JOHN PITMAN, EX-ESTATES/BUILDING MANAGER, BORN JANUARY 1935
DAD'S £8,440 POOLS' WIN IN 1947 (£320,000 TODAY)
I'm not aware my mum and dad changed any way at all after the pools' win. I know he helped out one or two friends. Somebody had a market garden down Whetsted Road. He had married a German lady. I'm pretty sure dad helped them out financially. Then he had a joint venture with someone from Tudeley on a farm in the Headcorn area.
People knocked on the door and there were letters. I remember seeing some of the letters saying how deserving they were and so on. They never told me about the win but there was a piece in the Courier and word got round. They expanded their poultry farm business.
I was born New Year's Day at Five Oak Green in my grandmother's house which was next door to Stream Cottage because my grandparents bought the cottage in about 1928. It dates from the 17th century. My parents married in 1930 in Capel Church and I was baptised there. My grandparents are buried in the churchyard.
My parents had built what was then called Orchard Bungalow though whether it still exists I don't know. They obviously lived there a bit after my grandparents and took over the running of the farm/smallholding. My grandparents moved into the newly-built bungalow and my parents had the old house.
CAPEL SCHOOL AND THE WAR
I was at Capel School while the Second World War was on. There was a searchlight battery on the playing fields and there was an ack-ack (anti-aircraft) battery in the field opposite the school on the corner of Church Lane. This is a junior school so each day there were two pupils, aged eight or nine, who were out in the playground with a whistle watching the ack-ack battery. If they saw something that looked like it might be going into action they would blow the whistle and everyone would troop into the shelter
In those days you went to school with your gas mask and you were supposed to have a packed lunch or refreshment with you in case you could not get home at lunch time. Once, going home in afternoon time, there was an air raid on though nothing seemed to be happening but the all-clear did not go. So the problem was how do you deal with all these kids but eventually after some phone calls Mr. Edwards, the village baker, turns up in his van, piles all the children in the back and heads off round the village dropping them off at all their houses.
There was no normal rail traffic. It was all troop-trains (bringing troops back) and they were stacked up signal to signal and just shunted up one at a time. Children, including myself, would sit on the embankment by the bridge in FOG and wave to the troops with no real idea of the seriousness of what was going on.
There were Red Cross nurses on the train and blood-soaked bandages were just coming out of the windows, presumably because they had nowhere on the train to put them. It went on for a few days.
I remember the first doodlebugs coming over. With father being in the Home Guard he may have had prior knowledge that these things were about to come but had not been able to tell anybody.
There was a barrage balloon based on the playing fields at one time. Initially the balloons would be near London but gradually moved outwards. You could watch these doodlebugs, unmanned, flying completely automatically in a straight line. You could see all the cables in the balloon and they would go straight through them.
Another thing I remember -- one night I woke up and the bed was bouncing. In fact a bomb had landed the other side of the stream in a very old orchard. It had thrown up a mound of clay which had completely blocked the road and was six foot high across the road so there was no traffic for at least about a week. Because all the fit men were in the forces the council sent two old guys along with shovels to shift it all because there was no mechanised stuff.
Certainly to this day I can recognise the sound of a Spitfire if one passes. We used to go and watch them chasing the V1s and some of them quite literally would get up and get their wing under the V1 wing and just tilt it and put it off course, get it going round in circles so it would run out of fuel and come down before it reached London so there was less chance of it doing any serious damage.
There was another occasion when I think 60 time-bombs were dropped in a raid that had turned back from London so they dropped their loads as they were fleeing within Capel Parish. It was 6 pm on a Sunday. They all went off but did not damage any property or humans because they had landed in the open country.
There were German prisoners of war based in the camp at Somerhill. They used to bus them out to farms. My father used to employ several during the apple-picking season and they were mostly very nice blokes actually -- very happy to be picking fruit in Kent rather than being fired on by somebody. There was quite a lot of them. It was a big camp.
They used to bring them out in old buses with no windows mostly, either metal panels or no windows at all.
At one point on the road you had pass a checkpoint to get into Tonbridge. There was an inner security cordon normally 30 miles in from the coast round the south east on the basis that it was easier to stop people rather than man the whole stretch of the coastline. At the corner of Tudeley Lane and Pembury Road there were sandbags in place there and you had to ziz-zag round. An armed soldier would be there and you had to produce an identity card.
HOME GUARD/EVACUEES/PLANE CRASH
Dad was quarter-master though I'm not quite sure how much in the way of stores he had to look after. It was taken seriously. I don't think it was compulsory but I rather suspect if you were not in the forces I think you'd be looked down on if you were not in the Home Guard.
We knew the young men were all away. At the beginning of the war we had the evacuees from London in the village though we did not have one. It took them about three months to realise this as a mistake - out of the frying pan into the fire. Everything heading towards London came overhead and a year or two into the war letters came round offering to evacuate children. There was only one in the whole village who went.
I remember a German plane crashing into one of the fields during a raid. There was a smouldering wreck lying in a hop-field. The pilot had already been rounded up by the time we got there after parachuting out. I think he'd have had a couple of pitchforks up his backside!
Prior to D-Day I remember vast numbers of troops moving down to the coast through the village on foot. They didn't take them on trains or buses. They walked to the coast, most of them. The width of the road would be solid with troops going past for several days. On VE Day there was a village bonfire and we burnt Hitler, Goering and Goebbels!
I'm glad I didn't have to do it that much. We used to go once or twice in a season. Most of the farms would have what they called a charity bin where anyone could go along and pick some hops and the money that went in there went to a charity.
One bar in the King's and Queen's would be home-dwellers only, the other for hop-pickers. Of course all the shops were counter-service and they all had wooden boards that were set up at hop-picking time along the edge of the counter so stuff could not be pulled off into bags surreptitiously. But I think probably hop-pickers had a generally undeserved bad reputation.
During hop-picking the village was absolutely packed. Most of the hop-pickers were women and the husbands would come down at weekends from whatever jobs they had in London. On a Sunday evening the green would be absolutely covered with people waiting for the shuttle buses to Tonbridge There would be a similar crowd outside the George and Dragon.
ROUND THE GREEN
The blacksmith was Mr. Wickens and immediately beyond there was the wheelwright, Arthur Wickens, his brother. They built wooden farm carts in those days and he would build the wheels and the steel tyres were made by his brother which went round the wheel.
It absolutely amazes me in days without any computers or anything like that they could cut a band of metal, weld it with such accuracy that when it was heated in the forge it expanded enough that it fitted over the wooden wheel. They'd then chuck buckets of water on it and it shrunk down and fitted round the wheel so tightly it didn't need any screws or anything to help it into place.
It was a place of great interest to the lads of the village. I don't think the lasses were interested.
Where the Deli is now there was an open space, a field known as "The Ballast." That was because when they were building the railway they extracted gravel for ballasting the track which meant it was usually under water but only by a few inches.
In the winter because it was quite shallow it would freeze fairly readily. It was used for skating and so forth. During the war probably the only thing that actually landed in the village was a V1 doodlebug and it landed in The Ballast. It blew out a few windows but didn't do anything else.
Round the corner from where the Deli is was a Nissen-hut type building - the AFS fire station which comprised a one-trailer pump and a vehicle.
SOCIAL LIFE -- AND U.S. SEED PACKETS
There were whist drives at Bridge Hall and occasionally a dance I think. Mum and dad were members of the Gardeners' Society. There's a couple of medals somewhere.
They used to get seed packets from the States. I don't know whether the Americans thought that because there was a war on we didn't have seeds but they used to send bundles of packets of seeds to the gardening societies in the UK.
Both my parents had spent time in North America and they were used to things like sweetcorn which was not widely grown in the UK in those days. There were pumpkins too, that sort of thing, so mum used to end up with all of those seeds. Pumpkin pie used to feature on the menu!
I recall a fairly rotund gentleman who used to play for the cricket team with a white cotton hat and when he went for the catch he'd get it in his hat -- and that counted apparently! Cricket was quite strong. When I was scoring I remember cycling as far as Fordcombe for away matches. I think there was a match every weekend in the season and of course they all turned out in whites -- typical of village cricket. That sort of thing lingers in the rural areas.
My earliest memory is that the vicar was the Rev. Capel and as a child I assumed the vicar took the name of the parish where they were living and it was only when he moved and the new one was not the Rev. Capel I found out.
I attended Sunday School and later I provided the manpower (boy-power) for the organ as there was no electricity in the church in those days. Sunday evensong was -- if my memory is correct -- at 3.15 pm or 3.30 pm so it was completed in daylight, the only lighting being four oil lamps hanging from the beams on chains
On Sundays there would usually be a missionary with a little van, either on the village green or in Bridge Hall. He would do things that would attract the children -- like a ventriloquist's dummy. At some point on a Sunday evening they would try and hold a service when all the hop-pickers were milling around -- without much success, I think.
I did a lot of cycling. I used to cycle down to Hastings for the day -- 30 miles each way with nothing like the traffic there is these days. In those days you'd pack your sandwiches in your saddle-bag and off you went. Nobody worried. The most I went was down to Wiltshire. I cycled to Windsor, stayed overnight with relatives and then on to Marlborough and someone with a van came and picked me and my bike up.
I cycled to Margate, again to stay with a distant cousin of my mother, I think. I also did Sheerness and back in one day. It was not a racing bike. It had been surplus stock, originally made for paratroopers and easy to dismantle. Not that I ever took it apart.
Not on my bike, but I occasionally went to London for days out and I remember being upset to find there was no circus at Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus!