Ernie Hobbs (1921 - 2014)
Micheldever Village Lunch had a special occasion to celebrate on 5th January 2011. Ernie Hobbs reached the grand old age of 90. This was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on almost a century of life in Micheldever.
Ernie and his family moved to Micheldever from Crondall in 1923 when he was just 2 years old. They lived in a tied cottage at 87 The Crease (now Lilliput Cottage). It was a tight squeeze for 5 children and their father living in a 2 bedroom cottage. Ernie recalls that all 5 children slept in one bedroom while their father slept in the other bedroom.
In those days there was no electricity or running water. Candles and paraffin lamps were used for light and several times a day the water had to be fetched from a well in the front garden.
Ernie’s elder sister, Ethel was in charge of running the household and taking care of young Ernie. As Ernie got older he was expected to help in the cottage with various chores and he has fond memories of carrying supper to his older brothers working in the fields at harvest time.
Ernie attended Micheldever School, which was run by the Headmaster, Mr Gould, who was a strict disciplinarian. Today’s children would barely recognise the strict regime which Ernie remembers. Many children got the “stick,” including Ernie, who was once caught copying one of his classmates’ work! The Headmaster was a keen sportsman and Ernie loved playing football and cricket.
When not at school Ernie enjoyed bird-nesting and singing in the church choir where he was head choir boy. The countryside was the children’s playground then and in the summer he and other children would help with the harvest. Great fun was had chasing rabbits that bolted from the standing corn. The children would run after the rabbits with a rabbiting stick and try and knock them on the head. A rabbit would feed the family for a couple of days.
In those days most children left school at 14, but Ernie stayed on until he was 16 so that Ethel could continue to receive Orphans’ Pension for caring for Ernie.
In 1937, at age 16, Ernie went to work as an assistant to the Dairyman at Manor Farm, Micheldever, then run by Mr Billing, a tenant farmer. Ernie would get up at 5am everyday and arrive at the farm at 5.30 am in time for milking the cows. Ernie was 1 of 3 milkers and although the farm had electricity (by its own generator) all the milking was done by hand. In those days there was no milk collection by the Milk Marketing Board. The milk was poured into churns and taken by pony and trap to Micheldever Station where it was put on the train to go to the dairy. After the morning milking the cowsheds were scrubbed clean ready for the afternoon milking which commenced at 2.30pm. It was a long day but Ernie enjoyed his work. He remembers his first week’s pay packet was 7 shillings and sixpence (37p)! That’s worth about £14 in today’s money.
His brothers, George and Jack, were also employed at Manor Farm, as carters, working with the horses and carts. Ernie recalls that he was 1 of about 20 farm labourers and the land ran to approximately 1,000 acres. Manor Farm was a mixed farm with arable, pigs, sheep and a dairy herd and Mr Billing took an active part in the running of the farm, playing the role of foreman himself.
In those days Ernie worked 7 days a week, including Christmas Day. His only spare time was during the evenings. Ernie remembers having his first pint at age 16 in the Half Moon and Spread Eagle where he loved playing darts for the pub team. In the summer Ernie enjoyed playing tennis for Micheldever Tennis Club (apparently there were then 2 tennis courts next to the Half Moon). There were also regular whist drives and dances in the village hall.
Micheldever was a very different village in the 1930s. The motor car was still very new and most people got around either on horse, bicycle or foot. Ernie remembers that there were a number of small businesses including a blacksmith, 2 dairies and watercress beds. There were no fewer than 4 shops, namely a butcher at Barn Cottage and 3 general grocers, at Perry’s Acre, The Bakehouse and at the site of the present shop. There was one dairy in Rook Lane and another at the back of the blacksmith’s forge where villagers would go each day to collect their milk with a jug.
The War Years
Sunday 3rd September 1939 was a bright and sunny day. Poland had been invaded by Germany and there was the threat of war. At 11am the Prime Minister was due to make an announcement to the nation. Ernie remembers that he and his brothers were gathered around the wireless, listening and waiting. Neville Chamberlain solemnly declared that the country was at war with Germany. It was a moment that Ernie would never forget. Many said that the war would be over in 6 weeks but of course it lasted 6 years and changed many lives forever.
With the declaration of war came ration books, gas masks and “blackout curtains” which covered windows with a thick material so as to prevent light escaping at night which might assist the German bombers.
Bread, flour, butter, margarine, sugar, tea, eggs, bacon, and meat were rationed, as were clothes, petrol and coal. People had to make do and mend. Every means of supplementing food and clothes was used. Posters told people to “Dig for Victory” which meant many gardens in the village were dug up in order to grow vegetables. Like many, Ernie’s family kept a couple of pigs at the bottom of the garden which were fed on scrap food. In the Autumn one pig would be killed and used to feed the family and the other would be sent to the market. Neighbours, who had helped to feed the pigs, were all treated to a piece of pork and the rest of it was hung up on the ceiling of the coldest part of the cottage.
Ernie and his brothers were not called up to serve in the war, undoubtedly because they were required for essential farmwork. Food production was vital due to the heavy losses of British merchant shipping caused by German submarine attacks.
Ernie recalls that the war brought about a feeling of camaraderie. Everyone was in the same boat and wanted to “do their bit” for the “war effort”. Of the men who were not called to serve in the army, many volunteered to join the Home Guard, which had been formed to offer resistance in the event of a possible invasion. As for Ernie, he volunteered to join the Fire Auxiliary Service. He was one of a small team of men assigned to put out any fires in Micheldever. Their fire-fighting equipment was basic to say the least. They were given a stirrup pump which was a hand-operated device to be placed over the edge of a bucket of water. Fortunately, they were never required to use it!
Many families in the village were worried about their men fighting in the war. The main source of information was the radio and most families gathered around this early in the evening to hear news of the progress of the war on the BBC Home service. Ernie recalls listening to the many stirring speeches of Winston Churchill which united the country in its fight to win the war. “No-one believed that we would not win the war”, said Ernie.
He also remembers the deaths of 3 men whose names appear on the village War Memorial: Arthur Mansbridge, William Stratton and Arthur Whitear, as well as Doris Lay who died as a result of a bomb falling on Winchester.
For Ernie, life during the war continued much the same as usual, with the daily milking and other farming jobs. On quiet sunny days, surrounded by beautiful countryside, the war seemed far away. A touch of style and glamour was brought to life on the farm when 3 girls from the Women’s Land Army joined the workers at Manor Farm.
In December 1941 came the Southampton Blitz when the docks were attacked. Over 5,000 bombs were dropped by the Germans and more than 650 people were killed. Ernie recalls seeing the search lights, hearing the bombing and seeing on the horizon the orange glow of burning fires lighting up the night sky.
There was a close call one day when 4 bombs were dropped in Reservoir Field (past the Vicarage on the right). Two bombs exploded but fortunately no-one was hurt. The Army Disposal team came to defuse the 2 unexploded bombs and then the villagers were invited to look at the bombs before they were taken away.
On 8th May 1945, the German army surrendered. Victory in Europe! Many people celebrated but for others it was a time of sad reflection. The country would never be the same again. For Ernie, life on the farm continued and he has many memories thereafter of the 1950s and 1960s through to the present day.
In his later life, Ernie spent most of his time at the Allotments. You could always tell which was his plot, by the immaculate state and the flowers at the footpath end. Time passed, old age caught up, Dr Lee told him he must stop his gardening, which in true Ernie fashion he ignored! Eventually he parted with a portion of his 'plot' but kept some, long after another of his age would have given up. When he did finally release his plot and move in to one of the bungalows for those of advanced age his flowers outside were a joy to see.