Part 1 – Change Is Coming.
At the outbreak of the war, Marldon was a quiet and peaceful country village, much as it had been for the previous two hundred years.
These recollections are those of a ten year old boy, just old enough to have seen a glimpse of the enclosed rural way of life which has now disappeared and willing to accept as normal all the exciting and abnormal things which would follow over the next few years. Today there is little difference between town and country life, where the same amenities can be enjoyed by all, but before the war a decade could have separated the pattern of living between the two communities. The town with its shops and services was a different world to the village which had retained an almost unchanged rural identity where personal differences were dropped only at Christmas and Harvest time when the harvest was so important that many villagers turned out to participate.
The population was quite small, about a hundred houses more than half of which were scattered up to a mile in all directions, and many built where the spring waters came near the ground surface. At other dwellings, the water would be drained from sloping corrugated iron or lean to roofs and collected in 100 gallon water tanks obtainable from all good merchants. With a smaller number of houses, the significance of the public buildings was thereby increased. Least popular to a child was the school house, with its high windows, inadequate coke stove heating and earth closets in the toilet block. It was indeed a good place to leave behind in the afternoon, and perhaps if you were lucky you could cadge a ride on a mangold cart making its way up the hill to one of the farms.
Across the way the church was kinder to little children and, more important, less hostile to small boys, although even here it was possible to pick up a cuff on the ear from an elder for letting a concealed six gun off during choir practice!
The jewel in the crown was the Parish Hall, barely four years old and still smelling of new timber. Even in those days it escaped all forms of vandalism from local lads. They might tie the pub door to the rail outside and run in fear of their lives, but the Hall was never abused. It was a place where someone truly made jam, weekly whist drives (at least twenty tables so better arrive early) dental treatments for school children, magic lantern shows and now and again dances for quite old people with ladies in long dresses. Marldon was a poor village, and many families knew something of poverty.
An incident one August afternoon brought tears of the eyes of a hardened farm worker. They were threshing corn close by Moor Tor and one of the men feeding the sheaves had for some reason taken off his new boots which had been placed for safety on top of the thresher. Somehow a fellow worker fed the boots along with the corn into the machine. The apparatus jammed immediately and ground to a halt, although the traction engine continued to chunk on. There was a bit of a row and a lot of shouting, and when they eventually fished the boots out, it was obvious that they had been ruined. The owner almost cried and they finally got him quietened down but the damage had been done. After the excitement of seeing grown men nearly come to blows, we watched the steam engine for a bit, then got fed up and went home.
Marldon had one over-riding asset in its economy – it could grow grass, and to convert the grass the red South Devon Cow. The animals outnumbered the population and in the village itself there were three working farms. As important as the grazing of cows was the movement of cows from the fields to the farms at milking time. Sometimes different herds would meet each other on the way and cows forgetting which group they were supposed to be in would go off to the wrong place. The resulting mix up would take a bit of sorting out at the other end. From time to time stragglers would go trotting off on their own pursued by some irate farm hand, and the animals would become a severe hazard not to the non-existent traffic, but to the food produced from local gardens. Furzegood could be safeguarded from these incursions by the heavy wooden gates at the entrance and this feature separating parts of the village remained for many years. Chickens would also wander down the road picking up bits thrown out for them and most found their way home again.
Despite rural isolation, technology had started to filter through. The roads had not long received the first covering of tarmac, thus enabling the second charabanc on the outing to follow in the wake of the first free from the customary swirling cloud of white dust. Several motor cars had appeared.
The vicar chose an early Terraplane, high and unwieldy and an altogether dubious vehicle, the school master more traditional in a Flying Standard and generally thought by the kids to be the fastest thing on four wheels. The first tractor had been delivered to Love Lane Farm! A late bus service had been laid on at 9pm running as far as Maidenway and this was available as an alternative to the last Marldon Bus, which left Paignton at 6 o’clock.
Builders had learned how to build in brick instead of stone and a ribbon of new bungalows had just been built from the cross-road to Five Lanes, followed by another towards the village. Hardcore had been laid to form the entrance into Belfield, but it would be many years before the developers cut the first sod. Had the events in 1939 not occurred, a few houses would have been built sooner, but the war did account for the greatest acceleration of change in the village history. The older folks with established attitudes would not change easily, but the young, quick to latch on to new fashions, were willing to accept as normal all the existing and abnormal things which were about to happen. From that time the gates would open and let in a flood of new faces from all parts of England and later from the U.S.A.
The effect was staggering in the village where even the children knew nearly all the inhabitants. The strangers would bring with them new customs, an innovation and, being for most part, young men, a good measure of vitality and glamour.
Within a few brief years, all the new faces would be gone and after 6th June 1944, an air of sadness would descend as half the population left for the beaches of France.
For a time the village slipped back into its old ways, but the aftermath of a visiting army had left its mark, and things were never quite the same again.
The peace is shattered as war comes to Marldon.