The patriotic reader might be forgiven for wondering why my grandparents were happily ensconced at their home Single Lane, Albrighton. What entitled such an insignificant couple to remain in the Shropshire countryside, growing and selling their own produce, during the second world war, during a period of rationing, of make do and mend? If Arnold Cool had such a strong work ethic, why wasn’t he out there in North Africa, Italy, Russia or France, serving his country?
Curly toes. Arnold Cool was rejected on his application for the army, not on the basis of his age, for he was thirty-three years old at the outbreak of World War Two, but because his curly toes made him an unsuitable candidate for forcing his feet into army issue boots. Home duties suited Arnold just fine; he hadn’t yet been married for four years, and although now a proud father of three-year-old Dan, there was certainly no more time to waste. Wife, Joan, was no spring chicken, and the arrival of a second Cool child (my father-to-be) was imminent.
But, if Arnold imagined that he would be enjoying the home comforts available at Single Lane, whilst other local men were fighting abroad, he was very much mistaken. My paternal Grandfather-to-be was in possession of skills essential for the war effort. As a traction-engine driver, Arnold Cool was employed in the preparation of emergency landing strips, felling, hauling and clearing timber, in locations as far afield as Lower Slaughter, Upper Slaughter and Boughton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire.
The traveller lifestyle was all very exciting for young Dan, who was treated to a break away from the constant crying of newborn brother, Spike – a holiday with his dad at Tamworth Castle in Staffordshire! This was almost like being promoted from working-class country lad to royal heir, if ‘one’ could brush aside the fact that the accommodation on offer was a bench in a freezing-cold workman’s portable hut.
Home at Single Lane became increasingly appealing. The heat of a coal fire drew Arnold back in to family life. The traction engine was abandoned, and a pair of curly-toed-incapacitated feet managed the short walk across the road to the Costord RAF base, to take Arnold to his new post as a general joiner and handyman.
At this time, my Great Grandparents John and Ann Tomlin, had sold up their home at Penderford Mill, near Wolverhampton, to live closer to daughter and son-in-law Joan and Arnold Cool at Single Lane. With their children having flown the nest, the elderly Tomlins were thought to be ideal candidates to be allocated a young evacuee from London, a girl who went by the name of Diane. Diane lived with Ann and John Tomlin by night, but spent much of her day-time hours at the Cool’s home in Single Lane, her skinny form fleshing out, as she became more and more acclimatised to the country lifestyle. She had never seen so much luxury in all her living years. At supper-time, Diane tried out all of the hot drinks on offer to find out which was the tastiest, before settling on a warm cup of Cocoa. The village school, Donington Parochial Church School, was the distributor of a plentiful supply of tubs of Cocoa, rations difficult to obtain in the cities.
Ann and John Tomlin also acquired a lodger, a Mr Humble, who was an RAF civilian expert – an extremely clever man. He too took his meals, not with Ann and John Tomlin, but with Joan and Arnold Cool at Single Lane. Joan Cool was a superb cook and loved to play host to appreciative visitors. I have no doubt that Arnold would have silently cursed under his breath at the ‘scroungers’ but, even Arnold knew to keep his views to himself at a time when the majority of able-bodied men were ducking from shells and dodging land mines. Besides which Mr Humble was a great entertainer and an endless source of fascination to the young Cool children: the increasingly troublesome toddler Spike, who was beginning to find his feet and his voice, and the growing (well sort of growing!) Dan. Dan, being a little older than Spike, had a better concentration span and watched with fascination as Mr Humble crafted a boomerang out of an old piece of wood from a collapsed garden shed. And this moment may well have planted the seed for Dan’s later career as a Carpenter.
Happy years of hot chocolate and boomerangs came to an end when the allies announced their victory on 8th May 1945. Diane and Mr Humble departed company with the Cools and returned to their urban origins. But, there were many other displaced victims of the war who had no choice, but to stay put awhile.
In 1947, Shropshire suffered from three weeks of extreme weather conditions – it snowed for three whole weeks! But Italian and German prisoners of war encamped at Donington, still awaiting deportation back to their home countries, came to the rescue, and dug out the inhabitants of Single Lane from their snow caves.
One of Shropshire’s six WWII POW camps http://shropshirehistory.com/military/prisoner.htm
When eventually thawed out enough to make it to school, the children of Albrighton were treated to milky cocoa, warmed up by the coal fire.
Rows of calloused, corned and carbuncled toes in various states of uncleanliness uncurled themselves by the heat of the flames. Rows of runny-red noses, oblivious to the release of ungodly odours, rescued by the enemy, and protected from the possibility of any future war-time traumas by a steaming force field of sweet-chocolate heaven.
Sources: Photo of Donington Parochial school taken by the author, Cool. Kind permission granted by Adrian Pearce for the ‘prisoner of war’ camp photo. Photo of ‘traction engine’ available from Wikipedia via a Creative Commons Licence.