Ronald Gager

My name is Ronald Edward Gager (born 1 June 1936), my mother was Lily Burton before marrying my father, and her mother was Maud Burton née Hargreaves, who married Harry Burton from Swallowcliffe. Harry was (a brother I think?) to Will Burton your long-time baker (at Cowdry’s) whose wife Eva and daughter Elsie were my Aunts. Elsie of course still lives in Baker’s Cottage with which I am quite familiar as I was sent from Tooting in South London, to stay with them in the early part of the war. Incidentally, I never met anyone from the T.E. Burton coal and transport family but imagine they fit in somewhere here. Your book “Pages from our History” has been most enjoyable and absolutely incredible for me by digging up memories of people, events and places.

Having rather long windedly introduced myself I would like to share some memories with you, hoping they may be of some interest:

I have returned many times to Fovant which I have loved (yes, I think that is the correct word) all of my life and have been delighted to find so few changes there since the wartime. I send my heartiest congratulations to those responsible. Truckle’s sweets and Targett’s butchers have gone, but Cowdry’s remains. Whatever happened to that lovely girl Grace?

The walk to the school was always fun, when we reached “Hangin” (was that where the Gibbet was at one time, or was it that the field overhung the road?) we would dare each other to run madly across the very shallow stream and back fast enough to keep our feet dry. Now of course “Hangin” is built on. One of the houses on the way to school had its own cress bed in the front garden. [now in the garden of Springwater, Tisbury Road]

The last house on the right before “Hangin” [The Gables] was followed by a long thick hedge which we would hide behind and there we found an incendiary bomb of the usual finned type.

My great pal throughout was Norman Austin who lives even now next door to the old PO. He was known by all as “THEW” in those days and tells me I am the only one who calls him that now. However does he keep looking so young?

Going back to the mansion on the main road [possibly Brook House, or the present Rectory] which I think was requisitioned for the duration, a favourite thing was to enter the stream near their bamboo clump (great for arrows) and wade all the way to the chapel bridge. One of the cottages on the stream [opposite Fovant Stores] was “our grans” complete with bed warming pan on the wall.

The schoolmistress was a gem and kept us interested all the time. The one big classroom held children of many ages and I sat at the rear on the left next to a glass cupboard containing, among other interesting things, an ostrich egg.

My favourite story she told was a lesson for life in itself. She told of Gipsy people coming to Fovant and sending their children to the school. The locals protested that their “clean” children should not have to mix with these “dirty” kids. The authorities sent a nurse to examine all the children at the school and found the Romany Kids were quite clean but that some of the village girls had lots of “nits” under their big hair bows. Thus we were taught tolerance and not to jump to conclusions all in one lesson.

The sand pit on the Dinton Road was a wonderful play area for us. Now it is all overgrown, but it was in constant use, I suppose, for building materials then, and we carved paths up the faces to build caves in the sandstone which was very soft. The Americans from their base near Dinton dumped a lot of their rubbish there, lots of electronics and vending machines, etc. which we delighted in.

The enclosed narrow gauge railway line across the road from the sand pit was of course to a munitions store and is referred to several times in a book called “Secret Underground Cities” which is about all such dumps used in both world wars. I assumed it connected with the main line at Dinton.

The lads found a long length of drainpipe in the pit, and with a lot of camouflage net constructed a dummy gun battery on the bank perhaps a hundred yards before the Pembroke Arms. It pointed skywards and might have attracted German attention it was so realistic.

The “Yanks” were so kind to us kids, bringing us candy, biscuits, chocolate and things like oranges which we had never seen in our lives. “Got any gum chum” was our usual ploy, and after distributing their goodies the response was “do you have a sister?” To which I would reply yes, followed by “how old is she?” When I said 4 years old, they would give me more biscuits “for her”.

For many years we made a point of buying watercress from Fovant, until it ceased, but at least the beds are in good use now.

Sundays were first Chapel, then afternoon again to chapel, and then the long walk to St George’s with all the family and neighbours. Sunday School outings were to the clump of trees seen up on the plain looking 45 degrees to the right from the Pembroke Arms front door. The sloes growing there were very sour. I remember the crashed aeroplane. It had proved a fine source of Perspex for many old boys (and dads) who made crosses, rings etc. from it. Lots were in circulation.

Baker’s cottage was quite primitive to me after living in London. The privy was a hut up the garden emptied by a wagon regularly. Water was available from a tap in a brick plinth on the wall of the house opposite and we would fill the white enamel pail (with white enamel lid and round handle) regularly. There was an equivalent hand pump on the right of the road to the right of the Cross Keys which presumably served residents there. Cooking was by Primus stove with much use of the pricker wire.

We have been delighted to eat at the Pembroke Arms and enjoy the exhibits there, but the new version though very swish is just not the same. Elsie took me to the Pembroke Arms for a bath from time to time during my stay. I was glad to see in your book that all their memorabilia are well looked after.

School sports day was in a farm field by the first turning to the right on the main road to Salisbury. Cow-pats were the greatest hazard then.

Harvest time in the fields at the top of our garden was great fun. Everyone would gather round the crop and as the harvesting progressed in ever decreasing circles the rabbits and hares would bolt out, but somehow I cannot remember many being caught.

One very strange thing I can remember was that whilst I was only there in the early part of the war, most of the other evacuees were there much longer. When my parents took me back to visit my aunts much later in the war, I could not understand what these old pals were saying to me. Their accent was what, an amalgam of Wiltshire and wherever they came from? I just could not understand what they were saying. By then I had been back in Tooting for a considerable time.

So you see the magic of Fovant has influenced probably scores of young lads. They were from cities all over. Target’s the butcher’s lad was from Northampton. I shall always remain convinced that it is a very special place in so many hearts.

January 2009

Content last updated
27 January 2009