Life During Wartime

Occasionally I mull over what I have written and remember something of mild interest that I had forgotten. Though it was not really pertinent, we had looked longer than usual at the war memorial, when we were in Norton. There was a sadly large list on one side, for such a small village, of men who had died in the First World War. That space being full, there was a single name with “And also” above it. There was no suggestion of it being the second world war, no additional dates but certainly a late (no pun intended) addition to the list as the others were in alphabetical order and this one would not have come at the end. I looked to see if there were any from the second world war on a different face and found another single name, that of an airman who had crashed in Norton in 1944. The fourth side was blank. We speculated about the “and also man” for a bit on our way to the White Horse.

Today was sunny to my surprise but rain was expected for the afternoon, so I got some “emergency” supplies at the marina shop, including UHT milk which is not a favourite but will do if we get stuck. Then we set off as Shane wanted to charge the batteries before we had a weather imposed stop, though the worst weather seemed to be receding. We shared the short drive and met only two other boats, one each, both on corners of course! As we came under a bridge we were surprised by two figures on the bank. We didn’t think this was a memorial to the crashed pilot, but we feel another mysterious story is behind it.

Mannequins of a seated airman and a standing nurse.

At the shop there had been an amusing memorial bench to someone saying “We know he was an old bugger but he was our bugger”. We passed another memorial bench, oddly placed beneath a large road bridge. We thought it an unattractive spot, but it would at least be dry so afford shelter from a storm. It might come in handy today. The choice of location made more sense when we saw it was dedicated to a civil engineer. Perhaps he worked on building that bridge. It is good that people choose an apt way to remember those who are gone, and clearly the path is used so the bench will be too.

Bench under the A45, remembering a civil engineer

We got moored up near Weedon Bec, just as the rain was beginning. We had lunch and embarked on a few inside tasks, that were often neglected, some housework and admin. To my surprise the rain eased off and the sun came out. Shane had filled a form in and took it with him intending to find a post box, and I also had a postcard ready to go, so we set off. It wasn’t long before rain began again, but the sun was still out.

Rainbow from Equestrian Way, Weedon Bec

I spotted a post box and I thought we could now head home with the rain becoming persistent. Shane wanted a bit of exercise as he felt it helps him sleep better. We soon arrived at an unusual set of block buildings. We had been here before when it was locked up and we knew it was a military building of sorts. The gate was open so we went in and found there was a museum open there, so we mounted the steps. We were greeted by a woman who was very pleased to have visitors. There were two ladies there and they were getting some crafting done to while away their time there. Rather like the egg filled lambs in Norton, these were covers for a chocolate orange, in the unexpected form of a soldier’s head, wearing a green helmet.

She took us to another room downstairs to show a video and talk to us about the history and layout of The Royal Ordnance Depot. Originally planned to keep equipment, clothing and gunpowder for the Napoleonic wars. Feeling the ports of the south coast were at risk of attack, the decision was made to house it in the middle of England but connected to the Inland Waterways.

The Royal Ordnance Depot repurposed

The water is no longer connected but it was used as a depot in last century’s wars connected to the roads and railways. Now it is a museum and some businesses use the buildings. A remnant of the waterway is on the site. Nearby housing estates, built on the site of demolished buildings from the original depot are given names that related to the site, which not only held the equipment but had space for offices, 500 horses and soldiers.

Afterwards we were left to peruse at our leisure and then come back to the other rooms. Upstairs we got a good look at the mechanism for the portcullis and saw some exhibits from the Napoleonic era and the fire service and uniforms and munitions, and surprisingly a gurney which folded into a table.

I was diverted from the exhibits by an advertisement for a dye studio and yarn shop. It was one of the businesses on the site. We went to look but alas we were too late and it was already closed. As was the cafe that Shane had spotted. It was now raining hard but Shane found a short cut, a small path, York Ride, between the houses. Despite the rain I stopped to look at flowers, forget-me-nots seemed topical and also, less obviously, grape hyacinths. My parents got married during the war, when weddings were not lavish. Rather than a white dress, it made sense to get a practical, wear again, outfit with the wartime clothing coupons and there was no bridal bouquet but my mother attached some grape hyacinths to her handbag. These flowers make me think of wartime, just as much as poppies do.

We were soon back at the boat, a bit wet but it was nothing to what came a short time later. The lashing rain was followed by thunder and lightning and hailstones bounced off the water and battered on the metal exterior. It felt safe hunkered in our ‘bunker’. Some of the hailstones were almost like marbles. 

High splashes as the hailstones hit the canal water

While noisy and dramatic, and we were glad not to be out working a lock in it, this was nothing compared to actually being bombed as other people past and present have experienced. Most casualties in modern war are civilians not soldiers. In reflective mood I made an evening meal of root vegetable and lentil stew with dough balls, fit for a war time rationing recipe book. It is said that many people ate more healthily under the ration restrictions and Shane said it was delicious.