This boy’s life – the evacuees who never returned to London

The Greetham family made their home in Harting, West Sussex, after having been evacuated their during the Second World War. Colin Greetham describes life growing up in post-war Harting.

Friday, 11th December 2015, 9:32 am

My family came to Harting in 1939 when my father, a schoolteacher, was evacuated with some of his children from a school in Battersea.His wife, daughter Pam and myself ,

only six months old, followed in November – so they tell me!

When the evacuees arrived, most of the villagers came over to greet them in the High Street, probably to see what Londoners were like. We soon mixed in well and our new life in the country started.


My father soon joined the Harting Home Guard and, from the stories we were told after the war, it was just like Dad’s Army!

After the war, my father returned to work in London, travelling up every day. But he was smitten with rural life and, after three months, he took a teaching position at Liss School and stayed there for the rest of his career.

Also living in Harting were several families who moved after visiting their children during the war and saw their future here. Their names have become well-known in the village’s history.

After the war, village clubs, societies and groups started up again as well as the running, football and cricket clubs, the Women’s Institute, rifle club, the horticultural society, youth clubs, church and chapel groups.

Sport was a large part of village life, and the Midhurst & District Football League six-a-side tournament held on Easter Monday at Easebourne was always very popular.

The village was virtually empty on that day as three or four coachloads of supporters left at 9am for Midhurst.

Most of the men, though, then headed across the road to horse racing at Cowdray Park, some returning richer, most poorer – and quite a lot a little tiddly – to watch the last few games of football, returning to Harting at 8pm.

Another well-known event in the Harting calendar is the Men’s Old Club, which was held on Whit Monday and now on the spring bank holiday.

The men of the village go into the woods and cut hazel sticks then decorate them. Wearing their red, white and blue rosettes, they meet in the village street for a roll call, then they all march behind the band around the village, eventually arriving at the church for a service.

Then it’s marching again, back round the village, before going for lunch at the Legion Hall or White Hart. Today it’s at the Village Hall. The High Street is closed for most of the day to allow a small funfair and local stalls to set up and other demonstrations – such as running races – to go on.

There was square dancing in the evening – ‘Honour your partner, do-si-do, and away you go!’ The caller was Paul Plum.

The annual summer flower show was held on the old village cricket ground near the kennels, at the back of Church Farm and The Warren. It later moved to the new sports playing field alongside the Petersfield Road, and it is still going strong today.

For us children, the two events that we all looked forward to were the fancy dress and then the sport races. That’s when you could win a free ice cream or a bottle of pop or even half a crown.

Also in August was the chapel Sunday school’s outing to Bognor Regis, when parents and children went by coaches in a convoy to the beach.

Each child was given nine pence to spend, which went on ice cream or a drink or, if you could manage it, a bag of hot chips to eat on the coach home.

In October was the funfair again. The street was closed and I think the children had the day off school.Trickett’s Travelling Fair was one that came regularly in the early days. Although no fair comes these days, a few villagers keep the tradition going by setting up stalls for a couple of hours.

At Christmas, the chapel always went out carol singing on six evenings before Christmas Eve, stopping at the large houses and other points in south and east Harting.

Mr E Rose, the village postmaster, had fixed a small organ on to a set of pram wheels for the music. His wife, Ruth, played.

A big thing for us children was if we were allowed to push it or carry her chair. As there weren’t any street lights, the men carried lanterns on poles and the rest had a torch.

The evening before Christmas Eve was when all of the children looked forward to a visit to the Big House at Uppark, the house on the top of Harting Hill, as the carol singers were always invited into the main hall and up the wide stairway to sing, after which refreshments were served and children were each given a present.

After Christmas, it was the Sunday school party at the chapel when about 50 children sat down to cakes and always ice cream and then played indoor party games.

This summer, the ex-chairman of the parish council came up to me and started singing one of them, asking if I could remember it.

And we stood in the middle of the street, both singing ‘One finger, one thumb, keep moving, we’ll all be merry and bright’!

In the new year, the Harting Youth Club drama group performed their yearly pantomime, giving two performances and a matinee on Saturday afternoon for the village children.

The producer of the show was Mrs Smith.

The show was performed at the British Legion Hall. The stage was on top of the snooker table – it wasn’t that big so it had wooden boards laid on top.

A few times a member of the cast fell off the stage but the audience thought it was all part of the show and just laughed and clapped!

As in all villages, sport was very popular, Harting having two football teams and a very successful cricket team. In those days there weren’t any colts teams like now – the motto then being if you were good enough, you were old enough.

Some of the boys played in the men’s teams aged 13 or 14. The Youth Club played a few friendly matches, winning the local six-a-side contest, and Mr Bert Upfield formed a youth team.

After the war, the ex-Home Guard members started a rifle club. They used the large room, about 22 yards long, at the back of the White Hart to shoot in.

If you went to the pictures at Petersfield and wanted to see all of the film, you went in to see the last 15 minutes of the first showing first, as the last bus back to Harting left 20 minutes before the end of the second showing!

Other entertainment was the Saturday night dances. I was too young to go to these. They were held once a month at the Legion Hall, with bands coming from Midhurst or Petersfield.

Harting had a large array of shops then. At the top of the street near the church and stocks was a hardware shop, then a newsagent and a sweetshop.

A tearoom next and an antiques shop – which was in a very old butcher’s shop. In the square, we had a butcher, a greengrocer, a general food shop, a draper’s, then Mr Sharp, the barber. A bakery, a gift shop, post office, blacksmith and a garage for petrol.

The dairy was just out of the main street, and the milk woman came round the village on pony and cart and filled your jugs and bottles from the large churns. One night a week, a fish and chips van came.

Village health was taken care of by Dr Hope, who lived in East Harting. The locals nicknamed him Mr Powder and Pills as nearly every prescription that he gave included them.

Then there was Nurse Beckett, who cycled round the village on a very large bike with all her equipment in a basket on the front.

The public bus service in the village was very good. There was the No 61 from Petersfield to Midhurst via Harting and Elsted, going on the hour from 8am-10pm. The No 54 went via Harting from Petersfield to Chichester.

Can any older residents remember when the main sewage pipes were laid in Harting by Bridgwater Bros that did away with the bucket system that those smelly lorries collected?

The Harting area was well off for pubs as there were three in the village. The White Hart, which is still open, then two that are closed now – The Ship and The Coach and Horses. There was The Greyhound pub and shop, as well as a bakehouse, in West Harting, and only a shop in East Harting.

As children, we made our amusement. Cycle speedway was very popular for a few years. The boys made their own tracks, the main one being at the top of East Harting. The rider we all tried to catch was David Rose, who was the star at the time.

There was great rivalry between South and East Harting boys at both football and cricket. East Harting’s pitch was a field at Mr Dowsett’s farm. His son, Roger, and the White boys were their star players.

The goals were made of bean sticks, with string as the crossbar – leading to big arguments about whether the ball went over or under the string.

In South Gardens – or The Warren as the local boys called it – were the village’s bowling green and grass tennis courts. The park had swings and seesaws for the children to play on but the big attraction for us boys were the ponds.

In the summer we swam. The top one was bigger and the water a lot clearer. As it was private, it was fenced off. The water was pumped via Ensign Pond to Uppark House by a water mill.

The braver or naughtier boys would crawl under the fence and swim, with the rest of us as look-outs.

Half-past-six was the time most of us had to be home for a wash, a bite to eat and then listen to Dick Barton Special Agent with his partners Jock and Snowy.

I still wonder how he managed to escape at the last moment so many times!

One person I must mention is Horace Brightwell, an amateur archaeologist, who, with the help of a few friends, discovered an iron age settlement on Torberry Hill and found many pieces of

pottery, tools, jugs etc that they dug up. They also had success at a site at the bottom of Harting Downs. This was in 1948 – and he was also a part-time grave digger for the village.

In 1951, life changed dramatically for Harting children when Midhurst Secondary Modern School opened.

All over-11s were bussed to and fro to Midhurst each day. The large school, with its wide range of subjects and opportunities in sport gave the children higher aspirations and a new outlook on life.

Sadly, this had an effect on some activities in the village and the way of life too.

I hope these memories have given you all an insight into the way it was in the village 65 years ago. For anybody who lived in Harting in those days, happy memories.

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