Wednesday 10 October 2018

The Story of Oliver James Stannett in his own word - Part Three

I had started going to Eton Porney School when the 1914-18 war broke out. George and Albert both joined up in the Royal Life Guards at Windsor.

While going to Eton Porney School we used to have a Christmas party and magic lantern show every year. On this particular day I had my lunch taken from the cloakroom. (This was the only place we were allowed to put it, with our coats.) So I went to see the Head Master who lived on the premises and informed him that someone had taken my lunch.

Mr. Baker was very concerned and told me to wait a minute. He came out after five minutes and gave me two large pieces of fruit cake and two sandwiches. "There you are," he said. "And don't forget you will have no cake with your tea." But I had all the cake I wanted. I was worried because I thought that I wasn't going to get any at the party but when it was passed round the table I looked up at Mr. Baker and all he did was smile and nod his head so I got stuck in.

When I was about eleven years old, Eton College had a soup kitchen in Eton High Street where one could buy offcuts of bread. It cost tuppence for half a pillowcase full. John (Brewer) and I used to go every Friday morning and we would sit in the playing fields on the way home to search our cases for pieces of cake or currant bread - sometimes we were lucky other times not.

On other days we used to look into the dustbins of the college houses for anything that was any good. We always had plenty of writing materials, books with only two pages written on in pencil and pen nibs and pennies all stuck together. Very often we would find a cake in a cake box which had been thrown away by the boys. They always put it on top of the dustbin.

Sometimes when nothing else was forthcoming we would find a 7lb. tin of golden syrup with a nice lot of treacle inside. Then we would go along to the meadow. This was a meadow which ran nearly the length of the common. Near home, we would find the best and youngest clump of sour sorrel, which was very sour. Then we sat down and dipped the sorrel in the treacle and enjoyed life. So when we got home we did not want any tea, if there was any.

On the occasions when there wasn't the treacle tin came in handy. We three (Mum's brothers and myself) went collecting birds eggs and cooked them on a fire. We used to have birds' eggs often. At least we had something to eat. Autumn was the best time for swedes, turnips and spuds. We used to cook wheat when we had nothing else. When I look back I often wonder if it did us any good but I'm sure it did.

Dad took an acre of grassland for an allotment. This was when we shook the villagers. They were all puzzled about how the ground got dug without anyone working on it. I was given to understand that the men in parts and around the village were arguing about it. I used to wait for Dad to come home from work and after he had his tea he would say, "Come on Olly let's show 'em." We went to the allotment, of course, it was dark when we got there. He uncovered some bags of lime which we proceeded to throw over the ground. We dug until midnight or thereabouts. The moon came up a bit and we could see what we were doing. We always covered a certain amount of ground. Whatever we covered, we dug without leaving any sign that we had been there. It was surprising what we managed to do.

On Sundays we did planting only, you see, at that time Dad was working in the coal yard near the gas works. It was always getting dark when he got home. But what amused me was that men came out of two or three pubs to watch us. They all came up the path to see what we were doing. Dad told them how it was done and they got some lime for their own ground. Dad and I managed to do a whole quarter acre in three weeks.

This is an extract from the autobiography written by Oliver James Stannett (1903 - 1988) and republished here with the kind permission of his relatives who still live in Eton Wick.

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