Benwick During the War – Part III

Benwick During the War – Part III

At the end of February 1916 we had a whole week of snow and a lot more in March. We watched from the cottage at Keyworth as it raged all day and saw five great trees come down and huge branches fall from many more.

I was growing up and was allowed to go to the village on my own during the winter, on my bicycle, with a good gas lamp. A group of young people, chiefly attached to the Chapel, decided to try to send each soldier from the village a parcel before Christmas. It would take a lot of money but we knew we would be well supported, so we divided into pairs and each pair collected in an allotted area.

My friend Vera and I were given Nene Parade and as far as we liked to go into the fen towards Whittlesey! Everyone was so generous according to their means. One evening Vera decided we must go to her grandfather’s at Plantation Farm as “Uncle Ted was in the Army.” We had a mile of road, then over a stile and then a grassy, wet footpath along the top of the river bank for nearly another mile.

I don’t mind admitting now that I was scared we should slide into the river, but we stumbled on and when we got to the house found great excitement as ‘Uncle Ted’ was home on leave.  He looked so big in his uniform and his fiancée, Emma, was there too. They insisted on our having a meal with them and what a meal it was too! Home-cured ham, fresh eggs, home-made bread and butter, and pies – no rationing on that farm! Uncle Ted was wounded in his leg later on, and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

It was on one of these collecting trips that I saw a Zeppelin. We were told by Vera’s brother that they were about so we went in to count up our takings and call it a day. It was a bright moonlight night and as I came out of their door the clouds parted and the moon shone on the silvery-shaped airship. I got my bike and made for home as fast as I could pedal. We didn’t hear any bombs that night but a week or two later our windows and doors rattled when some were dropped at Holme. A bomb was ploughed up on Copalder Farm several years later which might have been dropped that night.

We got a good sum of money from our collection and as we called at the houses we took down the postal address of anyone from that house who was serving; there were around 70 at that time. We had estimates for ‘goods in quantity’ from the local shopkeepers and they also provided strong cartons. A lot of women were knitting and we had enough pairs of socks and gloves to put in each parcel.

We also put in cigarettes, chocolate, paper and pencils and envelopes, buttons, needles and thread, safety pins, bandages etc., not forgetting a tin of ointment for sore, blistered feet. I was appointed secretary, so I had to write a letter for each parcel but that was easy of course as they were all alike.

The boxes and contents were all taken to ‘The Limes’ as they had plenty of room there and we packed them in two evenings. Each box had to be sewn up in old sheeting or calico before the strong brown paper was put on. One of the menfolk took them by pony trap to March Post Office and dispatched them. It was several weeks before I had a letter stating one had been received but soon I had a letter or two most days, saying how much they were appreciated and thanking the people who had contributed. Alas, one or two arrived at Headquarters after the intended recipient had been killed, but they passed them on to others.

Some of the boys told me a little of what they were doing but the censorship was so strict we didn’t learn much.

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