A drink and a meal at the Butt and Oyster public house by the River Orwell at Pin Mill, is a very pleasant experience, with thousands of locals and tourists visiting the beauty spot every year. Imagine how different it would have been in the 1930s when John Andrews was a boy and barges unloaded untreated sewage from London to be used to fertilise the fields!
John said “My early recollection of life in the 1930s, in the Shotley Peninsula, revolve around my school days. Shotley School then was an area school and took pupils from primary schools in other villages when they were eleven. Some travelled to school on the service bus while those who didn’t live within walking distance or the bus route were issued on loan with county council bicycles. These were distinctive machines painted black and white and it was the responsibility of the user to keep them clean and in good repair. The boys and girls from Erwarton were users of these bicycles and they kept them very well.
The headmaster, Mr Snell, lived at the end of the street in a large house with a beautiful garden, which he tended lovingly. Gardening was a regular subject taught to the boys at the school with Mr Snell.” “Shotley Peninsula was a predominantly agricultural area with fewer houses than today and no large housing developments. Shotley itself was also dependent upon HMS Ganges, the Royal Navy Boys’ training establishment, as a source of employment. I lived in a terrace of farm cottages until 1938 when we moved to a new bungalow in what was the first stage development at Shotley Gate.” “It was about this time that electricity first came to the peninsula. As boys our play revolved around the nearest farm and we roamed freely among the farm implements and the large Shire horses which were the tractors of their day. These animals were very well cared for and I never saw one ill treated. On occasions a beautifully groomed and bridled stallion would arrive on foot to ensure that the supply of work horses was perpetuated. Similarly, a common sight on the road was the boar walker, every farm having a large complement of pigs, which on hot days was very obvious.”
“Harvest was a time of particular enjoyment. We children, armed with knob ended sticks, followed the reaper and binder as the wheat, barley or oat field was progressively cut, hoping to catch the odd rabbit as it made a dash for it. As the standing crop grew steadily less, we knew that the rabbits would be massing at its centre.
"We would form a circle around and as the rabbits rushed out would knock out as many as we could. How cruel and barbaric it all seems now.”
“The main road to Ipswich was then relatively narrow, but traffic was light. The road became busier in the late 1930s when the fuel requirements of HMS Ganges had to be satisfied and a collier docked at Ipswich, discharged into a fleet of lorries, which then transported the coal to Shotley. Prior to this Thames barges, loaded with coal, beached on the “hard” at Shotley Gate and, at low tide, the coal was transferred to horse drawn tumbrils and hauled up Bristol Hill to the Ganges coal pounds. The hards were a common feature all round the peninsula, the one at Pin Mill being still recognisable today, while traces of others remain. Another commodity arriving at these hards was organic manure, mainly untreated, from the London sewage farms, also transported in Thames barges and again horse and cart hauled to the fields, it had to be smelt to be believed!”
“Over the years, and going back to the First World War, the pattern of public transport changed. In 1919/20 the recognised way of getting to Ipswich from Shotley was by the Great Eastern Railways ferry or HMS Ganges pinnace to Harwich, then by train. Travel direct to Ipswich by road could only be achieved by horse and wagon until a pair of entrepreneurs inaugurated a bus service. One of these, Bill Edmunds, later became an Eastern Counties driver when taken over by the company.”
“With little traffic there were few accidents and crime was at a minimum. Even so almost every village had its policeman who lived in a police house and patrolled on a bicycle; the ratio of police to total population then being about 1 to 200. The local bobby was a firm, but friendly soul and we children thoroughly respected him, looking upon him as something of a father figure and never as “the enemy” German child refugees joined classes at Shotley and there was a daily school bus trip crossing RAF Martlesham, where experimental aircraft were being tested, on their way to school in Felixstowe, Pupils from Shotley had to make the long journey every day to the grammar school in Felixstowe.
“This was decades before the Orwell Bridge and the bus travelled through Ipswich and several villages including Martlesham, where children could spot aircraft being tested at the RAF station. John explained that his teacher at Shotley school, Mr Snell, was able to spot a likely scholarship candidate among his pupils. John said.
“This was long before the days of the “eleven-plus” exams. After weeks of cramming and reading the scholarship class presented itself at the County Hall in Ipswich for the examination, which was a terrifying ordeal, but Mr Snell’s success rate was high. The hurdle crossed, September 1938 saw me and other new pupils from the peninsula villages, traveling to school daily at the grammar school in Garrison Lane, Felixstowe. At first this was quite a tiring journey, but we soon acclimatised. In those days the Eastern Counties kept two outstation buses at Shotley Gate, in the garage halfway up Bristol Hill. These were staffed on a shift basis by three regular locally domiciled crews, while a third bus, from the main Ipswich depot, helped maintain the full timetable. The local crews were responsible for keeping their vehicles clean and this they did as they came on duty early in the mornings, the first bus was at 7.15am, followed by the 7.55. At Ipswich we were joined by children from other directions and then boarded a special bus which took us on to school.”
“As we had to pick up even more children our route took us out by Rushmere and Kesgrave, then through Martlesham RAF Station to Brightwell, Fakenham and Kirton before joining the main Ipswich to Felixstowe Road near Trimley. For the boys the highlight of this daily run, in both directions, was the traversing of Martlesham Camp. This was the RAF’s experimental station, as Felixstowe was the marine equivalent, and every new aircraft, both civil and military was sent to ether of these stations for testing before entering service. We saw many prototypes, including the first Hurricane and Spitfire fighters and many others that were never developed further. On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the road through the camp was immediately closed and our bus had to be diverted.”
“With the outbreak of the Second World War we were issued with our gas masks and the school was provided with air raid shelters. Sign posts and other locality identifying signs were removed and there was the boarding up of some windows and security taping of others. The Eastern Counties dispersed its buses from Ipswich depot, a number being relocated in Wolverstone Park and six single deckers were stabled at the Shotley garage, which made the accommodation there very cramped. Night driving conditions became very hazardous with the compulsory shielding of headlamps, but due to severe traffic reduction, accidents were minimal. Later came the use of “producer gas” to propel road vehicles causing many “incidents” such as roadside fires started by burning coal from the producer and the Shotley bus regularly stalling ascending Freston hill because of lack of gas! At this juncture the driver and conductor would manually bounce the towed producer unit up and down, to accelerate the fire into producing more gas. Schedules suffered in consequence.”
“Another significant change caused by the war was the threat to London from German bombers requiring the evacuation of children from there to “safe” areas, East Suffolk being considered one of the latter. Our school roll numbers thus increased considerably and was further added to by a number of German Jewish children who had been rescued from Hitler’s Germany on the eve of the outbreak of war. Likeable as these children were, the rest of us were very suspicious of them, even thinking of them as spies! Unfortunately, it was never deemed necessary to tell us about who they were or the traumatic experiences they had been through. Had we known the true circumstances I feel sure that we would have been much more sympathetic.” “By the middle of 1940 with the fall, to the Germans, of the Low Countries and France, East Suffolk no longer looked “safe” and evacuation became an exercise that we were all to experience, some for the second time. Planned with military precision, it almost failed as I was concerned. It was a Sunday morning and normal bus transport arrangements, as for school, were to apply. Frank Berry one of our local drivers was to take the special bus to Ipswich where we would, as on weekdays, transfer to the school bus – for the last time.
My mother and I waited impatiently for the bus for what seemed hours, she crying because I was leaving her and I because I was afraid that my friends would go without me. Eventually Frank came down the road “hell for leather” on his bicycle still in carpet slippers and we soon got away, but had missed the school bus at Ipswich. We had to go on to Felixstowe without changing buses and arrived at school just as the briefing ended. Then the long crocodile march to the town station, along with gas masks slung and onto our designated part of the train of which, appropriately, one of my classmates’ father, was the guard, as far as Ipswich, we then having no idea of our ultimate destination.”
“It was a long, interesting day for rail buffs. We travelled first to Cambridge and then on, through Bedford and Bletchley towards Oxford, over lines which have now mainly disappeared. The line from Cambridge to Oxford was largely single track and at every station we crossed freight trains, loaded with war materials and this on a Sunday. We missed Oxford by traversing the now defunct Yarnton Curve, to join the Oxford to Worcester line and started shedding our passengers at Worcester. Then on to Bromsgrove where many more children alighted, eventually only leaving our school pupils on the train until we arrived on the outskirts of Birmingham. Here we changed trains and soon came to Redditch, our destination. Then onto buses and out to villages where, in school and halls, we were received into our new communities, some of us being hand picked by our foster mothers on the spot and the rest being delivered”