In the early years of the war, my grandmother and her daughters, my mum and her sisters, were very kind and hospitable to the young soldiers stationed near their village of Harston. Alan, the oldest in the family was int RAF, and although grandpa had enlisted despite being fifty, he was at home and he too was glad to welcome these lads.
My mum and aunties kept a diary which they called ‘Ships that pass in the night’, recording the visits of these young men who were soon to be posted away.
9th – 26th June 1940
Noel Francis Bone L/C Aged 22 years
2nd London Div. Royal Corps of Signals
Home: – London
Stationed: – Pinehurst, Harston
On the evening of 9th June 1940, a few hours after Tony met with his accident, Bob introduced us to Noel, about whom we had heard a great deal. We were also introduced to George, the sword used when in the Life Guards and now kept in his car, and the buckoo, the hooter on the car. These boys had just been into Cambridge to the Hospital to enquire after Tony, who was still unconscious.
Noel also came in to supper each evening and kept us amused with an endless store of jokes and tales. Who would have thought that before the war he was at College studying for the Church! He volunteered on the outbreak of war.
At about 7:30p.m. on the 18th of June when Alan was home on leave, Bob and Noel came in. Alan remarked that he had wanted to go over to Pavenham, but hadn’t been able to and Noel immediately offered there and then to take us all over in his car. It was great! Three girls and three boys in one tiny sports car! We got to Pavenham at about 9:0 o’clock, spent 10 minutes with the Russells and then homeward bound for Harston.
Bob and Noel were supposed to be in by 10:15 p.m. and unfortunately coming home we lost the way (the invasion scare was fresh and there were no sign-posts about) and found ourselves in Brampton instead of St Neots where we had hoped we were. Did we break the speed limit? Gosh, it was a race! 90 miles in three hours in an overloaded car! The tyres of the car were absolutely burning hot! Noel stopped at Caxton Gibbet and bought us each a hot pork pie and then for the last lap of the journey. The road was barricaded at Lord’s Bridge, but after producing Identity Cards and making eyes at the Guard, we were allowed to pass. We arrived home at 10:45 p.m. What an exciting evening! Luckily the boys did not get into any trouble for being late.
Beryl and Noel spent the evening of the 21st June looking over the Churches in the district. Beryl was also fond of feeding Noel with cherries. He opened his mouth and she shot them in!
We said Goodbye to Noel on the 25th June, as we thought he was leaving with the rest of the company early next morning, but he was one of the rear guard and didn’t actually leave until 26th June, so we said our farewells to him twice over, the last time on 25th June.
We have not heard from him since – although he has now joined another unit, and we hope he has succeeded in getting a commission, for which he was trying.
What a nice chap! We would like to meet him when he’s a parson. We know he’d be great!
12th May 1942 Great excitement today! Noel called in for about half an hour! only Mother was at home, but she heard all his news. He has had another nervous breakdown and been invalided out of the Army; he is now trying to get into the R.A.F. as a pilot. Happy landings, Noel! We wish we had been all been home to see you again.
6th October 1957 Noel called in for ten minutes! Mother, Beryl and children were here to welcome him. He is now a minister and was on his way to a Campaign Meeting in Cambridge. So nice to see him!
Considering that these soldiers knew the family for such a short time – Noel and Bob were only stationed in Harston for less than three weeks, they must have made a great impression for these young men to stay in touch over the years. Pavenham is a Bedforshire village where the family lived before their move to Harston and they always had most happy and fond memories of it; as children, my cousins and I were taken for picnics in the meadows by the river there.
I can just imagine all these young people jammed in the tiny sports car racing through the summer evening as the dusk turned to dark. How casually they mention the fear of invasion… people really did fear that the German army would invade Britain which is why all the sign posts were taken out and the roads barricaded. How delicious the pork pies must have tasted – the pies are made with a hot water crust which forms a hard casing round the spicy pork filling…
Caxton Gibbet is a hamlet on the site of an old gibbet; the original gallows has long since disappeared but a replacement stands on the old site. According to family legend, an Elsden was the last man to be hanged there for highway robbery… The youngsters would have felt invulnerable against any ghosts, armed with their youth and Noel’s sword George… the Life Guards by the way is the most senior regiment of the British Army, a mounted regiment who look magnificent in their plumed helmets and brilliantly polished breastplates.