eventually, Dr Hayward moved away and the new doctor persuaded Dad to sell it to him, probably for little more than he had paid for it. It he had kept that field, Dad could have made a fortune a few years later.
Jim Sargant
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