E-mailed from Australia
My name is Michael Sellars.
I commenced as a pupil at the old Coddington School in August 1939, just before the Second World War started and before I had my fifth birthday on 23rd. September.
My family lived at 123 Beacon Hill Road, which is on the left hand side in the Coddington direction, and we had been there since 1934 when my parents had the house built. Our immediate neighbours were the Staveleys on the Newark side and the Drings, between a spinney and us, on the Coddington side.
Beyond the bottom of our garden were fields, which were farmed by the Davis brothers, Fred, Walt and Harry. Fred's son Arthur also helped. They produced cereal crops and milk and would sometimes milk their cows in the open after tying them up to a post. While the cows were being milked they were fed cattle cake, which had such a distinct odour, you could smell it from quite a long way off. Fred had a milk round and would deliver milk, carrying the milk can and measures, on his bicycle.
Across the road was the Walton's place. Their land stretched from the road, over a slight crest, and down to Clay Lane. The Walton's house was built on the crest and more or less in the middle of their property. It was approached by a private road and stood out starkly on the horizon when viewed from the road.
The Waltons had a car and a trailer, which was then a rarity. Mr Walton would use the trailer to collect brewers grains, which were a by product of the brewing process, from one of the Newark breweries for animal feed.
I used to walk to school. Not too far from our house when walking towards Coddington there was a fork in the road. The new road went to the left and the old road, which had houses either side, went to the right.
At the apex of the fork was a petrol station and cafe, which was run by the Larkins. The cafe sold sweets and in 1939 it was possible to buy a mini toffee bar (equivalent to about three toffees) for one halfpenny. Above the petrol bowsers were huge white glass shell shaped lights, which were lit up at night.
Once past the houses the old road turned sharp left and joined back up with the new road at an intersection. Just before the intersection on the left hand side of the road there was a copse and between the copse and the road was a wide grass verge. Occasionally gypsies camped on this grass and stayed a few days. They travelled in ornate wooden horse-drawn caravans. While in the area their women folk would call on the local houses selling their wares such as clothes pegs.
On the other side of the road were white painted farm buildings, which went up to the intersection corner. I remember being told that in the days of stagecoaches, the horses were changed there.
Around 1950, Harry Davis and family took over this farm and started another milk round. They had a new Ferguson tractor, which Mrs Davis would sometimes use to deliver our milk. They also sold cow manure from their dairy by the cartload.
Walking further towards Coddington, there were houses on both sides of the road. On the left was a row of identical white houses. In one of these lived Shirley Frobisher, whose father was a policeman. Her friend Emily lived aljost opposite, in a red brick cottage.
Further along past Emily's place was a house where a second-hand merchant lived and quite often, there were interesting things to see in his front yard. He carried his goods around on a horse and dray.
In the grounds of the hall on the right, which was later taken over by the RAF when Winthorpe Aerodrome was built, was Fred Bloor's market garden. Fred had a motorbike and sidecar. The sidecar was adapted to have a flat platform on which Fred carried his produce.
At this point the road went downhill and, at the bottom of the slope there was another fork. Again, the new road went to the left and the old road to the right. Just at the fork, on the left hand side, was a small lake.
The old road then went uphill into Coddington village to form the main street. There were houses on both sides of the street. Those on the right hand side comprised a row of terrace houses, which were built out to the street. They had very worn steps, which suggested that these houses had been there for a long time. A couple of old ladies would often stand at their doorways and greet the children as they walked past to school.
On the left hand side in one of the houses opposite the terrace houses was a small shop. When the shop door was opened it rang a bell and the owner would appear from somewhere out of the back. The shop was important to me because it sold sweets. You could buy black liquorice pipes, cigarette sweets and my favourites, dolly mixtures, which, if you ate them one at a time, would last all afternoon.
The old school has been described elsewhere but what has not been mentioned is the rear porch where you hung your coats and lunch bags. This porch also contained a tap and sink where you could wash your hands.
About once a term the whole school would go across the road to the church to attend a service. Every few weeks, the vicar called in at the beginning of a school day and gave us a religious lesson.
The parents of the schoolchildren were very civic minded. I remember that one time a parent who worked in Stapleford Woods sent his daughter to school with a dead grass snake that he had found. The teacher was able to give an impromptu lesson on reptiles and all the children were able to see a real wild snake, even though it was dead, something that most of them would not normally see in a lifetime.
At lunchtime, we were left to our own devices. On rare occasions, when somebody was to be buried in the churchyard, we would go along and watch the gravedigger at work.
When I first started school, I regularly went to the shop to buy sweets at lunchtime. If the teacher caught me eating sweets in class, she would take them off me and give them back at the end of the day. After this happened a few times she told me that in future, if I brought sweets to school, they would have to be shared out among all my classmates. From then on, I bought my sweets on the way home!
One day, when the weather was nice, the teacher decided that the class would go on a nature walk. We walked up Balderton Lane and entered a field on the left. After a few minutes I saw an owl in a tree and made a hooting sound. Unfortunately, it flew away and I received the blame for frightening it off before everybody in the class had a chance to see it.
The worst thing for which I was admonished was the time I threw a missile in the air. A plumber had been doing some work at the school and had left a short length of galvanised pipe on the ground. On my way out of school I spotted it and for some inexplicable reason I picked it up and threw it over my head straight up in the air. Of course, it would have to come down on the head of Shirley Frobisher, the policeman's daughter.
In the commotion that followed I made myself scarce and went home. I did not tell my parents what had occurred and spent a sleepless night wondering what would happen when I returned to school and fronted Mr. Fordham, the headmaster. In the event, it was a bit of an anticlimax. Mr Fordham was a compassionate man and he took the view that the real culprit was the plumber for leaving the pipe there in the first place. Not that I should have worried. Many years later, Shirley called in to see us. She was in her late teens and had turned out to be a very vivacious young lady. She told us that her father had been transferred to another Nottinghamshire location and she was now working in the same police station.
As a measure of Mr. Fordham's compassion I remember the time when I walked to school with one of my classmates. He was limping very badly and was in obvious pain. He had a great gash down the front of one shin. The affected leg was swollen and had turned purple and yellow in colour. Petroleum jelly was smeared on the gash but this did not help.
When we arrived at school I told the teacher about my classmate and she in turn told Mr. Fordham. Mr Fordham arranged for a doctor to visit the school and, as the doctor suspected that the leg was fractured, he advised that the best course of action was to take the boy to Newark hospital so that it could be X-rayed. Mr. Fordham did not have a car so he had to arrange for somebody to drive him and the boy to hospital.
At this time there was no National Health Scheme and, if you could not afford a doctor, you had to manage the best you could on your own.
In 1939 there was no television or anything of that nature and people had to make their own entertainment. I remember during the first winter at school there was a series of very frosty days and it was so cold that the hoarfrost did not melt. This was the signal that the ice on the lake at the bottom of the hill was suitable for skating. I had to pass the lake on the way home and I was surprised to see a crowd of people around it. It seemed as though every man and his dog was there. The lucky ones had skates and were doing their best to keep upright as they skated around. The skates they had were of the clamp-on variety and were not very good.
It was not long before the older boys who did not have skates started to make an ice slide. The ice was covered with the hoarfrost so it was easy for the boys to see where the first boy had started the slide and they followed on, one after the other, polishing the ice and sliding further and further. To extend the slide they made a run-up by running down the bank before they hit the ice.
During the first few months of the war, everything more or less carried on as usual. I was still able to buy my sweets, but both my grandmothers, who may have remembered that there were shortages in the First World War, started to buy up non-perishable food.
There was air raid siren practice and some householders started to criss-cross their windows with brown sticky tape to stop flying glass from bomb blasts. It became law that you could not show any lights from your house after dark so everybody was busy fitting blackout curtains and blinds. The driving lights of vehicles were fitted with slotted covers so that they could not be seen from the air
Gas masks were handed out for Newark and surrounding villages from Newark Town Hall. People who had babies were provided with a rubber and celluloid capsule to put the baby in and then an adult had to pump air in and out through the gas filter. Young toddlers were given small gas masks, which had red and yellow rubber parts to make them more attractive. Older children and adults were given a standard mask that, because it was made of black rubber and had adjusting straps, was suitable for all other head sizes.
Everybody was also provided with a cardboard container with a string cord, which you looped over your head, in which to carry their gas mask. You were required to carry your mask with you everywhere you went. We had practice mask wearing sessions at school. When you had your mask on it was hard to communicate with anybody because not only was your voice muffled, but also, the celluloid face piece would fog up. After a few months the cardboard mask containers fell apart and jost people then left their mask at home.
Also around this time everybody was allocated a National Identity Number and adults were given an identity card. It worked on the basis that each family had a number and then the father had the suffix /1, the mother /2 and then the children /3, /4 etc. in descending age order. My number was RNND 192/3.
My father was also required to hand over his .22 rifle for the use of the Home Guard, but it was returned to him after the war.
Everybody feared air raids and people started building air-raid shelters in their gardens. My father built a below ground concrete shelter about 150 metres from the house (we had a long garden). It had an escape hatch in the roof in case the entrance was blocked and was lined with black pitch to keep out any ground water. Inside, it had bunk beds and as my father ran an electrical lead from the house to the shelter we were able to have electric lighting and an electrical coil heater to boil water, which also doubled as a space heater for use when it was cold.
The first indication of change I saw in the village because of the war was when I was walking home one day and was confronted by a group of private school boys in their uniforms walking to-wards me, two by two up the hill towards Balderton Lane. I heard a lady from the terrace houses shout across the road to another villager that "they are staying at the big house and they are here for the duration". Whether this was true or not I cannot say because I never saw them again.
Not long after this my mother told me that some evacuees from London were coming to stay with us, a mother and her two children, a boy and a girl. I was very excited at the prospect of having somebody else to play with.
When they arrived one evening, we were surprised to find that the mother's parents were also with them. The sleeping arrangements were quickly reorganised and, as we only had three bedrooms, it was a pretty tight squeeze. A few days later, the grandparents were offered alternative accommodation. Much to my mother's annoyance, they declined the offer saying that they preferred to stay with their daughter and grandchildren.
The children soon settled down and seemed to enjoy life away from London. Unfortunately, it was a different matter with the grandparents. They constantly complained and this caused a fair bit of friction. The accommodation situation was exacerbated when the children's father also came to stay, when he was on leave from the army.
When there was an air-raid warning, there was not sufficient room for everybody in the air-raid shelter, so our family had to stay in the house. Things came to a head when the grandfather tried to sharpen the knives of my mother's best cutlery set and according to my mother, ruined them. My mother was very upset since the cutlery set was a wedding present.
I think everybody realised it was an impossible situation and after a couple of months or so, the evacuees left.
When the planes arrived at RAF Winthorpe, my mother took me down to Lincoln Road to see them. One was parked near the road and I can remember seeing an airman painting insignia on it. At the same time I could also see a man tilling the adjacent field with a horse and plough.
Around this time, a roadblock was constructed on Beacon Hill in a cutting, just past the pits and up the hill towards Coddington. It was generally manned by the Home Guard and adults were allowed through when they had shown their identity card. It was not too popular because cyclists and vehicles travelling towards Newark had to stop while going down hill. After a few months, regular checks of people and vehicles passing through were abandoned.
To help the war effort, metal railings in front of houses were removed and taken away for smelting. School children were asked to bring any aluminium silver paper, which had been used to wrap chocolates, to school. most of us were only able to collect a small amount but one girl arrived with a huge bag full of wrappings. I remember I was envious, not because she had been able to bring in as much as the rest of us put together but rather, that she lived in a household where a lot of chocolates were consumed!
Children were also asked to bring wild rose hips to school. These were sent off to a factory and used to make syrup which, because it was high in vitamin C, was used as a substitute for oranges.
The day Ransome & Marles (R&M) was bombed I was at home because I was sick. In the early afternoon I was lying in bed and heard a plane. I looked out of the window to-wards Newark and saw a plane flying low and heard a "crump" sound, followed by another. I went downstairs to tell my mother that I thought the plane was dropping bombs but my mother told me not to be silly and sent me back upstairs to bed.
A while later, a neighbour called in to tell us that there had in fact been an air raid. My mother came upstairs to apologise and just then, we heard another plane go over. We looked out of the front bed-room window just in time to see a man, who was cycling to-wards Coddington, leap off his bicycle and take cover in the ditch which ran the down the side of the road. It would not have been a pleasant experience for him, if he landed in the water, because some houses up the road had arranged for the effluent from their cesspits to flow into the ditch so that they did not have to pump them out. The area was provided with a sewer main in mid 1951.
The neighbour then called in again to advise us that the R&M factory had been hit and my mother became concerned because my father at the time was spending part of his work time at R&M Newark and the rest at R&M Bunny, which was in the process of being established. She also had concerns about my grandmother who lived on Beacon Hill, not far from the factory.
As with most people, we did not have a phone in those days and the only way my mother could find out if my father and grandmother were all right was to go and find out. She asked me to get dressed and then, with my little brother in the pram, we walked to my grandmother's house. It was about 5 p.m. by about this time and, just as we arrived at my grandmothers, a car pulled up at her neighbour's house and a woman who was sobbing got out. The sobbing lady had just been advised that her husband had been killed in the raid.
My mother left my brother and myself with our grandmother while she went down to the entrance of the works but she was unable to learn anything. It was not until after 10 p.m. that my father came home. He had been at Bunny when the first raid took place and he had been called back to Newark to help make the bombed areas safe from further roof collapse and to cover over the machinery exposed by the raids in case it rained.
A few weeks later, in May 1941, we moved to Bunny so that my father could concentrate on helping to establish the new factory.
Bunny school was a village school just like Coddington, but it only had two classrooms.
While we were at Bunny, gas driven cars with big gasbags on their roofs began to appear while there was the odd delivery truck towing a gas generator, the gas from which was fed to the engine.
Of interest to farmers is the fact that there was a ploughing contractor in the area whose ploughing equipment comprised two big steam driven traction engines with large horizontal pulleys slung beneath them. To plough, the engines were positioned one each side of the field. The pulleys carried steel hawsers that in turn were connected to a plough structure with two sets of shares. The plough was pulled from one engine to another ploughing the ground on the way with one share set. Then, each engine was driven the width of the cut and the procedure repeated in the other direction, after the alternative set of shares had been positioned.
We only stayed at Bunny until November 1942 when we moved to Dundee in Scotland, where R&M took over three former jute factories.
Dundee was a big city and at that time was a base for Sunderland and Catalina military flying boats, which were moored in the Tay estuary. A long ramp at the water's edge housed a flight of Fleet Air Arm Walrus seaplanes. These planes were powered by a single propeller behind the wings, which pushed the plane through the air. They were fitted with little wheels so they could be pulled up the ramp out of the water. Dundee was also a submarine base, so there were plenty of things to see. In contrast to Coddington, the vast majority of the population lived in three and four story tenements built of granite.
At my new school, there were 49 pupils of the same age in my class. To keep discipline, the teacher used a leather belt, which was like a razor strop but with "fingers" at the business end. The teacher was supposed to hit you on the palm of the hand but the one time I was punished, for talking in class, she missed and hit the inside of my wrist instead. The resulting welt lasted for days, as did the soreness with it. I learnt my lesson and made sure I was not caught again! Despite the large numbers, I progressed with my learning and was able to go on to Harris Academy, which is the Scottish equivalent to a grammar school.
We returned to the Coddington area in May 1949 but it was not until November that we were able to take possession of our house at 123 Beacon Hill Road because the tenants had been reluctant to leave and my parents had to go to court to settle the matter.
Because I had been to an academy, I was able to transfer to the Magnus Grammar School. Once we were back at our house on Beacon Hill Road I regularly saw Mr Fordham again as we used to pass each other when we were cycling to our respective schools. He had remembered me and seemed pleased that another of his ex-pupils from Coddington was going to the Magnus.
For me, starting at the Magnus was a cultural shock. For a start, there were only boys at the school, and I had never before had to go to school on Saturday mornings. With sport on a Saturday afternoon, for parts of the year, pupils attended the school on a six days a week basis. It could not have gone down well with the teachers since it meant that in term time, they could never get away on a weekend.
Around October time you could apply to have two weeks off school to go potato picking. A coach or truck would pick you up from your school at around 7.30 a.m. and drop you back in the late afternoon. You took your own lunch but the potato farmer provided a hot drink.
This particular time my school friend and I applied to have time off, which was granted. On the first morning the coach duly arrived at the Magnus and boys began to board. Not being pushy, we had stood back but, when it was our turn to get on, we were told that no more pickers were required and, as the farmer wanted to employ the same pickers all the time, it would be better if we went back to school. As the coach drove off, the boys at the rear of the coach jeered and made rude gestures. I had already worked out what I would spend my wages on and was pretty miffed at the letdown.
Luckily, the permission form we had gave the name of that year's co-ordinator, which happened to be the headmaster of the Mount School. My friend and I went along to see him and explained what had happened. He was very sympathetic and said that while he could not help with the Magnus arrangements, if we were prepared to work with the girls from the Lilley & Stone Girls High School, we could start the next day. So the two of us had the last laugh and spent the rest of the fortnight working with the girls.
Keen to pursue engineering as a career, in mid 1951, after taking my GCE "O" level examinations, I went to work for R&M, but continued my studies at Newark and Nottingham Technical Colleges, on a part-time basis.
During 1956 - 1958 I did my two years National Service in the RAF. After training as a radar technician, I was posted to Cyprus and Jordan. On completion of my National Service, I went back to R&M and continued studying part-time. By 1961 I was a Graduate Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and I was offered a three years contract in Sydney with R&M Australia, which I accepted.
In 1963, I married my wife Kaye who, at the time, also worked with R&M Australia.
We have four offspring, Andrew (barrister and solicitor), Jillian (chartered accountant), Georgia (school teacher) and Paula (office administrator).
Around this period, having now completed all the educational and industrial experience requirements for full membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, I was admitted as a Member and at the same time, became a Chartered Mechanical Engineer.
When the contract ended I was asked to stay on with R&M Australia, which I did. However, by 1971, it became increasingly obvious that Ransome Hoffmann Pollard (as R&M had become) had no chance of being able to compete with the Japanese bearing companies and I looked around for an alternative position.
In November 1971, I took up an appointment with the Australian Patent Office in Canberra as an Examiner of Patents Class 1. Although I more or less had to start at the bottom again, I was pleased to learn that the Patent Office was prepared to pay a premium for my industrial experience and, as a consequence, my stating salary was quite a bit more than I had been receiving from RHP Australia. It was not long before I was promoted to Class 2, then to Senior Examiner, when I was in charge of an Examination Unit, and finally, to Supervising Examiner managing the Group responsible for jost of the Units engaged in examining mechanical Applications for Patents.
In 1982, I returned to England for a holiday with Kaye. Kaye was of the opinion that she could have made a far better job of organising our travel arrangements than the travel agent we had employed. On our return to Australia, Kaye went to college and undertook a two years travel course. In 1985, she opened her own travel agency from scratch "Trent Travel".
In 1994, when I retired from the Patent Office, I went to help Kaye in her agency. Being in the Travel Industry enabled us to take trips to parts of the world where we otherwise would not have gone. Unfortunately, the only time we could get away together was around the Christmas and New Year period when we could usually manage 10 days off. In this time, we usually went to England to see my mother, Margaret Sellars, who used to attend the meetings of Coddington Womens Institute.
On Saturday, 18 January 2003, along with about 500 other families, we lost our house, with everything in it, in the Canberra firestorm. Kaye and I at the time were at the coast so we were out of the action. No warning was given and while Jillian and Paula were in the house, they saw the fire approaching and were able to drive away just in time. The fire had jumped the containment lines in the mountains and in just six hours, fanned along by the strong wind, had travelled 50 Km. (about 32 miles) to reach Canberra.
After the fire, we did not feel in the mood to continue to arrange holidays for our clients and we made the decision to close the travel agency.
Within three days of the fire, after inspecting the aftermath, our insurers advised us that they would pay us the insured amount for the house and contents and also the value of our new car, which the girls had to leave in the garage because they did not have the keys.
We were then able to buy another house and start all over again, just like a newly married couple.