THE wife of a farm labourer, Nellie Barclay spent her days documenting her experiences of living through the first world war, writes
Now her son, Petworth author and photographer David Johnston, has collected her memoirs in a bid to help others learn more about the history of the area, and discover what life was like for those at home while Britain was at war.
“Finding my mother’s diary was a great discovery,” said David.
“She wrote a very personal and moving account which I want to share with others.”
Despite moving around Sussex, Nellie spent much of her life at her home in Oving, where she wrote her diary.
Because of its close proximity to Tangmere aerodrome, the unhurried rhythm of country life in Oving was shattered considerably by the onslaught of the first world war., writes David Johnston,
There, amid the constant clatter of ack-ack guns, the ever-threatening sound of the doodle-bugs and the unnerving roar of fighter planes taking off on their test flights from the nearby airfield, (several crashing close by) the villagers carried on with stout reserve.
They all pulled together to make valuable contributions to the war effort, even the schoolchildren did their bit, as recounted in Nellie Barclay’s childhood memoirs.
My mother, Nellie Barclay, lived in the Alms-Houses, with her grandmother, Sarah-Jane Chalcraft, from 1908, until the old widow’s death in 1922. Nellie then moved to Tower Street in Chichester.
Some years later, she returned to the countryside, to spend many happy years with her second husband Harry Pateman, a farm labourer, who sporadically moved about Sussex.
Shortly before her death in 1989, aged 84, she wrote about her early life in the village of Oving – which included the 1914-18, war years.
This part of her story, which is in my possession, I dedicate to those who gave their lives in this dreadful war.
These are the extracts from Nellie’s memoirs...
In 1914, war broke out between England and Germany, but I still loved to go out for my walks at the weekends to gather wild flowers and other nature things. In our garden was a laurel hedge where an alcove had been clipped, this I turned into a kind of summerhouse to keep all my flowers and other nature things in.
I called it ‘The fairies grotto’.
But now the war was on I was not allowed to travel so far from home, so I made myself useful by doing things for the wounded soldiers.
I had several letters sent to me from the soldiers in Chichester Hospital.
Later, soldiers from other countries were billeted in the village. Most of them were Canadians.
The contribution to the war effort by the schoolchildren, was recorded in the West Sussex Gazette, April 4, 1918 – Oving: “Much interest was evinced in the special service held at the Parish Church on Easter Sunday afternoon at which eggs and flowers were presented for the use of the wounded in local Military Hospitals.”
Three weeks later – on April 25, 1918, the West Sussex Gazette, reported news that shocked and saddened the whole village: ‘The Vicar’s Son Killed In Action’.
The recent casualty lists have brought sorrow into Oving Vicarage, for on April 9 Lieut Walter Haliburton Routledge Crick, Dorset Regiment, only son of the Rev Walter and Mrs Crick, was killed in action.
He was born at Arundel during his father’s vicarial there, and after going to a Worthing preparatory school, gained distinction both as a scholar and athlete at Lancing College, and in 1914 was elected to an open scholarship in history at St John’s College, Cambridge, where his grandfather had at one time been a Fellow and tutor.
In the same week he was offered an exhibition in history at Magdalen College, Oxford, which he decided to accept. He was gazetted to the Dorset Regiment in April 1915, and went to India, afterwards going on service with his regiment.
When invalided by malarial fever he was offered employment in the Soudan, but preferred to re-join his battalion at the front. Lieut Crick was 21 years of age.
The soldiers dug a railway low down between the RAF base and the station. It used to carry ammunition to and from the station. It was very frightening when the big guns went off, and the aeroplanes and Zeppelins came over.
One night a Zeppelin came over the vicarage and the big guns brought it down.
Granny and I were ever so frightened.
My friend Mabel fell in with one of the Canadian soldiers and he gave her some silk cigarette cards, which she made a bedspread of. I wonder if she still has it today.
Two aeroplanes crashed and both pilots were killed. One was an officer and the other an ordinary pilot. They had a military funeral.
One night enemy planes came over to bomb Tangmere, but were chased away by our ack-ack guns.
I remember going across a lot of fields to see the first aeroplane that had come down. It was a two-winged plane, which only had one pilot.
My friends and I were fascinated by it.
The tragic aeroplane crash was in fact recorded in the West Sussex Gazette, on April 18, 1918. “Oving – Air Officers Military Funeral.
“‘The chance they all take’, as their Squadron Commander called it, went against Lieut. Norman England and Sec.Lieut. Victor Raleigh Cragie, on a day of brilliant sunshine they were borne along the country lanes from the aerodrome, the coffins draped in the flag they had served, to the churchyard at Oving.
“Lieut Craigie, a nephew of the ‘John Oliver Hobbes’ the famous novelist, had lived some time as a boy, with Mr. R.B. Denyer, at Binsted.”
Pearl Mary Teresa Craigie (November 3, 1867 – August 13, 1906) was an Anglo-American novelist who wrote under the pen-name of John Oliver Hobbes.
Though her work fell out of print in the twentieth-century, her first book ‘Some Emotions and a Moral’ was a sensation in its day, selling eighty-thousand copies in only a few weeks.
The West Sussex Gazette continues its report: “Lieut. England was only married some two months ago, his young wife had been staying at Oving with him, and they had attended the village church together.”
Richard Denyer was also remembered by Paul Wyatt of Walberton. “He was a tall, dignified old man who was always charming and polite to everyone, and that included his few cows which he used to watch over as they grazed beside the road.
“When his cows had had their fill of the grass beside the road, he escorted them back to his paddock or to the cow-house.”
The West Sussex Gazette report continues: “The funeral procession from the aerodrome was lead by a firing party of the Royal Sussex Regiment from the Chichester Depot Band, playing slow music.
“The draped coffins were borne on a motor carriage of the Royal Air Force, on either side of which walked the two sets of bearers, flight comrades of the deceased.”
This war lasted four years and food was rationed. There were ration books and each person was only allowed, half a pound of sugar, 4ozs of butter, 2ozs cheese a week, one pot of jam a month, a quarter pound of tea month, and 4ozs of sweets.
These things were on one ration book for one person for a week or a month.
During all this time my mother was out at work and her first place was a lady Nepham’s in the village.
She worked for 12 shillings a week.
The lady gave me a lovely wax doll, but I was never allowed to play with it, as it was too good.
I also had an old wax doll that was owned by my great grandmother, this dolls name was Fanny.
After a while mother went as a chambermaid to the Angel Hotel, in Midhurst. She used to come home weekends, and each time brought me home an assortment of picturesque cigarette cards that were discarded by the visitors.
Our money consisted of farthings for which you could buy a rope of liquorice, a sugar mouse, or five aniseed balls.
With halfpennies you could buy a hap’orth of sweets (there were also) pennies, silver threepenny bits, four penny bits, shillings, florins, half crowns, crowns, half sovereigns (gold) sovereigns (gold) and guineas.
I had several friends in Oving. Eva the coachman’s daughter, Gertie Mant, Gladys who married a Bevis – chemists in Chichester, Alice Wickens or Dimple that I called her lived at Mill House Farm; the old place having got its name on account of there once being a mill there many years ago.
In 1922 my grandmother (Sarah Jane Chalcraft) died, she was buried in Oving cemetery.
A cutting from the 1922, Oving Parish magazine, records the death of Sarah Jane Chalcraft, giving a brief account of her life in that village between the years 1910 and 1922: “Mrs Chalcraft, who was a regular member of the congregation and a communicant, died there on November 12 in the cottage in which she had lived for about twelve years.
“Mrs Chalcraft, had, we believe, seen better days, as the saying goes; but she never repined at her straightened circumstances, and continued bright and cheerful, and grateful for any little attention shown to her, to the last.”
My country days were over. I left school and came with my mother to 30 Tower Street, in Chichester, where I was to live for the next 16 years.
A lot of granny’s things were sold, the rest was brought to this house, where my mother had agreed to look after an uncle. (George Coulthard) who after a long illness, had given up his wine shop in Petersfield and moved into this old house.