It can take a long time to get to know everyone in a village – but let’s get you started…
Percy Walton – The Army Years and Return to Normandy after 73 years
I am a Colly lad and didn’t travel very far until I began work with the NAAFI in about 1940. I was 17 years old and moved to a number of bases around the country until I joined the Army in 1943.
My Army life did not start at all smoothly. I was arrested in July 1943 for failing to answer my call up papers which were sent out in September 1942. I never received them and can only put this down to being regularly moved from one NAAFI to another. Anyway, as I returned to my Newmarket digs from a few days home leave the Police were waiting. I was locked in a train carriage and sent to Colchester. The Military accepted my story and all charges were dropped. Off to basic training I went.
I joined the Royal Artillery and trained as an Anti-Aircraft Gunner. Our small group of 8 men operated a 40mm Bofors Gun mounted on a lorry. Although we were a mobile unity, the truck was not particularly comfortable. There was no protection from the elements. We could not have a cab because we had to preserve the gun’s 360 degree capability.
We became part of the Normandy Landings. A few days after the first landings in June 1944, when the beaches had been made reasonably safe by some very brave Allied troops, our ship, the SS Fort Rae, set sail from Tilbury (I think). We landed on Gold Beach in Normandy. It turned out that the German Luftwaffe had all but been defeated and there was very little need for our AA gun to be pointed skyward. However we were a very useful mobile unit assisting the Infantry.
We travelled across northern France, through Belgium and into Holland over the next few months, and I celebrated (of sorts) my 21st birthday in a foreign land. My Army career was quite short-lived. On November 2nd, 1944, I was seriously wounded when a shell landed close by. We were ‘dug in’ in a wood close to the German border. A passing mate asked for a light for his cigarette. As I reached up from the trench a shell landed. My pal was killed and I was left for dead. I heard someone say: “We’ll have to leave him. He’s had it.” Thankfully I managed to groan and they dug me out of the mud.
I spent the next 15 months in various hospitals. I had head injuries, a wrist shattered by shrapnel, and some serious damage to the lower abdomen. So my Army years were not long or too adventurous – but at least I survived and eventually returned to Collyweston.
In October 2017 I was offered the chance to return to Normandy on a British Legion tour. 73 years after I’d first set foot in France I was back in Normandy. There were 11 Veterans from many different parts of the Army and Navy. It was a lot easier to get there this time – it’s a smooth trip in that Tunnel.
Over the 5 days we travelled to many of the beaches, monuments and Commonwealth War Cemeteries. It brought back many memories for all of us. In the 1940s we were all young men. We were just wet behind the ears and thrown into a dangerous conflict. We saw and experienced things that none of us were expecting but were determined to do our best for King and Country. Many of our friends and colleagues didn’t make it back and are buried and remembered in one of the 13 beautifully tended War Cemeteries in Normandy. It brought back a particular memory to me of a young Private who had misheard an order during an attack. He was killed by the shock wave from a shell exploding nearby as he crossed open ground. There wasn’t a mark on him.
In Normandy there are none of the imposing massive War Memorials such as those in Northern France and Belgium to commemorate the casualties of The Great War. There are many small and not so small Cemeteries, wonderfully looked after by The Commonwealth war Graves Commission. It seems that nearly every village and town hear the beaches has one. In total there are nearly 16,000 British graves, and 2,000 recorded names of those with no known resting place. Most of the cemeteries also contain German graves. There is one main American Cemetery, with nearly 10,000 graves. It overlooks Omaha Beach and if you’ve seen the Private Ryan film I understand the opening scenes were filmed here. A lot of the American Casualties were repatriated whereas most of the British are buried with their mates near where they fell. The massive German Cemetery at La Cambe is an imposing site.
It is a very moving experience to visit these final resting places. It may seem rather morbid to some, that such a tour could be so interesting, but I’m glad I went. I can recommend such a Tour to anyone of any age. There’s a lot to see, many museums and interesting sites and towns to visit. The French people in this area are still amazingly friendly. When one of the Veterans visited a Cafe for lunch he was not allowed to pay.
This was a very moving experience for all the Veterans on the Tour. We’re all in our 90s now, and some of us didn’t get about too well, but we were all so glad we were able, with a lot of help from the carers, to complete the trip – with a passport this time.
Spies in Collyweston? by Peter Sauntson
During and just after the Second World War, my parents, Mary and Arthur Sauntson, payed host at The Hermitage to numerous RAF personnel (one of whom, Reuben, would appear to have been a pilot with 1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight at RAF Collyweston as well as a USAAF officer with his wife from RAF Kings Cliffe. That’s another story in itself!
Just after the war, one of the strangest characters was a small, mysterious lady dressed in black and with a pronounced limp; her name was variously Mrs Freeman or Freiman and she occasionally had with her a young, redheaded German. This obviously gave rise to speculation as to who she was and what was she doing in Collyweston? The mystery deepened when a letter was received in October 1951 from an address in London to: “Mr Sauntson, near The Engine Inn, Collyweston”. I am sure that the author would not mind this correspondence being published now and here is the letter:
“As it is desired to contact my sister, Mrs Marie Freiman, regarding the estate of our late father, and we have no new since 1948, can you please inform me if her present whereabouts are known to you (or those of the son of her first husband, Carl Schaefer). It would be appreciated also, in view of the clause in Father’s will regarding morality and employment etc (he being a strict Puritan), if you could give us (in absolute confidence) any particulars regarding her behaviour and living whilst she resided with you and her reason for leaving. My sister was a woman of very strong character and views, and after an unfortunate quarrel after h er husband’s death in 1941 she declined any further communication with her father or the family, and we only heard from her very rarely. However, she is entitled to the same share of his estate as the rest of the family and I should be very grateful for any news you can give. Thanking you, I am Sir, Yours Faithfully, (Mrs) Karol Thorwith.”
My Mother must have made a prompt reply but no copy was kept. However, at the end of that October, the following was received:
“Dear Mrs Sauntson,
Many thanks for your letter on Saturday, the day following the posting of my letter to you. I received news through the Salvation Army Bureau that Mrs Freeman was found to be employed at International Red Cross headquarters in Switzerland and had been contacted by them and was writing to me. Today the letter arrived and the long suspense is over. With regard to the second half of your letter, I do feel it is only right that you should know that Mrs Freeman was a recognised voluntary worker on the Foreign Relations staff of the IRC since 1946 and that her work in the Norfolk camps during 1946/7 tracing the missing families of PoWs was well known to the authorities and was publicly commended by Toc H, various religious bodies and the newspapers as the cuttings and photographs in Father’s possession clearly show. Since 1948 a large number of letters received from repatriated ex PoWs and their families and reports from the German newspapers prove the esteem in which she was held, and prove that her patient and often long drawn out work succeeded in reuniting a total of 289 families who, because of war conditions, had lost touch with one another. So please do not misjudge her association with the Collyweston and Blatherwycke Hostels.
“We received yesterday a visit from a former PoW from Blatherwycke (now married to an English girl from Brigstock) who is working in London now and who was amongst those contacted by The Salvation Army. He told my husband and I that the whole Hostel simply worshipped “Der Liebes Muttchen” (Our dear little Mother) for all her kindness to them, involving as it did, a long walk from the bus each way or the (for her disabled condition) major effort of a cycle ride after a long day#s work, and was only too anxious to give us all the information he thought could help us. So she has nothing to be ashamed of, although I know everyone cannot be expected to approve of her work on behalf of our former enemies. It is still necessary for it to be done, however, as we ourselves have come to be exceedingly grateful to the IRC people, we are very glad to find that even war’s loss to her of home, husband and elder sons had not made her bitter, or blunted the fine courage she has always been known for.
“I myself, married years ago to a son of a well known Lithuanian family, Count Carl Thorworthy of Kaunas [?], was, with my husband, a refugee from Russian forces in 1948 and it is thanks to the IRC’s help that my late father succeeded in bringing us both safe back to England and its freedom of speech, living and action. Although my husband speaks seven languages, he still finds English a bit difficult at times, but is steadily making headway again with his work as Church Artist and Master Gilder, and now finds the quality of his work is gaining good commissions.
“Carl Schaeffer, the little readheaded PoW you mention, was Capt. Freeman’s son by his first marriage with a German girl during the Occupation years after the First World War. Paula Schaeffer died when Carl was born and the child was brought up by his grandparents first and, after their death, by his mother’s sister Marie. After his marriage to my sister, action in the German courts failed to regain possession of the child for him, and though correspondence between the families was always maintained till 1939, Carl had to join up with the German army in 1944 and promptly gave himself up at the first opportunity. He was traced in +1945 by Maria Schaeffer who then wrote and informed my sister of his whereabouts and led to the meeting between them and the resulting decision of Mrs Freeman to transfer to working in the Northants area instead of the East Anglian camps.
“One of the many letters received by us during our search for her was from the former Commandant at Wansford, Capt. Sturgess, and another from the Deputy Commandant at Collyweston, Lieut. Haycraft. Owing to the disability caused by her war wounds in leg and back, none of the family thought that Mrs Freeman would again travel overseas, so we did not expect to find her at Geneva. However, she is well and happy, though very upset to hear of Father’s passing and we hope soon to be able to welcome her home on leave. So please don’t feel ashamed of having given her shelter, for which I say a very heartfelt “Thank you” on both her and our behalf.
“With all good wishes, I am, Yours Sincerely, (Mrs) Katherine Thorworth
“P.S. A letter has just arrived from Canada from Carl himself. He is married, with a baby son and living in Hamilton Ontario with relatives of Capt. Freeman and he too sends us the Geneva address. Wonders will never cease!!!”
So there it is, not a spy or a witch after all, just a lady whose life had seen many trials and tribulations and who had done a great deal of good work over many years.
30 December 2017, Peter Saunders
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Some of you may remember me as the General Village Odd Job Man and Gardener as well as the Village Postman for 35 years. But most of you will be far too young to remember Percy Walton.
I was born Percy Edward Walton at 46 Main Road up by Slate Drift in 1923. Yes, I’m still going strong after 94 years but I now live in a lovely care home in Stamford. My father Albion and mother Charlotte already had two daughters, Florence and Gladys, when I appeared on the scene. My father was unsurprisingly a slater and had one very interesting job of note. He set sail with Arthur Osbourne, another slater, on the SS Teutonic from Liverpool to New York in 1905. They helped build the magnificent Westbury House in New York.
What an adventure that must have been. When they returned to the village a few years later they had enough money to build a pair of houses (where I was born) and then my father Albion married Charlotte from Edith Weston in 1909.
I was to live in Collyweston nearly all my life. I’m from a generation who did not voluntarily travel too far from their roots. I left the local school at 14 and my first job was to work for WH Smith Newsagent at Stamford Station. Having delivered one bag full to Burghley House and Barnack Road, I rushed back for another one and pedalled off to Tinwell and Ketton. I then worked as an errand boy for T&J Eyres. This was the original home delivery service but without computers. You collected the orders from the customers, filled the order and then delivered their groceries later.
I was 16 when World War Two began and I went to work as a tea boy at Wittering Aerodrome. I then progressed to storeman at the NAAFI. We had a close call one day when a bomb landed on the Officer’s Mess right next to the NAAFI grocery store. I moved to Westwood Aerodrome in Peterborough, followed by Chipping Warden near Banbury, and finally Snailwell Airfield near Newmarket where my NAAFI career came to an end in 1943. I’ll perhaps talk of my War Years and my recent visit to Normandy at another time.
After the War I tried factory work in Stamford but it was not for me. In 1948, after a chat with Pat Fahie the postmaster and shopkeeper at Easton, I became the Stamford Road and Collyweston postman for the next 35 years. In those days you also collected post from people. I had to carry stamps and scales as well. I wonder how many miles I did on that post bike? The post work was only 4 hours a day so I did all sorts of other work to make up. I made mangle rollers, police truncheons, croquet sets, farming, gardening, rent collecting, odd jobs, removals and haulage. I was even Collyweston’s sub postmaster for a couple of years. The Post Office converted my garage at Main Road and I opened 12 noon to 6pm each day.
I shared Steward’s House at the bottom of the High Street with my old friend Jim Goodes for a number of years and then I moved to Easton on the Hill. My lifetime friend, Mabel Hodgett, and I were regular winners of the Best Garden Competition. Mabel and I moved back to Collyweston in 1992 and happily lived at Woodfields until first Mabel in 2012 and then me in 2014 moved to the care home after becoming a little unsteady on our feet and needing extra help. Sadly, we lost Mabel just over a year ago.
I love receiving Collyweston News each month and catching up with local news. I thank those who produce it, print it and support it by advertising. Best wishes to you all. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and that 2018 is a happy year for you all.
Percy Walton – December 2018
Alistair Brown – gone now from the village but still a part of it!
Paul Holland and I have enjoyed another trip on my narrow boat Gussie Goose. I set out from Lichfield, where the boat is moored, on the Friday and spent three and a half days leisurely working my way down the Coventry and North Oxford canals to the village of Braunston where we had arranged for Miriam to drop Paul off on the Wednesday.
Braunston had hosted a rally and parade for traditional working boats over the weekend and many were still there when I tied up on Monday morning. The village is always full of narrow boats as it is well provided with marinas, boat yards, chandlers and pubs – all of which are a magnet for the boating fraternity. I spent a most enjoyable time on the Monday and Tuesday looking at the working boats, buying odd bits of boat equipment from the chandlers and chatting with other boaters.
Among the interesting people I met were a pair of actresses who tour a play about the “Idle Women” from the working boat on which they live. During WW2 many of the men working the canals were called up to fight. To make up for the shortage a plea went out for women who would be willing to work the boats which still carried essential supplies (including ammunition and explosives) around the country. The call was met by young women, often from privileged backgrounds, who were provided with overalls emblazoned with the initials IW, for Inland Waterways. This led to their being referred to as the Idle Women, which was very far from the truth.
On the Wednesday, Paul and Miriam arrived at the Boathouse Inn, where we had a pleasant lunch before Miriam waved us goodbye, and Paul and I set off in a light drizzle. Within five minutes we had met up with friends of mine from the Lichfield Boat Club and were exchanging banter and discussing our respective plans. They were heading south as we went north. After that, Paul and I continued to Rugby, Paul demonstrating his skill taking the boat through three locks en-route and me doing all the hard work opening and shutting the lock gates.
Thursday took us to Hawksbury Junction (known as Sutton Stop to the old bargees) where the North Oxford meets the Coventry Canal at an interesting intersection involving a lock in which the water rises or falls just 1 foot. This is the easiest lock to operate that I know. The reason for it being there is that when the canals were built there was rivalry between the two companies building them, and neither wanted their water to flow into the other’s canal. The two canals were therefore built at different heights – one foot different!
As we were about to moor up at the junction we were met by a friendly call – and there were another couple of friends on a boat I hadn’t seen since they had bought it. As soon as we had tied up Paul and I were invited on board to inspect their pride and joy – and a very pleasant half hour ensured before we went back to Gussie Goose for lunch, followed by a pint at the Greyhound Inn. After that we helped Marie and Phil through the lock and on their way south.
The evening found us back in the Greyhound, where we had one of the best pub meals we’d had anywhere.
Friday was a busy day (for me) as we had a flight of eleven locks to descend, which Paul managed to navigate like an old hand. I had to run around lifting and dropping paddles and opening and closing gates. To be fair, I enjoy doing it and it probably helped me to lose some of the previous evening’s calories. Having tied up at Polesworth, Paul was able to spend a couple of hours fishing, before we went to an Indian restaurant where we’d enjoyed good food on a previous cruise.
Saturday took us through the last two locks and back to the boat club where we tied up at lunch time. Again, Paul passed the time in the beautiful sunny afternoon fishing, with some success, while I wandered round the moorings catching up with the news from the other half dozen Club members who were on their boats. This was followed by a pleasant meal in the local canal-side pub, after which we joined other boaters in our clubhouse.
An early start on Sunday morning found us back in Collyweston in time for Paul to go fly fishing on Rutland Water and for me to return to Maggie in Sussex. We had both had a memorable interlude – and I was left with the thought that it’s a tough life … but someone’s got to do it.
Alistair Brown, August 2017 – already planning next year’s trip!
Werner Schulze – a litter hero
Werner was a parish councillor for years, because he likes to ‘give back’. During that time, he picked up on a CPRE county-wide campaign to appoint Litter Wardens. He successfully applied, and for the past 13 years he’s been out every week picking up the cans and wrappers and other junk thrown away. Latterly he’s done more of these patrols on his mobility scooter, which he adapted to carry a bin bag.
He’s clocked up 550 hours of this unpaid labour of love, and collected over 400 bin bags of rubbish. He’s reported fly-tipping, and on one occasion even found an addressed envelope in a dumped bin bag which enabled the County Council to identify the source of the rubbish. (Anyone who knows the old Arlo Guthrie song ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ will be smiling at this point…)
Werner kept going till the end of 2016 but has now hung up his litter-grabber for the last time. (Although he will still keep an eye on his immediate area in the village!)
We all owe Werner Schulze a massive THANK YOU for his years of work, trying to turn back the tide of fag-ends and junk food boxes mostly tossed out of cars all over Collyweston. And I think we owe it to him to do our own litterpicks from time to time – please take with you a bag and a pair of stout gloves and take other people’s trash to the bin.
Amanda Milsom Flowers
My floristry career began in 1996 when I left a good job of 22 years in commercial insurance to pursue a long held dream of working with flowers and plants. I undertook a 2-year floristry diploma course at Brooksby College, where I met Judith who was also retraining after a long previous career. We became great friends and, five years later, after we’d both gained valuable experience working for respected florists, we opened our first flower shop near Derby.
It turned out to be the most unexpected and enjoyable venture of my working life. After all those years behind a desk, here I was working for myself, in a pretty flower shop, with my friend, doing what I had always wanted. Happy days.
Five years went by in a flash. Then things started to change. Judith got busy with grandchildren and I got restless to move house and have my mum live with us. We decided to close the shop. We had worked hard. Long, busy days, early starts to the flower market, winters spent in the freezing cold (not heating allowed in a flower shop! and the door open!). Lots of lovely weddings, Mother’s Days, Valentines, Christmas and all those days in between. It had been a brilliant venture, rewarding an fun, but it was time to move on. We had made a good working team but now we could go back to being just great friends.
Sean, Mum and I moved to Collyweston 10 years ago. I had another shop for a few years in Wymondham but gave it up 4 years ago to care for my mum.
I now work from home, supplying 3 local shops (including Collyweston Community Shop) with flowers and plants, as well as offering a full floristry service, weddings, funerals, gift bouquets etc. I do miss the buzz of the shop but I have the freedom to work when I want … and best of all, I can close the door if I want – and put the heating on!
Amanda is on 07788 968933.
Sean Milsom tells us about his passion for speed!
Working in the communications industry, as I have for the last 25 years, I get to “enjoy” working with computers most days. But they also drive me nuts, so when I get home I’m ready for something completely different.
I’ve always been interested in all things mechanical and older cars in particular. Through a series of coincidences, a few years ago I got involved in drag racing, and in 2009 bought my own car to race in a series called the Gasser Circus; this was very popular in the 1960s and 70s and is for ‘gas’ (petrol) powered cars with British body styles of the 40s and 50s and American body styles up to 1969. Part of the appeal for me was that modern electronics (electronic fuel injection, launch control, computerised ignition and so on) are not allowed. My car is actually a van based on a 1947 Morris Z body and chassis with a 5.7 litre V8 engine.
The race series is contested over five events from late May through to September at either Shakespeare County Raceway near Stratford on Avon, or Santa Pod in Northamptonshire.
It took me a couple of years to get the van ready to race and I entered my first event in September 2011, where I found my 3-speed auto box had become a 2-speed. A gearbox re-build followed over the winter and I contested all five rounds in 2012 although I cannot remember where I ended in the Championship that year. 2013 was a much better year for me as I won one round, was runner-up in another and did enough to win the Championship.
2014 was all about learning (ie making mistakes!) and again I cannot remember where I finished the year. I obviously respond better to odd years as I won two events in 2015 and again it was enough to win the Championship.
Right now, I’m busy with some upgrades and looking forward to another’s racing and seeing whether I can do better in an even-numbered year!
Will Stebbings had to relocate from Norfolk in 1982 to take up a new job in Peterborough. After exploring the area, he and his wife Yvonne decided that Peterborough was not the place for them and settled here instead.
Will has just published his third novel called Tess of the Dormobiles. Both of his previous novels feature the amusing exploits of Mark Barker who leaves an all-boys grammar school in the mid-1960s, with no experience of girls, or indeed the world at large. The novels are set in Norfolk, and will appeal to anyone who likes a bit of a laugh and some sixties nostalgia. The latest book is different in that it is contemporary and has a female lead – but like the others it is set mainly in Norfolk, even though the central character lives in Woodnewton and works in Stamford.
Tess of the Dormobiles is available from the village shop for just £5.00.
David Lattimore (“Bodie”) started work as a young Collyweston stone slating apprentice in 1977, learning his trade with the Master Slaters who worked for Stapleton & Son. It took years to become a qualified slater, learning the art from dressing to finally setting out the roof and finishing to a quality accepted by the old boys!
In 2010 Bodie started his own company, Collyweston Wood Burners and Roofing, specialising in Collyweston slating but being drawn into the chimney side of building and finally fitting wood burners as they became more popular.
Bodie has lived in Collyweston for 31 years, having married his wife Denise at Collyweston Church in 1984. Denise has lived in the village most of her life. They have 3 “wonderful” children: Steven, Neal and Fay, each having been to university to study their chosen careers.
Denise works alongside Bodie, booking appointments, sourcing wood burners and looking after their customers. They supply and install chimney liners and double insulated flue systems through their HETAS registration as engineers, and following all the requirements set out by HETAS. They also take on repairs and chimney sweeping. They carry out all types of Collyweston roofing work from small problems to complete reroofing – their latest work was re-roofing the Collyweston stone slate roof at Milton Hall.
Since living in “our lovely village” they support the local community. Bodie is a member of the Collyweston Playing Field Association; he supports and helps out at the Church fete, village hall, is President of Easton on the Hill Cricket Club and an active member of King’s Cliffe Football Club – his home village where his parents and son still live.