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John Amos and Me

Unfinished Memoirs

James Essex

MAY 1940 - more than sixty years ago, yet I remember it as though it was yesterday. A few names and details escape me but the tensions and excitement of those heady wartime days remain with me. They always will. Jim Essex 1939 We lived in Lewes, the county town of East Sussex where my parents ran "Bull House" - in earlier times the "Bull Inn" - but by then converted into a tea rooms and bakery, in the High Street, at a spot so narrow that the double-decker Southdown buses regularly hit our swinging sign so that it had to be constantly re-furbished.

We had acquired Bull House in 1938, just as Neville Chamberlain returned triumphant from Germany waving his piece of paper signed by Hitler and assuring the British people that there would be "peace in our time." Meanwhile, my father, a retired journalist who'd served on the Prince of Wales' staff in the First World War, was one of those already training as ARP wardens in anticipation of the outbreak of the Second World War.

Early days at LCGS

While my parents and elder sister were settling in to life in Lewes, I was enrolled at Lewes County Grammar School. I well remember my first day at the school because that was when I first encountered John Amos. We were having our mid-morning break in the main hall where Mrs. Parkinson, the caretaker's wife, presided over a table on which were piles of cream buns, rock cakes, and custard tarts. The drill was to get your bottle of milk then chose a cake to go with it. Finally, you paid a penny or twopence according to what you'd selected to Mrs. Parkinson, then stood back to eat your choice.

John Amos 1939 I was watching the table with its melee of squirming boys around it when suddenly I noticed one lad deftly take a rock cake, slip it into his pocket then pick up a cream bun for which he offered his twopence to Mrs Parkinson. The whole thing was done so cleverly that no one, least of all the caretaker's wife noticed the pilferage! As he turned away from the table, his eyes met mine and he murmured what sounded like "pert pert" while he grinned mischievously. I asked him what "pert pert" meant. John smiled at me then said seriously, "that's a damn silly question - I'm very surprised at your ignorance"! I never asked him again.

I followed him to some chairs and we sat down together. I looked at him and I saw that he was stockily built, of average height and had a monkeylike face with ears that stuck out. His eyes were constantly searching the room as though he was looking for someone.

"What d'you think of the school?" I asked.
"Oh it's alright," he answered. "Don't think much of these cakes though," he added, a smile breaking on his face.
"You nicked that one", I said.
"Yeah, well they're not worth buying" came the bland rejoinder and he grinned at me.

From that day forward, John Amos and I were inseparable. We were both 12 years old and had been allocated to Form 2A - the "A" stream was supposed to contain the brighter boys.

John had short brown hair, a knowing look and rather protruding ears, which gave him his monkey-like look. He was highly intelligent but very lazy at school unless we were doing something he really liked. He had an irrepressible sense of fun - which I've never forgotten - and mostly used his thirteen year old brain to resist and obstruct all forms of authority. Teachers, policemen, park keepers, swimming pool attendants, were to John Amos "the enemy" to be constantly baited and thwarted.

The Air War and the ARP

Early in 1940, we joined the Air Raid Precautions Service (then called the ARP), as Messengers. You were supposed to be 16 to join but we badgered our parents till they relented. It wasn't altruism, which motivated us. We reasoned thus: when the sirens wailed we'd be called out on duty, so avoiding school. Moreover, the possession of steel helmets and "Civilian Duty" respirators in canvas haversacks gave us status over our school fellows who mostly carried their gas masks in cardboard boxes with a string over their shoulders. Our plan for avoiding school was, at first frustrated by Mr Bradshaw, the headmaster, who stopped us from leaving the school except when an actual air raid was imminent! After the evacuation from Dunkirk, Lewes was getting up to ten "Air Raid Alert" warnings daily and we were needed for communications back up and dodged a lot of school, by performing ARP duties instead. We were filled with self-importance and triumphant that we had "beaten" the headmaster!

Wardens Post No.6 was situated in Westgate Street, then known as White Lion Lane because it housed an old pub called the White Lion. The post stood above ground buttressed snugly against the solid earth works which formed the ramparts of Lewes Castle. Constructed of brick it had a solid slab of concrete as its roof and to us it looked indestructible. At that time we hadn't experienced the Luftwaffe in action.

A First World War veteran was Warden Bill Huggett, who immediately pointed out that No.6 Post had no blast wall covering the entrance. Dear old Bill then regaled us with an experience he'd had on the Somme in 1916. "There was 'orrible 'avoc when us took cover from the 'un bombardment in a dugout wiv no proper pertection at the h'entrance".

Our Head Warden, Mr Phil Dusart who ran a hairdressing salon in the High Street, decided that a sandbagged wall must be built across the entrance to the post. Problem solved - except who should build it? My father, our Deputy Head Warden, then said "A capital job for these boys" meaning we Messengers. "It'll be excellent experience for them!" he enthused. I don't recall it being "excellent experience" mostly because John and I were at that time the only Messengers serving at Post Number Six. The entire construction of the blast wall fell to us - in the event almost on us! But that comes later.

Armed with an Official requisition signed by His Worship the Mayor of Lewes, Colonel Charles D. Crisp, who was ARP Controller, we made our way to the Council's yard, pushing the local Boy Scouts trek cart. It was, I recall, near J.H. Every's ironworks. Loaded up with bundles of sandbags we then sweated back to Wardens Post No.6 where in our absence a lorry had dumped a mountain of sand. We were ready to start building the wall ...

Since ex-corporal Huggett - who was to supervise our labours - failed to turn up, we decided to carry on. We'd filled about 100 sandbags before Mr Huggett arrived. He eyed our handiwork critically for a few moments then said: "Y'only fill sandbags two thirds full lads cos' they don't pack down solid if yer fills 'em h'any more. Better h'empty them buggers an' start agin!" Muttering oaths to each other we wearily began the whole job again.

After a whole day's shoveling - during which our hands blistered and our backs felt as though they'd never straighten again - the wretched sandbags were re-filled and we started to build our blast wall.

Ex-corporal Hugget hung around for a while, giving us gratuitous advice, then eventually losing interest, disappearing in the direction of the White Lion. We laboured on diligently until Head Warden Dusart and my father arrived to inspect our efforts. They gazed solemnly at the fifteen foot sandbag wall then somewhat dubiously at each other. Finally, Mr Dusart leaned forward and gave the wall a hefty shove with his foot.

In the nick of time I heard my father shout: "Look out, it's coming down!" Shoving John aside I barely jumped clear when with a dull rumble our precious sandbagged blast wall collapsed on the spot where we'd been standing seconds earlier! Phil Dusart and my father looked blankly at each other then burst out laughing. Our silence told of our embarrassment.It took the entire staff of No.6 Wardens Post a whole day to clear up the mess and build a proper blast wall. We were deeply contrite although no one reproached us.

As the German air attacks on southern England increased so too did the interruptions to our education. By early August 1940 we were spending more time on ARP duty than school - which admittedly, suited John and I. However, since most Air Raid Alert warnings at that time didn't develop into actual attacks, the Headmaster insisted that we resume normal school attendance. With much grumbling we did as we were told.

The Battle of Britain

During that long hot summer of 1940 the air raids persisted on a rising scale and increasingly we were forced to take cover in the school's air raid shelters where the staff tried valiantly to provide some sort of an education for us. We loved sheltering! Badly lit, lacking teaching facilities it offered endless opportunities for adolescent schoolboys to skylark! We had one master who suffered from claustrophobia. After an hour's close confinement in a shelter, he'd suddenly panic and rush outside shouting hysterically and leaving we boys shrieking with laughter! Thirty teenagers could be - even unconsciously - very cruel!

Our greatest excitement came when we watched the RAF and the Luftwaffe engaged in dogfights high above our heads in the clear blue skies that dominated southern England that summer. To we boys it was a game. We couldn't comprehend that 30,000 feet above our playing fields, young men - little older than ourselves - were fighting for their lives, and coincidentally for our own too!

They flew too high for recognition. All we saw was a crazy pattern of vapour trails as engine exhausts hit cold air at high altitudes. Often there wasn't even the sound of aero-engines turning the battle into a silent film on a vast screen - the azure sky. Brief crackles of machine gun fire and the occasional sparkle of tracer bullets were the "special effects, reminding us far below, that this really was war.

Suddenly, an aircraft, streaming black smoke and orange flame, began spiraling down towards the silent waiting earth. Some pilots managed to bale out, their parachutes drifting slowly behind their falling planes. Others fell thousands of feet to terrifying deaths.

When we saw a plane coming down we always assumed it was "one of theirs". When we were wrong - as often we were - we'd see an RAF fighter hit the ground in a flaming inferno of high octane. Then our excited chatter fell silent ...

Pillaging Crash Sites

Sometimes we'd know where a plane had crashed and fidgeting till the last bell rang at ten to four, we'd rush away to grab our bikes and pedal furiously to the spot. Awaiting us was either a scene of total cremation or a smouldering pyre of shattered aircraft over which hung the sweet smell of burnt flesh. Visiting these scenes of horror became a morbid compulsion which we seemed unable to resist.

In late August 1940 a Messerschmidt 109 crashed beside the Brighton Road. Some of us inspected the wreckage, which having hit the ground at very high speed, didn't amount to very much. The German pilot had smeared himself across a field of wheat awaiting harvest. We began looking through the tangled metal, searching for souveniers - a dangerous game because there was usually remained unexploded ammunition or bombs.

Raking through the twisted remains of the Messerschmidt, John spotted something unusual. "Hey - look over there!" he shouted excitedly, stumbling through the tangled wreckage to where something blackened lay smouldering in the charred stubble. I followed and just beyond the wrecked plane we found a scorched leather-flying boot.

I bent down and picked it up. It was heavy. Peering curiously inside I gulped: "Oh Christ!" Then retching violently I dropped the boot on the ground. Inside, torn off by the impact of the crash was a human foot. The shattered ankle bone pointed at me like an accusing finger while the whole abomination smelled of roasted flesh ...

"Give it to me!" demanded John. We watched him, his face a study in concentration as he tried to drag the charred foot from its leather shroud. Then, with malicious glee he turned to a boy called Desmond Moore, saying: "Did y'hear it squelch Dezzy?" Unable to separate the foot from the flying boot he casually tossed it aside, resuming his hunt for other souvenirs.

The Moore Family

Des Moore 1939Let me clarify the relationship between John and me and young Moore. We'd all entered Lewes County Grammar School in September 1938, being placed in the same class. John and I were scholastically lazy, disruptive and were said by the headmaster to be "the worst two boys in the school." Although John was the ringleader, I didn't need the slightest encouragement to follow his bad example! As our friendship developed so too did our reputations in the school as "bad boys". Conversely, Moore regarded himself as a model pupil.

His father was pastor to some obscure non-conformist chapel and young Desmond regarded him as somehow "divine" and thus holding authority over everyone else whether or not they belonged to his flock. Pastor Moore and his family regarded everyone outside their congregation as "lost souls" destined for eternal damnation!

From the beginning, Desmond Moore was a miserable little prig who enthusiastically directed his religious fervour towards John and me. Why he picked on us we never understood but throughout our school years we maintained a mutual dislike which was never resolved. John called him "that sanctimonious little sod!" While an old boy from the school remembered him some sixty years later as "The Uriah Heep of Form 2a!".

Wormy Lawrence

Youngsters - especially boys - are often unaware of personal danger and we followed this tradition. Not everything we uncovered at crash sites was unpleasant, much of it was highly dangerous and but for good fortune we might easily have suffered serious injury - or worse. A classmate, Brian Lawrence, souvenired some ammunition from a German bomber shot down near Uckfield. He was removing cordite from a cannon shell when it exploded blowing off most of his hand. "Wormy" Lawrence had the remains amputated at the wrist. He was just fourteen at the time, a great young fellow who never let his tragedy get him down.

Wormy had a device fitted to his stump consisting of a socket into which fitted a hook and various eating implements. John was fascinated by Wormy's artificial hand, especially the hook, which he confided to me, he'd like to stick in Moore's stomach! Skylarking one day, several of us bundled Wormy into the gymnasium and hung him by his hook from the wall bars. Typical of his good nature, Wormy thought the incident extremely funny especially when we went into class and told the master "Lawrence sir? Oh the last time we saw him he was playing at acrobatics in the gym".

The military, becoming concerned about terrible injuries - sometimes fatal - which involved schoolboys, tried much to our chagrin, to seal off crash sites. Looking back on our souvenir hunting from wrecked aircraft it was miraculous that some of us weren't blown to bits while foraging through the debris. The Nazis sometimes had special explosive charges concealed within their planes, which in the event of a forced landing could be triggered to explode at a later time. Souveniring was a damned risky business but so fascinating that we ignored the tragic example of Brian Lawrence and pressed on with it, regardless of the hazards.

Chocolate Bars

As the war progressed, the Ministry of Food introduced confectionery rationing. Sweets were rationed and we were limited as to what we could buy - about two ounces a week - which wasn't much. Co-incidentally, tooth decay fell to its lowest level for years both before rationing and since!

Immediately rationing started, John and I emptied the dispensing machines on Lewes railway station of all the chocolate bars we could afford. Since they cost a penny each and our weekly pocket money was only a shilling I pointed out to John that our purchasing power was some what limited! He smiled blandly. "My dear chap," he began, "I have already considered this and I believe I have the complete answer to our problem".

Quietly humming "We're Going To Hang Out the Washing on The Siegfried Line", he took from his pocket a round cardboard disc which he laid carefully on top of a penny. They were identical in size.

"Go on - take a look!" he cried. I've made fifty like this and they work perfectly!" You see Jimbo, Nestles machines don't work by weight - they're mechanical - the coin provides the last link in the mechanism. Mine fit the machine and I've varnished 'em so's they stay rigid - c'mon I'll show you!"

After blackout we cycled along Stewards Inn Lane and down St Swithun's Terrace, pausing briefly while John rang Moore's doorbell before we retreated under cover of the night's blackness. Two, penny platform tickets got us into the station and we selected a machine, which still had some chocolate bars in it. By torchlight I examined John's cardboard discs.
"What the hell's this?" I asked, peering in the dim light at some words neatly printed around the edges of them.
'What's what?"
"Well, what does this mean?" I queried.
"It says: 'One Dud' he replied gravely.
"What for?" I was puzzled.
"So's it won't be mistaken for a penny !"
"I don't understand," I told him.
"Well, we don't want to cheat anyone do we?"

The absurdity of his reply, in the situation, almost reduced me to tears of mirth!
"This is no laughing matter," he snapped irritably - come with me and I'll show you."
Holding a "One Dud" in his grubby fingers, John turned to the machine and pushed his "coin" into the slot. Sliding open the drawer, he extracted a slim chocolate bar!
"Pert pert," he chuckled gleefully. "You can stop your laughing now - we're in business!"

Purposefully, we emptied all the machines of their 1d chocolate bars telling each other "These'll sell to the kids at school for at least 3d each." Having emptied all the machines on both platforms, we made our way home joyfully anticipating our forthcoming ill-gotten gains.

The Motts

Late in 1940, we were confronted by the risks involved with illicit sexual liaisons resulting from an unplanned pregnancy within a family named Mott. We had known Bobby Mott, a tough little bruiser, since before the war. He was the eldest son of a skinny ginger-haired labourer and his very fat wife. The family lived in a cottage in St Martin's Lane which had most of its windows broken and a front door that literally hung on its hinges, being regularly kicked in by Mr Mott when he returned home drunk, which usually occurred on Saturday nights. There was a younger brother to Bobby, called Reuben and the boys had a 17-year old sister called Doris known by her family as "our Dori".

We didn't encourage Reuben to hang around us because he was too small, - too small that was, to ring Desi Moore's doorbell - then run away. Or to cheek an old woman called Miss Digweed, who lived alone in a leaky cottage at the bottom of St Martin's Lane. Bobby Mott said that Miss Digweed was a witch. "Er sweeps 'er path with a long bass broom an' come nightfall 'er flies over Lewes on that there broomstick. Me mam told me so it must be right." "Besides," he declared, "Er's got a dirty face". The significance of this last remark was completely lost on John and me.

Getting back to Doris Mott. She had - according to Bobby Mott been keeping company with a Canadian serviceman - well, two of them actually. One in the RCAF, the other a soldier in the Winnipeg Rifles. Bobby wasn't sure which one was responsible for "our Dori's trouble" but one of her suitors "ave put 'er i n the fam'ly way!" When the truth could no longer be concealed from public gaze, a terrible row erupted in the Mott's cottage!

Mrs Mott, with her huge leg o' mutton arms folded defiantly across her ample bosoms declaimed in gin-sodden tones to an audience of neighbours "the wickedness of the rotten bugger wot's ruined our poor Dori an' shamed 'er father an' me!". When Pastor Moore approached the family, offering gratuitous Christian sympathy and the promise that on Sunday he'd "ask the Lord's forgiveness for your daughter's sinfulness" he was roundly abused.

Later that week when her Canadian airman visited Doris, he was subjected to a tongue lashing from Mrs Mott, a plethora of foul language from Mr. Mott and a shower of stones from her brothers! Doris however, declared that she wanted to become his loving wife and mother of their conceived baby. Then came the awful moment of truth! The gallant airman - whose name sounded like "Dook" - confessed that though he cared deeply for Doris, he was already married back in Canada and had three kids to prove it!

Inflamed by copious resort to the gin bottle, Ma Mott suddenly hit "Dook" in the eye with a clenched fist on the end of her leg o' mutton left arm! Doris, screaming hysterically, ran inside the cottage. Brian and Reuben, throwing more stones, chased the fleeing "Dook" up into the High Street, where leaping into a passing Jeep he disappeared into the blacked-out night. We didn't see him again - ever. The Motts' fortuitously came to the conclusion that Doris's pregnancy was undoubtedly the responsibility of Gus, the Winnipeg Rifleman. So Ma Mott sent a message to Gus, saying that his presence was required at St Martin's Lane. Sensing trouble, the wiley soldier persuaded the army to send him on an urgent posting never to return.

The Germans Arrive

I'll always remember August 28th 1940. That was the day on which John and I first confronted the enemy. Delivering mail to the German occupied Channel Islands, an old Gotha bi-plane lost its way and eventually was forced down by our fighters, to land on Lewes racecourse. The pilot and observer had been captured so we were told, so we went to have a look at them. When we reached the Gotha the two Luftwaffe men were sitting dejectedly near their old aircraft, closely guarded by soldiers from a nearby anti-aircraft unit.

We boys had visualised swaggering German officers, clad in leather flying jackets, wearing jackboots, decorated with Iron Crosses and defiantly "Heil Hitlering" all over the place! Instead what we saw were two very young, frightened youths, dressed in ill-fitting NCO's uniforms, gratefully accepting cigarettes from an elderly Special Constable, and obviously relieved to be well-treated POW's! John looked at these examples of the master race, smiled, and said quietly "Pert pert ..."


During that summer of 1940 rumour was rife. Spies were said to be signaling to the German bombers up in the night sky and fifth columnists, disguised as nuns and nurses were parachuting into Britain to blow up important buildings! uch idiotic rubbish was only believed by people who were either scared witless or a touch guilible.

Our Head Warden, Mr Phil Dusart warned his personnel - we messengers especially - against repeating unfounded rumours. Moving as we did between various aspects of the town's ARP services we were more exposed to hear gossip along the way - which to be honest we usually found more exciting than the realities of the war!


The Irish Republican Army - known as the IRA seized on the opportunities provided by the war to add the fear of their terror bombing campaigns against the ordinary people of England, already stressed by German air raids. Most of this IRA activity created in fear of, rather than, actual bombing incidents. However, there had been explosives detonated elsewhere so why not in Lewes, people said?

In the summer of 1940, the local Assize Court sat - in that instance, presided over by Mr Justice Humphries - a judge known for his heavy sentencing of convicted IRA men. On the opening day of the Assizes the judge traveled to court in a shiny black Daimler proceeded by a platoon of soldiers marching ahead of his car down the High Street to the court building opposite the White Hart hotel. What the soldiers were supposed to do in the event of an attack on the judge, goodness only knew!

The Attache Case Bomb

One evening during the Assize an air raid alert had brought us to Warden's Post 6 where nothing happened and we all sat bored stiff. After unending brews of tea, we ran out of milk so Dad sent me home to fetch some. Bull House café was only round the corner in the High Street and I clearly recall that brilliant moonlit night as I walked along. Overhead came the deep resonant rrrrum - rrrum - of the Luftwaffe bombers droning their way towards London. About to cross the road by A & C Wyer's news agency, I noticed against the railings of St Michaels Church something dark. It was an attache case. I bent down to take a closer look, and heard a distinct ticking sound. I froze!

Staring at the small brown leather case, the back of my neck prickled and I started to sweat. What should I do? Rush across the street, indoors, to warn my mother, sheltering in the basement under our house; or obey instructions and report back immediately to the Wardens Post?

In best Boy's Own Paper tradition I raced back to the post, bursting in and blurting out what I'd found beside St Michaels Church! Ordering a warden to telephone Control Centre at the Town Hall, my father grabbed his tin hat and told me to show him where the suspicious object was. On our way to the church we met Mr Bert Philcox, a War Reserve Constable whose beat included Post 6. When we told him what was happening, he said he'd come with us "as no doubt the presence of police will be needed".

On reaching the first ARP "incident" in which I was personally involved, I was told to stand well back while my father and WR Constable Bert Philcox took a closer look at my suspicious object. Treated as a mere child I was furious and seethed with indignation! After all, hadn't I found the damned thing? Yet I was obliged to stand some yards away while they cautiously approached the suspicious attache case.

Suddenly, the bells of an ambulance, a fire engine and a police car jingled up the High Street, from the direction of County Hall - squealing to a dramatic halt, outside The Brewer's Arms opposite the church. From the back of the Bomb Disposal squad's truck leapt an officer leapt out, shouting "Are you all bloody mad - get back from that thing before you get yourselves killed! Don't you know the rules about suspect objects yet?".

My delight was boundless and I chuckled silently as my father and WR Constable Bert Philcox were told to join me "over there please" The others backed their vehicles down the High Street while the army took over "my incident"!

An amusing occurrence followed. The army, having determined that the attache case wouldn't explode, opened it. Inside were a pair of men's pyjama's, toilet gear and the offending "tick" - a large alarm clock! It transpired that a parishioner had called at the church to see the priest, Father Kenneth Rawlings. He put the case down while removing the batteries from his cycle lamp - they being in short supply were often stolen - then, absent mindedly, had ridden off without his attache case.

Father Rawlings was well known in the town. He upset the Concientious Objectors Tribunal by helping some of the young men in his congregation to avoid conscription, saying they had religious objections to war. Enthusiastically supporting them, the good priest provided personal references for the objectors, claiming to have been their spiritual guide for some years - which he hadn't! During the war, he was regularly subject to criticism and adverse gossip. However, his congregation thought highly of him and wouldn't hear a word spoken against him.

School Dinners

At school we were known as "hot dinner boys" or "cold dinner boys" depending upon whether we ate a cooked school meal or brought packed lunches. Hot and cold dinner boys sat at long wooden tables at opposite ends of the Dining Hall, supervised by duty teachers. Staff didn't welcome Dinner Duty because they couldn't join their colleagues on the top table where Mr Bradshaw, the headmaster, took his lunch. John and I, being "cold dinner boys" brought to school tins containing sandwiches, cake or fruit - which if our mothers had given us things we didn't like - we'd swop with other boys.

I was particularly fond of Lyons fruit pies, still obtainable early in the war, and which I thought vastly superior to the fruit pies which Bull House offered! My eyes however, were bigger than my stomach and once, having swopped all my sandwiches for Lyons fruit pies, I became violently bilious. I never did that again! On one memorable occasion, John, pretending to visit the toilet, went instead to the cloakroom where he removed Dezzy Moore's lunch box which he took to the unoccupied handicraft room where he firmly soldered the lid down. On this particular day, history master, "Barney" O'Brien was duty teacher on our table. Barney was very strict and of uncertain temper and - as I had good cause to know - was endowed with a pair of heavy hands!

We started eating our lunches, slyly glancing at Dezzy as he struggled to open his tin, prising it with a penknife but it wouldn't budge. John had done a meaningful job. "Why don't you biff the lid?" he suggested helpfully. Dezzy tried but to no avail. "Pert pert" murmured John, using the expression he reserved for things that pleased him. The frustrated Dezzy banged the tin hard against the table's edge catching "Barney O'Brien's attention. "Who's making that noise?" barked Barney, getting up from his chair and looking down the table. Thirty pairs of eyes turned towards the hapless Desmond!

"Please sir," said John Amos helpfully, "it's Moore - he can't open his lunch box".
"Oh bring it here, stupid boy!" ordered Barney irritably.
An embarrassed Dezzy timidly made his way to the head of the table, handing his lunch box to the master. Barney struggled with it briefly, then peering closely at the lid, shouted "This lid's been soldered down Moore! Are you trying to make a fool of me?"

Moore's face turned crimson as he tried to explain his mystification with the whole affair. But Barney was unforgiving. "You may think that this is amusing Moore - but I don't! You can occupy the rest of your lunch hour writing out 500 times "It is impertinent to play foolish practical jokes on members of the staff". "Bring your lines to me at ten to four today, understand boy?" Nodding dumbly, Moore slunk away. "Pert pert" chuckled John Amos quietly to himself.

We join the LDV

After Dunkirk, a German invasion of England seemed imminent and in May 1940, the Local Defense Volunteers were formed. In July, renamed The Home Guard, they became part of the armed forces. For John and me the LDV held far greater appeal than the ARP did. Volunteers were supposed to be 17 years old and we weren't yet 15, but we badgered our parents and kidded the LDV to let us join. Justifying resignation from the ARP we blandly told Mr. C.G. Sains, the towns ARP Officer that our schooling was suffering due to excessive Messenger duty! My poor father shook his head in disbelief ...

Our first LDV 'uniform' consisted of khaki denim overalls, service respirators, steel helmets and a variety of weapons; in our case ancient 12 gauge shotguns, for which exactly six cartridges per man were available! It seems ludicrous today, but in 1940 we really thought that we could stop Hitler's troops if they attacked Lewes - which was quite likely - had the invasion occurred. We were after all, only eight miles from the coast.

Initially, the LDV was a bit chaotic and lacked organization. Realistically, some organization did exist but it reflected only the ideas and enthusiasms of certain individuals. In East Sussex the LDV was administered by World War One Captain H.C.Madden MC and the Lewes district was commanded by a former Colonel, H.I.Powell-Edwards DSO, he being of Boer War vintage. We believed his retiring rank was Major, and he'd only briefly been an acting Colonel. Until July 1940, when full commissions were given to officers of the re-named Home Guard, he was called the 'Commandant'. His headquarters were on the upper floor of the British Legion Club in Western Road near Lewes Grammar School.

At the time, my sister had a suitor called Hugh Edgerton, who being in a reserved occupation, unable to enlist, joined the LDV. He owned a green Morris 8 tourer, so the Commandant made him his 'adjutant'. Col. Powell Edwards loved being driven around, seated importantly in the back of the little green car like a pukka sahib, a pennant marked 'LDV' fluttering at the bonnet ...

Urgently, we began night training exercises. Tough Canadian troops, the Fusilliers Mount Royal, took the role of German invaders, which the LDV - with almost no training and a laughable assortment of weapons - were to repel!

One night, John and I were detailed as 'runners' to a couple of LDV platoons and happened to arrive at the British Legion Club, both bearing dispatches for the C.O. Commandant Powell-Edwards was presiding over his staff, in an office with the walls covered in maps. There were a couple of telephone operators, LDV's, too old or incapacitated for service in the field.

What followed was sheer pantomime! Young John went in first, saying something like: "Here's a message for you, Commandant." Powell-Edwards stared blankly at him, then barked: "Don't you know when you enter your C.O.'s office, you stand to attention! Then you salute and say: "Permission to speak sir?" John shook his head, and replied: "We didn't do that in the ARP ...". Looking as if he'd burst, Powell-Edwards shouted "Bugger the bloody ARP - you're a soldier now m'lad!".

Just then, one of the phones rang which Hugh Edgerton answered. Turning to the Commandant he said "It's four platoon sir, they're being heavily attacked by the enemy and want to fall back. What are your orders?" Powell-Edwards stared briefly at the ceiling, then in best Churchillian style replied: "They must not give ground. Tell them to hold on at all costs!"

Turning back to John he said: "Tomorrow, you new recruits will report to Sargent-Major Pelham for saluting drill. It is most important that you know how to salute me correctly!" If Hitler had heard that, doubtless he'd have altered his entire invasion plans ... Again the phone rang and Edgerton passed a similar message from another platoon to Col. Powell Edwards. The Commandant's staff waited expectantly. After a theatrical pause, he said: "No retreat - tell them to hold on at all costs!" Twice this was repeated, but the Commandant's only order was to: "... hold on at all costs." Worse was to follow.

John and I were just about to return to our platoons, assuming them to be "...holding on at all costs." When the sentry outside the British Legion, came rushing upstairs. He didn't stop to salute the Commandant but blurted out that the 'enemy' was re-grouping near St Anne's Church - apparently to attack LDV Headquarters and finish us off! The Colonel looked stunned then said to Hugh Egerton: 'We shall counter attack at once!' To our astonishment, he took from a cupboard behind him, a Sam Browne with holstered revolver and - of all things - a sword slung from the belt. Girding these weapons about him, he turned to the rest of us crying dramatically: 'You men - follow me!' We were so flabbergasted that nobody moved. Hugh Egerton recovered first and rushed behind the Commandant, clattered down the stairs ordering us to follow him and leaving HDV Headquarters and it's phones unmanned!

Colonel Powell-Edwards crouched in the shadow of Grammar School, waving us into file behind him. "We'll ambush them." he whispered hoarsely. We didn't have long to wait. Down St Anne's Hill along Western Road, came the Canadian's lorries, simulating 'tanks'. It was over for the LDV - but not for Colonel Powell-Edwards. Sword in one hand, Colt .45 in the other, he dashed into the middle of the road shouting: 'Follow me men!' and stood defiantly in the path of the oncoming 'enemy armour'.

Because Canadian drivers enjoyed a dubious reputation, we were less gallant. We stood and gaped while the Commandant with sword and pistol, shouted oaths and made warlike gestures at the 'enemy'. Perhaps he imagined himself back on Spion Kop. The Canadians, apparently perplexed by the Commandant's antics, seemed nonplussed. Eventually, one of their, officers, an 'umpire' in the exercise, quietly told him it was time for everyone to go home to bed. We never saw Colonel Powell- Edwards again.

The Home Guard

In July 1940 the LDV was renamed the Home Guard and assumed a more contemporary military status. We became the 16th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, and were issued with standard infantrymen's battledress and greatcoat plus American Springfield rifles and bayonets supplied under the Lease Lend Agreement. Our officers were granted temporary commissions and we were subject to military law. John and I found it all very exciting.

About this time, my father was invited from retirement as a journalist, to become Special Correspondent in East Sussex for the Times, the Daily Telegraph and Reuters News Agency. So, it was his job to report anything, which was topical and of interest to the media he represented. People who knew him realized the great handicap his progressive deafness placed on him and I can recall the struggle it was for him to telephone his 'copy' through to London. Somehow he managed to meet his deadlines without fail.

On one occasion, my father reported on the issue to ARP personnel of blue serge uniforms, some thing he learned about while at a wardens meeting. Overnight, he became the centre of mischievous nonsense, inspired by people who had insufficient to occupy themselves ... Certain obscure council pen-pushers were, from the cosy shelter of their desks, opposed to the cost of issuing warm clothing to ARP volunteers out in the streets!

Town Clerk, Cuthbert W. Stephenson, wearing a wing collar and bow tie, declared my father "guilty of a most serious breach of privilege", because he'd gathered his information in the course of an ARP meeting at which the need for warm uniforms was publicly discussed! It was nothing more than an exhibition of grandiloquence by the Town Clerk. Stephenson insisted that since my father attended the meeting as an air raid warden, he had somehow breached professional etiquette by reporting part of it in the press! Foolishly, he tried to harass father's journalistic life. Pa referred matters to the National Union of Journalists of which he was a life member. Two officials had to come from London, to straighten out the troglodytes at the Town Hall. I'll always remember father remarking: 'This is what I hate about small towns - they're so full of small people.' My own experience has proved him right!

Dad joins the Home Guard

Resigning from the ARP, for which he'd worked so hard since 1939, Dad decided to join me in the Home Guard. Father's considerable organizing abilities, were welcomed by Major Harry Wilson MC, by then the Lewes company commander. He made father his Administrative Sergeant, entrusting to him various jobs in the platoon headquarters. The old man reveled in this, accepting the task with relish.

In the autumn of 1940, Major Harry Wilson had no illusions about the chances his men his men would have to take in the event of a German invasion. He insisted on persistent training and by his presence and example, enthused us all to take matters very seriously and to do our best. Harry, a World War 1 veteran and at the time the East Sussex County Librarian, was held in respect and affection by all who knew him. Fifty years on I still have a charming letter of thanks from him, sent to me when in 1942 I resigned from the Home Guard to join the Royal Navy.

In those hectic days, John Amos and I led double lives. Half was spent being typically adolescent schoolboys, the other half was our involvement with the war. Twice each week, we patrolled the South Downs round Lewes. Sometimes it was amusing, sometimes hair-raising, as we became soldiers - for the night. We were in Six Platoon, commanded by a Lieutenant Bill Small and our section NCO was Corporal Hillebrand, a Great War veteran, who'd seen action at Ypres and Passchendaele. We were a machine gun section, equipped with a Browning .300, a heavy American, weapon. Initially, we had very little ammunition because British .300 calibre wouldn't fit.

We dug a machine gun pit with a first field covering the Offham Road. Our tacticians reckoned an enemy force fighting its way inland would probably come that way. 'We'll cover the road with enfilading fire to harass them,' Lieut. Small told us. Immediately, John piped up "That's all very well sir, but how long can we "harass them" for? I mean we've only got a few belts of ammo ..." Glaring at him, Bill Small replied sharply: "Private Amos, I won't have defeatist talk in my platoon, d'you hear? If we run out of ammunition we'll use our bayonets!" That was the spirit of those times - gallantly unrealistic! John nodded, murmuring softly: "That'll fix 'em - pert, pert." "What did you say?" demanded, Mr. Small. "Sir I said: "That'll fix them - and it'll hurt ..." came John's poker - faced reply.

Night Patrols

I remember one such patrol night very well. It was September 1940, and the invasion scare was at its height. John and I, rostered for duty one Friday night, mustered on Lewes racecourse at dusk. Quartered in the 'weigh in' room, under the grandstand, we found a jockey scales from which hung a chair - a great fascination for young Amos! We were issued with beds and blankets, plenty of tea and sandwiches and - most important - a nice fire roared in the grate. We thought it a super billet! Corporal Hillebrand detailed the section for duty, and told us what time each pair was to begin their patrol.

John and I drew the 'graveyard shift' between 2am and 5am - which the old soldiers somehow avoided. After super we turned in until around 1.45am when the incoming patrol shook us into wakefulness. Bleary eyed and grumpy, we dragged ourselves out of bed, buckled on bayonet belts over our greatcoats and, taking from the incomers the clips of live ammunition, plodded off into the night. Even though our eyes adjusted, we were soon engulfed in the intense blackness, I don't remember the exact beat we followed, but I do remember that in half an hour we were hopelessly lost! We tried to estimate how far and in which direction we'd come, but in the darkness we simply couldn't work it out. Compounding our trouble our torch failed. John said: 'We'll tell old Hillebrand we thought we heard voices and went to investigate and that's how we lost our bearings.' After considering our situation, I agreed that sounded a plausible explanation.

Neither of us owned a watch, but judging by the bitter cold which chilled us to the bone, we thought it was about 3 am. We stripped some gorse from the bushes and sat huddled together, on it. 'Let's light a fire!' suggested John. 'No bloody fear! What about the blackout?' I queried. He thought for a moment then said: "We'll get amongst the bushes then nobody'll see it - anyway it'll soon be light and we'll know where we are. C'mon Jimbo I'm damned well freezing!" Knowing there were strict orders to preserve the blackout, I reluctantly followed John into a small clearing, fringed by gorse, which grew thickly all over the Downs.

We soon had a nice hot fire going and were gratefully warming ourselves, just as the first pale streaks of dawn stole across the grey sky. We lay back on two 'beds' of gorse which, we'd made for ourselves and with the warmth of the fire gently relaxing our bodies, the inevitable happened - we dozed off ...

I was wakened, by a familiar voice calling: "Here they are! I've found them - they're in here!" It was Private Gately a 1916 vintage ex-RFC pilot one of a search party sent to look for us when we failed to show up at the end of our patrol. Back at the billet, Corporal Hillerbrand gave us a right 'roasting' in front of the whole section, telling us: " the last lot I saw men shot for falling asleep while on sentry in the trenches!" We were genuinely contrite, for having let the others down by our 'neglect of duty'. The truth was, we were two kids in our puberty years, and needing adequate sleep. Without it our growing bodies just couldn't keep the promises our young minds made!

"By rights, I should put you two 'on report' to Mr. Small and no doubt he'd have you up before the C.O. - quick smart! Well, the lads have asked me to go easy on you this time, so I'll say no more except - never bloody well go to sleep on duty again!" roared the Corporal. In silent shame, we pedaled homewards, worrying that the story of our sleeping on duty would some how get out. It never did - which said something for our comrades!

Inwardly blaming John for suggesting the fire and so embarrassing us in front of our section, I glared at him: "Made real idiots of ourselves didn't we?" I said sourly. He gazed at me solemnly then his face assumed his monkey - like grin: "Listen Private Jimbo, can't you see the funny side of it - pert, pert!" He pedaled away down the High Street singing at the top of his voice: "Onward Christian Soldiers - not too fast in front ..." I was furious!

Sweet Revenge

Monday morning found John in a heated exchange with Denison and one of Denison's friends - little runt - whom I'll call Sydney Simmons. Someone had let John's tyres down while his bike was in the cycle sheds and he'd decided that Deni and Sydney 'knew something'. Although John could not actually prove their guilt he'd made up his mind to avenge himself before the day was over. "Those two swine did it - I know they did!" he yelled fiercely, "And I'll get them for it, you'll see ..." he added menacingly.

All day his face carried a look I knew so well - it said that he was 'scheming.' I was more suspicious after break when he told Mr. Silk, our popular form master, that he had "a bad stomach upset, and may I be excused to go to the toilet please sir?" He was gone for ages so Silk, knowing we were friends, sent me to see if he was alright. Unable to find him in the lavatories I spun a yarn, telling Mr. Silk that he was OK and would return shortly. When school ended at ten to four, John beckoned to me conspiratorily, saying that we should go to a spot overlooking the bike sheds, "...where we'll have some fun!" he promised.

Our bike sheds were designed so's the cycles front wheels slotted into racks, stacked alternately up and down, fitting more of them into the available space. About ten minutes later Denni and Sydney appeared. John chuckled softly: "Now then - just watch this - it's one of the cleverest things I've ever done!" Knowing the wickedness of practical jokes, which he'd dreamed up in the past, I held my breath as we crouched behind the low wall, while the seconds ticked away. Apparently in no hurry to go home, the two boys stood chatting for some minutes. 'Hurry up blast you!' John muttered impatiently. Mystified, I said: "What've you done?" He gave me a broad smile: "You'll see - and it's worth waiting for!" He started chuckling.

Eventually, Deni and Sydney went to the racks to get their bikes. As they lifted them down both machines literally fell apart clattering to the ground in two heaps of metal - some of the wheels rolling away towards the gate! Denni screeched his outrage, while a shocked Sydney started blubbering, pointing helplessly at the bits of bike lying at his feet. Their looks of shocked disbelief promptly reduced John to hysterics, tears of laughter running down his cheeks. In outrageous glee, he spluttered: 'That was wonderful - just like magic ... pert, pert.' As we crept silently away John's cup was overflowing ... In great detail, he explained later, how he'd taken as many nuts and bolts from the bikes as possible, so that when moved, they'd collapsed. 'Ever seen anything so funny?' he asked. To be honest - I hadn't!

The Cavalry Arrive

As it became better organized, the Home Guard formed groups, specializing in various aspects of what was then considered necessary to conduct successful guerilla warfare. Encouraged, so we were told, by the writings of Tom Wintringham, the noted Spanish Civil War International Brigade veteran, the Lewes company created a sort of 'commando' section, recruiting mainly the fittest World War One veterans available.

We didn't know exactly what their role was but rumour had it that they'd fight independently, harassing the enemy wherever and however they'd be most ffective. One of their members was called Dickie Giles and he worked for one of the banks. He said that moving across the Downs on horseback would give them greater mobility and speed. So, horses were borrowed, stolen or requisitioned, and a mounted section formed. It was so secretive about itself that hardly anyone knew it existed, let alone that it was mounted.

One night, while patrolling on Race Hill, John - who had very acute hearing suddenly asked me: " Jimbo - listen! Can you hear hoof beats?" I replied that I could hear nothing. We continued our patrol while above, clouds drifted across the moonlit sky. Suddenly below us, we saw some large shadows moving silently along the valley. Flinging ourselves flat on the grass we watched them for a couple of minutes - they looked most mysterious.

My heart thumped in my chest and my throat became dry, "Who do you think they are?" I croaked into John's ear. He stared down into the valley: "I dunno - but I'm bloody sure they're not ours! We'd have been warned if they were. Know what? - I think they're mounted!" I knew he was right. "What'll we do - challenge them or ...?" Just then, the moon clouded over completely and we lost the shapes in the darkness. John shook his head: "no good challenging 'em - here's too many. Let's go back as quick as God'll let us and raise the alarm - c'mon follow me!"

We crept away through the gorse, running back to our guard post at the race stand. Inside, we blurted out what we'd seen, John insisting that they were horsemen. 'Hardly likely - not if they're parachutists,' observed a sceptical Corporal Hilebrand. "Anyway, if you two are quite certain about what you saw I'll phone Company H.Q. and report it. Meanwhile break out the ammo' - everyone load your rifles!"

We were going onto action! Suddenly I felt an urgency to dash to the lavatory ... I looked in the mirror over the washbasin, and a very pale face looked back - I was scared out of my wits! Meanwhile, as the Corporal began phoning his report to H. Q. the line suddenly went dead. Something was wrong had the lines been sabotaged? Looking anxious, again he tried H.Q. but the line remained 'dead'. Hillebrand stared at the phone, then said "I don't like it ... not one bit! 'You two!" he looked at John and me, "Here's a signal for Captain Wilson at Company - don't give it to no-one else, understand? What you seen own in "Flood's Bottom" (the little valley through which the horsemen had ridden) may be very important - orright?" Taking the sheet of message pad from him, I put it in my tunic pocket.

"Got your bikes?" We nodded. "Right then, get into town as fast as you bloody can." As we move towards the door he stopped us. "What ammunition have you got?" We each had two clips - ten rounds apiece. As we stepped from the security of the guard post into the nakedness of the moonlight, I can remember feeling very frightened. Then we 'slung' our rifles, climbed on our bikes and peddled swiftly away. My stomach tightened and I kept hearing Corporal Hillebrand saying: "I don't like it ... don't like it ... don't like it." At that moment John and I didn't like it I either!

Since the old Commandant's time, H.Q. had been relocated to a requisitioned house in Grange Road around the corner from Keere Street. We got there in about twenty minutes, but our arrival caused a real 'Dad's Army' fiasco! The sentry, a very deaf old boy, wearing Boer War ribbons, decided that we looked two young to be Home Guards and more likely to be saboteurs in disguise! In a way we couldn't blame him, since England at the time, abounded with rumour and almost anything was believable. Shakily pointing, his rifle and bayonet towards us, the ancient warrior said: "Stay where you are! While I call fer th' Duty H'officer." "Listen you daft old fool!" a frustrated John yelled, "we're runners from Number 1 Platoon with an urgent message for Captain Wilson. Let us pass or ..." "Stay where y'are!" repeated the stubborn sentinel, menacing with his bayonet. "Mebbe y'are who y'says an' mebbe y'aren't - h'anyways us'll 'ave to find out!" Pulling a whistle from his tunic he began blowing loud blasts on it. From inside came the Sergeant of the Guard and immediately we'd explained ourselves, all was well. "Old Mat's a bit over-cautious but he means well," he laughed leading us inside.

We were paraded before Captain Wilson and handed over Corporal Hillebrand's dispatch. He read it, then to our astonishment, smiled broadly at us! "Well done you boys! You were wide, awake, very observant and jolly quick getting here. Excellent!" We watched him puzzled, for he seemed too relaxed about the drama. Seeing our expressions, he said: "Let you into a secret. This company now has a mounted commando section - and tonight they checked to see if the patrols 'd spot 'em when they were about. You chaps in No.1 Platoon were the first! Damned good show. - Congratulation's!"

"But sir, Corporal Hillebrand tried to phone you ..." The C.O. interjected: "Yes, we know about that. To add to the exercise we pretended the lines were out - just to see how the patrols 'd handle the situation. You did very well and I'll be talking to Mr. Small about your efforts. Now back to your platoon please, I'd better 'phone Corporal Hillebrand so's you don't get shot!" He laughed; we didn't - but saluted him, and marched out into the night, muttering mutinously to each other. "Pack of idiots!" moaned John as we pushed our bikes wearily up Keere Street - it was three o' clock in the morning. "By the time we get back to the racecourse, it'll be time to bloody well 'stand down' and go home. I'm fed up with this sort of nonsense!" "Well, at least it was an exercise," I ventured cautiously, not wishing to upset him even more. "An exercise?" he shouted. "It was a load of bloody nonsense! The C.O. sitting in H.Q. and wondering what he could do to amuse himself - silly old bugger!"

The Fair Sex

About this time sex first appeared to us. Although no one, openly discussed the 'Facts of Life', some were lucky enough to have parents, who'd answer questions and explain what sexuality was about. Most boys however, found out by accident, instinct, or from graffiti on lavatory walls. We two originated much of what appeared on our lavatory walls and caught recording his sexual knowledge, for posterity poor John was rewarded with six cuts of the cane! Parents who couldn't talk about sex to their sons - the majority - sent a letter to the headmaster, who'd arrange private tuition by the biology teacher. It was laughable! The sex act was described like a geometry lesson, from which the embarrassed boy emerged even more confused!

At Lewes County School for Girls, there was a nubile 14-year old called Diana Dare - not her real name. Probably today she's a nice old granny, so I'll give her the indulgence of anonymity ... Diana Dare was the female equivalent of John Amos. However, unlike him, much of her naughtiness arose from what we would now call 'promiscuity' but was then called 'growing pains'. His reputation as a 'bad' boy had preceded young Amos to the girls' school where his reported antics had captivated Miss Dare. Since she lived on the coast at Seaford, opportunities to meet him were almost non-existent - until then.

Upon our arrival at the girls' school, she immediately tried to attract his attention. She'd wave to him, hang around whenever we entered or left the place and generally tried to display her charms to him whenever possible. The object of her attention however studiously ignored her! When I inquired if he'd noticed her? He replied rather irritably: 'Yes, and I don't want anything to do with her." When I asked why? He shouted: "Shut up damn you - none of your bloody business!" Puzzled by his attitude, I let the matter drop.

One evening cycling alone, past the railway station after school, I heard a young girl's voice call: "Hey, Jim - come here, I want you!" Standing beside the entrance, waving to me was Diana, so I swung around and pedaled over to her. Diana was particularly well developed for her age, with a bust line of which she was justifiably proud. She used to poke out her tits at a boy she was trying to impress. I wasn't surprised when, this afternoon, she did it to me! She gave me what I suppose she imagined was her Betty Grable come and get me smile. "I haven't seen Johnny lately, is he away?" she simpered sweetly. I told her he'd been home with flu' for the past ten days. Fixing me with a pair of knowing blue eyes, she said quietly: "I want him for my boy friend - will you tell him that?" I hesitated: "John's not interested in girls Diana so it'd be a waste of time, I'm sorry ..."

Her eyes hardened: "If he won't, I'll split on him about the chocolate he got in there!" She tossed her blond head towards the station saying: "I'll expect to hear from him after he gets back ... tell him what I said - O.K.?" From the way she stared at me I smelt trouble. "Yeah, O.K. Diana, I'll tell him but I don't know what he'll say," I replied lamely, She said sharply: "If he knows what's good for him - he'll say "Yes"!" Hips swinging, she flounced into the station to catch her train.

That evening I hurried round to the historic 'Old Poor House' on Castle Banks where the Amos family lived. John was up but looking rather pale. After I delivered Diana's ultimatum, he looked even paler! "Was she serious" - he asked uneasily - "about the chocolate I mean?" "Yeah, I think so - she seemed damn sure of herself," I told him. "How the hell did she find out about the chocolate?" He looked a bit anxious. "I dunno' maybe some rotten sod told her you'd flogged him some - or maybe he gave her a couple of bars for letting him - well, you know ..." I saw his worried look.

"Yeah! That's it! She's been back o' the shed with some kid and he's given her a couple of chocolate bars and she's asked him where he got them and the idiot's told her - I'll bet that's it!" He flushed angrily. I pointed out that his theory, even if correct, didn't solve the problem of Diana blackmailing him into becoming her boyfriend! Poor John's face was now a study. The problem of forming a liaison with the school 'bike' appalled him. He looked at me dismally: "Jimbo, what on earth shall I do!" he groaned despairingly.

I told him nothing could be done until he came back to school and by then maybe, we'd think of something. John said that it wasn't just being blackmailed into 'romance' that bothered him, but what if Nestle`s uncovered his assault on their chocolate machines at the railway station? If that happened he was certain the Head would expel him from the school! Maybe, he'd be taken before the Juvenile Court! Or set to a reformatory! Perhaps they'd order him a birching! He hadn't been sleeping very well lately and my news coupled with the after effects of the flu', made him feel dreadful. By the time I left poor old John looked thoroughly crushed.

Next day, he 'phoned me. "Jimbo chum, we've simply got to stop that bitch!" "Enjoying his discomfort, I smugly reminded him that it was him not me after whom she lusted. He was silent for a couple of minutes, as in deep thought then he said sharply: "Even if it's me she's after, don't forget you were in on the chocolate job - which makes you "an accessory - er - um - after the fact", I think ..." he liked using American screen language. That unnerved me bit and that evening, I cautiously asked my father: "Dad, what's an 'accessory after the fact' ...?"

A week later, John was back at school though we still hadn't decided how to thwart Diana's amorous designs upon him. We were due at the girl's school on Thursday afternoon and throughout the morning, we racked our brains for a solution to the problem. To be honest, I was maliciously amused by John's predicament; though somewhat nervous about my own situation. I kept thinking, what if she does carry out her threat to expose the business with the chocolate?

"I've got it!" cried John suddenly during the break: I'll wear a disguise - enough to fool her at a distance! If I keep well away she won't recognize me." I asked how he proposed to do this? "Oh! I'll wear some specs', bandage my hand and keep my cap pulled down over my eyes when we're outside. You stay away from me - it'll put her off the scent. If she asks, you say I'm still sick, O.K.?" It sounded amateurish. However, we had to do something so reluctantly I agreed to go along with his plan.

On Thursday morning, John arrived wearing glasses, his arm in a sling and in a suit, which fitted him so badly, I thought it belonged to his father! Because of the war, we were allowed to replace school uniform, with whatever our parents' managed to buy with our clothing coupons. So John's odd get - get up attracted no special attention from the staff. He was wearing a multi - coloured tweed suit, basically blue, but flecked with other colours woven into it. The wretched thing was OK, but as far as our class 'raggers' were concerned, it was 'different'.

Deni Denison lost no time in quipping ... "How smart Amos looks in his 'city suit'.'' Then a north, country lad asked: "'Ast tha' muther bought thee a suit o shoddy,' lad?" Shoddy was a type of cheap cloth woven in Yorkshire and favoured by the lower strata. After that everyone began making cracks about 'Amos's shoddy suit'. John went bezerk! He lashed out at his tormentors, including Deni and little Sydney, banging their heads together till I feared that he'd injure them seriously. In fairness to his raggers, I admit that he didn't look like the Amos they knew - more like Guy Fawkes actually. It was that weird looking suit.

School ended and John started cycling out of the girls' yard. Faithfully following his instructions, I rode about a hundred yards behind him. Diana was nowhere to be seen as the gaggle of girls moved towards the gate. I thought he's got away with it! Suddenly, the little minx leapt from nowhere in front of John and grabbing his handlebars screeched: "Oh! Johnny - you got dressed up specially for me!" Red-faced, he muttered something about "... going straight home" but she wouldn't let him get away and dragged him towards the station where she caught the Seaford train. Somewhat bemused, I cleared off.

John wouldn't say what happened that afternoon, but henceforth he became Diana's unwilling slave. Each morning he got up early - which he hated - cycled to the station, met her train, walked her to school, then dashed back to Mountfield Road just before the bell for assembly. Each afternoon, he had to return to the station just to keep her company till her train left. He fumed!

This went on for weeks, during which time he concocted various excuses to avoid seeing her, especially at week-ends. When he couldn't fool her, he had - to my great amusement - to cycle the sixteen miles return to Seaford!

Itis apis potanda bigone ...

I must tell you about an amusing incident at the bottom of Bull Lane where there were some workmen's cottages beside butcher Appelby's slaughterhouse. In one lived a family with two daughters aged about 10 and 8. The oldest one was called Bunty and we nicknamed the younger one 'Mousey'. She and little Reuben Mott shared a mutual hatred and exchanging insults - at a distance - screeched from their scarlet faces at the tops of their shrill voices! Their enmity peaked when 'Mousey' was at home in bed with measels. Reuben hid just inside a covered passageway which led from Bull Lane to the rear of 'Mousey's cottage and began baiting her with abuse which he shouted down the passage. To his surprise she didn't react. Frustrated, Reuben yelled louder till his angry little face turned purple and moving out of his hiding place he stared up at 'Mousey's bedroom window. Suddenly, it was flung open and a chamber pot emptied over him! "Shut yer row, yer little sod!" shouted the enraged piss-pot pourer while Reuben - for a seven year - old swore back with great style.

"Something Nasty in the Garage"

In the middle of this drama Diana Dare suddenly honoured us - well, John really - with an unannounced Saturday visit. Giving him what she imagined was a seductive look, she suggested they repair to the privacy of a disused garage in the lane. Reluctantly, he agreed. The rest of us amused ourselves, throwing stones on to the garage roof to disturb the lovers at whatever they were doing, while Reuben Mott shouted encouraging obscenities.

No sound came from within, so Gerald Cryer decided to "... see what they're up to" and climbed on to the roof. He crawled towards a hole in the centre, to peep through when the rusted iron roof suddenly gave way. With a sharp cry of fright, Gerald fell through! John and Diana emerged en dishabillé while Gerald's brother Peter, recovering his wits shouted: 'What the 'ell's 'appened to Gerry?" Inside the semi-darkness, we found a groaning Gerald his right leg askew. "What've you done Gerry?" Peter asked. "I don't bloody know but oh it do 'urt bad!" gasped the wounded prankster. "We'd best tell somebody to get the h'amulance," suggested Bobby Mott and ran homewards to raise the alarm.

Crouched compassionately around young Gerald we anxiously awaited the arrival of the 'h'ambulance'. After twenty minutes nothing appeared, so little Reuben offered to investigate the delay. He too scampered away along Stewards Inn Lane. A further, half hour passed and no 'h'ambulance' or the brothers Mott re-appeared, so John and I went to my house and 'phoned for one then cycled to the Mott' cottage in St Martin's Lane to see what had happened to Bobby and Reuben. They were playing marbles with their neighbour little Dudley Cobb. Discovering he'd a bag of new marbles they conveniently forgot about the accident. Gerald Cryer had broken his leg and the next time we saw him he was in a plaster cast.

One good thing emerged from this episode. Gerald became Diana's hero and she promptly dropped John without a word! My friend was most relieved. Later, I asked him if he liked anything about her? He scratched his head: "Um yeah, she's got a big mole on her belly that looks like a map of Italy." Wide-eyed, I asked: "When did you see that? "Pert, pert!" he chuckled and walked away.

The Ladies Arrive at LCGS

When war began, some of our school staff, were mobilised because they were Territorial Reservists, others volunteered. In about August 1940 we got our first female teacher. Frankly, we anticipated her appointment as '... a bit sissy'. However, we were more than delighted with 24-year old Elaine Spencer when she arrived from Oxford University, to teach us English. We named her 'Glamour'. She was very attractive, full figured and to our great satisfaction wore the shortest of wartime 'utility' skirts' we'd ever seen! Amidst the gathering gloom of wartime Britain, Elaine 'Glamour' Spencer gave us some thing to fantasize about!

Our masters had always made the 'bad' boys sit in the front row of desks, where an eye could be kept on them. When our Miss Spencer arrived everyone wanted to sit at the front row in order to gaze at our gorgeous new teacher. Not the least attraction was the fact that teachers had raised desks and chairs, which in the case of 'Glamour' displayed her slim legs to advantage.

One day she was stretching up to write something on the blackboard, the unbelievable happened - the elastic in her panties must've broken for they suddenly fell down round her ankles! The front row gawped in amazement while those sitting at the back of the room craned their necks for a better view! Remembering the decorum of those times. This was a total drama - which Miss Spencer handled with magnificent aplomb. Calmly stepping from the panties now round her ankles, she picked them up and popped them straight into her handbag as though nothing unusual had happened. Her total composure in what must've been a pretty embarrassing trauma, for a young woman in front of thirty adolescent boys, won her our instant respect. She never lost it. The incident was never mentioned outside or ridiculed by anyone in the class.

There was a minor adjustment to our admiration for Elaine Spencer BA. Ken Perkins suggested, that her nickname be changed from 'Glamour' to 'Glamour Pants' and this, by a majority vote, was carried with only one abstention - Deni Denison, who insisted he'd "... seen nothing and didn't wish to know ...". Long after the war, I was told that she married an army officer, and when the fighting ended, she joined him in the Middle East. Regrettably, she contracted a fatal tropical illness and died - a young woman on the threshold of life. This greatly saddened me, for with the others, I had liked her very much.

Banana Bill Misses a Trick

In those days, there lived in Lewes, a colourful character whom we knew as 'Banana Bill'. His real name was William Penfold and pr-war he earned his living around the streets selling fruit from a handcart, which - so it is said - he bought when the wholesalers rejected it. Certainly some of it was of questionable quality - but then it was always very cheap and you just can't have everything can you?

'Banana Bill' also owned what we called his 'junk shop', but to which he referred as "my used furniture emporium". It stood on the right-hand side about halfway down Station Street. Besides furniture, 'Banana Bill' also sold bric-a-brac, which always included thing fascinating to schoolboys. Early in the war, 'Banana Bill' got himself elected to Lewes Town Council - something of which he was extremely proud. We used his civic elevation to our advantage; always calling him 'Councillor Penfold' which ensured us, preferential prices when we bought anything from him.

Rummaging around the 'furniture emporium' one day, we found a 1914-18 infantry officer's sword. Beside it was a decaying Sam Browne belt and a gas mask, which fell to bits when we pulled it from its haversack. "Councillor Penfold, sir - how much for these please?" inquired John with studied politeness. Glancing at the relics from the other war 'Banana Bill' said "Ah that's a famous sword boys I forget exactly who owned it but 'e was an 'ero at Loos that much I do know! So I aren't robbin yer if I asks a pound fer the lot." In those days a pound was a fortune! Besides, we hadn't even that much between us.

"How about seven-and-six?" I ventured blandly. "What!" choked 'Banana Bill' in feigned outrage, "Not on your life young man - that sword's worth a fiver h'on its own 'an 'ere's me giving' you the Sam Browne, the gas mask an' the bloody sword, all fer a quid!" Sadly we left his shop.

For the next fortnight we nagged at him till worn down, by our continual nagging, he compromised, accepting ten shillings and six pence, while sulkily declaring: "It's bloody robbery!" - without specifying who was robbing whom.

Delighted with our bargains we took them to John's home at Castle Banks and down to his den in the basement for closer examination. The sword's scabbard would need rubbing down to shift the rust; after cleaning with metal polish, it'd come up like, new. The World War 1 gas mask didn't interest us since we had our own 1940 issue - anyway it was dropping to bits. The Sam Browne belt might be a proposition. It probably hadn't been cleaned or polished since 1918, no - one seemed to have bothered with it. John turned it over in his hands examining the tarnished brass fittings. "I was thinking, if we clean it up maybe we can flog it to one of our officers," he murmured thoughtfully. "No, I think it's buggered - leather's dried out and cracked; it's finished."

Examining the belt where the revolver holster, should be slung, he said curiously: "Hallo, what's this then?" On the inner side of the belt was a small leather flap, closed by a press-stud John pulled it open pushing his fingers into a small slot pocket. "There's something in here!" he said excitedly and extracted a packet wrapped with rotting oiled silk. "Jesus - what is it?" I asked, as I peered over his shoulder. He carefully unwrapped, it and on the table fell six dull looking coins. On closer examination we saw that they were gold sovereigns!

We just couldn't keep our good luck to ourselves and had to tell a few people about it. A few days later, the local rag, hearing about our 'find' gave us a brief mention. Next day, while we were engrossed by the window display in Lloyd's the gunsmiths at the top of Station Street, a familiar voice called from further down the hill: "Oi you two - I want's a word wi' you - come 'ere!" Grabbing my arm John yelled: "Quick Jimbo, run for it - over to Fisher Street - and up to my place!" I didn't understand why John said 'run for it" but trusting him I just followed. Up Fisher Street we bolted, turning into Castle Precinct, down Castle Banks, and straight through the black painted door of the 'Old Poor House'! Tumbling down the stairs into the basement - 'Headquarters' as John called it - we slumped breathless on to an old horsehair settee. For several minutes we sat gulping air, our heads between our knees, too winded to speak.

Eventually, I spluttered: "What the hell's going on!". "That was 'Banana Bill' shouting ... he wants us ... about the sovereigns." John panted. "How ... d'you know?" I asked. John looked at me disdainfully. "What else would he want?" Knowing he was probably, right I said "But we paid him for the belt ... there's nothing he can do about it - bugger him!" We were about to sample his father's home made sloe gin, when there was a loud banging on the front door. We looked at each other inquiringly. John stood up: "I'll go," At the foot of the stairs, he looked back at me with a grin and said: "This'll be fun - pert, pert, Jimbo ...". I heard raised voices above. At the foot of the stairs I could make out John arguing with someone. Suddenly he called: "Jimbo - here a minute!" Intrigued, I went upstairs and along to the open front door. On the top step stood an angry 'Banana Bill', wagging a threatening finger in John's face.

The councillor was middle-aged and scrawny with untidy hair and - except on 'Council days' - usually needed a shave. He fancied his chances as a 'lawyer' and at that moment, seemed to imagine himself in court, prosecuting John! "Now listen 'ere young feller - them sovereigns is my property! I never sold 'em ter you or to 'im - pointing a finger at me - and I wants 'em back right now do y'ear me?" Winking slyly at me, John turned to 'Banana Bill', and said solemnly: "Councillor Penfold, I've already told you that those sovereigns ceased to be yours when you sold them to us with the Sam Browne belt. In any case - we haven't got them now!" That was true. John's father, returning to Wales that morning after weekend leave from his Civil Service department which was evacuated, had taken the sovereigns to sell for us, as he passed through London.

The irate councillor turned puce, becoming so exited that as he spoke he also spat. Baiting him, we produced handkerchiefs and mopped our faces, further enraging the poor man till he yelled: "You thinks yer bleedin' clever don't yer! Well, I know the law an' I'll 'ave the pleece come to your parents an' yer'll be in court fer 'stealin' by findin' - that's wot they calls it!" Adding insult to injury, he overbalanced backwards down the steep front steps and fell in a heap on the pavement. Cursing us roundly, he mounted his bike, and rode off down Castle Banks.

We were shaking with uncontrollable laughter as John spluttered: "Jimbo, this calls for another gin!" Once more we raided his dad's booze. "What d'you think he'll do?" I was a bit worried by "Banana Bill's" 'stealin' by findin' dictum. John considered briefly: "Forget it!" he said confidently, "silly old bugger doesn't know half as much as he thinks he does - he's just piss and wind - we're the rightful owners of the belt and anything that came with it. My Dad said so, and he knows more about the law than 'Banana Bill'!" As he spoke the air raid sirens wailed across the rooftops. John grinning at me said: "Fancy an air raid chum? Let's go!"

Mischief on the Golf Course

There followed a lenghthy period of school and Home Guard duties, mixed with what we called 'mucking about'. This latter, included anything we fancied doing and usually involved some mischief. As I've said, we were going through puberty and wartime circumstances thrust us into manhood one day, returning us to boyhood the next. In those days, behind the golf club on Cliffe Hill, gorse bushes flourished in a profusion of spikey foliage and in summer, masses of yellow blossom. Here we roamed, gazing down on Lewes and picking out landmarks we knew.

We also had another motive for haunting the area. Cliffe Hill was a favored excursion for off-duty soldiers and their girl friends. In those distant days, physical relationships between young couples usually meant some harmless 'petting' in the back row of a cinema or maybe a shop doorway after blackout. For some however, amorous activities were more suited to the 'comparative privacy' of the gorse bushes on Cliffe Hill - depending on the weather! I say 'comparative privacy', because the whole town knew what went on up there, so not surprisingly, the area attracted 'voyeurs' - like John and me!

In that long summer of 1940, we used to meander through the gorse on Cliffe Hill like a pair of silent cats looking for unsuspecting mice. From time to time we'd come across lovers lying in the long grass in various stages of passionate embrace. Practically, this was how we gained our sex education. Though both sets of parents had told us the 'facts of life' - which was more than many did in those days - there was absolutely nothing by way of visual education for youngsters experiencing the mysteries of puberty. While we were certainly fascinated by some of the writhing we observed, we really were more amused than anything - mostly because we usually knew the identities of most of the girls!

One day during school holidays we were downstairs in Johns 'Headquarters' and very bored, Suddenly he said: "Y'know, we could have some real fun up on Cliffe Hill!" "What'd mean?" I asked. He didn't answer but went to a cupboard on the wall, lifting from the top shelf, what proved to be a bottle of glycerine and a packet of Condy's crystals. Pouring a little pile of crystals on to a tin lid, he dripped a tiny amount of glycerine on to them. After perhaps five seconds smoke rose, then the mixture burst into flames. Suddenly, we were no longer bored!

The following day we cycled down School Hill along Cliffe High Street dumping our bikes in the 'Odean' car park which stood on the corner of South Street. I recall we were in a bit of a 'tizz' because we had forgotten to bring a padlock and chain with us and the Defence Regulations required that all unattended cycles be made 'unavailable to the enemy' - as though a padlock and chain would thwart Nazi paratroops!

Anyway, we set off up Chapel Hill on foot and were soon in our happy hunting ground only his time armed with our secret weapon. After about an hour's searching we uncovered a local shop assistant - I'll call her 'Angie' - threshing around in a secluded spot in the gorse with a Canadian corporal. The pair were, so involved with each other that John had no problem in setting up his home made incendiary bomb without discovery. He achieved a delay by cutting a channel on a piece of split bamboo removing the core from one half. Depending how steeply he propped the stick up so the glycerine ran down either fast or slowly onto the Condy's crystals - and poof, up she went!

John set a fairly slow fuse and we retreated about a quarter of a mile away, concealing ourselves in the bushes to wait and see what happened next. For a few moments there was nothing to see. Then a spiral of smoke curled upwards and we heard a crackling sound which was quickly by billows of smoke and orange flames leaping into the air !

"Christ look what you've done!" I spluttered in alarm. John gazed fascinated at the bushes now beginning to burn fiercely. "Pert, pert." He chuckled this'll get them going!" It certainly did. From their love nest stumbled a disheveled Angie squealing with alarm, closely followed by her corporal holding up his trousers with one hand and clutching his boots with the other. They stopped, frantically trying to discover their respectability, while behind them, thick smoke and fierce flames raced across the downland like an Australian bushfire! Suddenly, springing from our hideout, and running to where the couple stood like hypnotized rabbits, John yelled: "Get some green branches and try to beat it out!" Our wretched victims in tow, we began our puny efforts to smother the blaze. Terrifying thoughts raced through my mind, not the least of which was how I'd face my parents - especially my Father - if we were caught!

Bring on the Fire Service!

Quickly spotted from the town, we could hear their bells as the fire engine raced up Chapel Hill. The Auxiliary Fire Service was most efficient and soon had things under control. Their officer and a police sergeant listened carefully to our version of events - well, John's version really, as he did the talking. He said we'd been on Cliffe Hill as members of the Home Guard - to check out what enemy paratroops could see up there. Walking through the gorse we'd noticed smoke - "it came from over there" - and we'd immediately gone to find out what was happening "Just then" John told our inquisitors "a soldier and a girl came running out of the smoke and I told everyone to grab branches to beat out the flames - but it was hopeless..."


His regretful tone prompted the AFS Station Officer to comment encouragingly "You lads mustn't blame yourselves, you did very well in the circumstances," he added brightly "if you hadn't taken prompt action things might've been much worse - well done!" He smiled warmly at us. I wished I was invisible. "Got any idea how it started?" asked the sergeant. We shook our heads. "Well," ventured John differentially, "its only my theory sergeant, but I wonder if "- he trailed off, staring at the ground. "You wonder if - what?" asked the sergeant curiously. "Well, I was wondering if it could have been caused by a cigarette butt ..." John ventured innocently. The sergeant smiled: "Smart lad them's exactly my thoughts!"

He walked away, to where Angie and her corporal were enjoying a quiet smoke with the firemen, now rolling up their hoses. Later that week, when we paraded with our platoon, Lieutenant Small sent for us bestowing his enthusiastic congratulations. "Your quick thinking which avoided a nasty situation. You two men brought credit to the Home Guard and the company commander 'as asked me to pass along his appreciation." Worse yet, after the holidays, when we returned to school, old Bradshaw announced at morning assembly, that our "prompt action and initiative" - which he said been warmly referred to him by the police - brought even more credit to the school. When I told John that I felt ashamed, he burst out laughing: "Look pal, when our names come up it's usually because we've done something bad. This time they're saying nice things about us - so let's enjoy it!" "Yeah," I said glumly "but we know what really happened don't we?" He grinned: "So what - it's very amusing when you think about it - pert, pert!"

Banana Bill calls in the Flying Squad

We'd almost forgotten about 'Banana Bill' and the sovereigns as we waited for John's old man to write and tell us how wealthy we'd become once he'd sold them. However, Councillor William Penfold had not forgotten. Walking down the High Street one Saturday morning, we were about to turn into Watergate Lane when a motor cycle pulled over, stopping just ahead of us. We recognised the rider at once. He waited till we'd come abreast of him then he said quietly: "Are you two boys called John Amos and Jim Essex?" We acknowledged our names and he continued: "I am Detective Constable Leader of the CID and I'm making inquiries regarding a sum of money alleged to have been stolen. I think you two may be able to assist me with my inquiries."

My stomach turned over. Oh God, we'd been caught! John however, appeared quite unperturbed. He said: "Mr. Leader, I think you're mistaken. Are you talking about a few sovereigns, which came in an old Sam Browne belt we bought from Councillor Penfold's junk shop?" Leader's, face, hardened: "Ah, so you admit finding those coins then?" John nodded: "Sure we found them - so what?" "Councillor Penfold says he only sold you the belt, not the coins. I put it to you that they came into your possession illegally - what d'you say to that?" John calmly replied: "We found them hidden in the belt. Couldn't Councillor Penfold tell you where they were hidden?"

The detective admitted that 'Banana Bill' hadn't volunteered that information. "Well then," said John confidently, "obviously he had no more knowledge of those coins than we did so he couldn't have had them 'stolen' could he?" Leader scowled at John then said: "No doubt I shall want to talk to you again after I have pursued my inquiries further." He got back on his motorbike and rode off and we never heard anything more about our sovereigns. Whenever we encountered 'Banana Bill' he was always ready with a remark like: " It won't be long now - h'any day now, the pleece is going to h'arrest them what stole my sovereigns!" We'd slyly wink at each other and with John murmuring, " ...pert, pert" we'd stroll away, chortling like a pair of Australian kookaburras.

Mr Euston and The School Gardens

We commenced a campaign of sabotage in which we arranged for all manner of 'mistakes', to occur during our gardening sessions. Labeling of crop sowings would become muddled so that where carrots had been sown, they were described in the garden plan as cabbages. Seed was mixed up, resulting in mixed crops appearing after germination. John's masterpiece was the substitution of flower seeds for lettuces, producing a colourful, but from the food production angle, completely useless result.

Mr. Euston was no fool and his suspicions eventually landed on us. He began watching our every move only giving us jobs he chose because they couldn't be corrupted. Worse still they got heavier and dirtier each week. The denouement occurred when one of the council's horse drawn carts arrived at the garden site with a load of manure. Mr. Euston made John and I mix it with other fertilizers, forking it over for almost an hour, till sweat ran down our faces and the smell of the stuff nauseated us. Finally, the message got through and we were forced to ask him if we could have a different job. With a knowing smile he said: "Certainly boys - can go and help Mr. Parkinson to muck out the pigs." The school was now keeping chickens and a couple of Large Whites to supplement the 'hot dinner boys' menu and for the rest of that term, John and I were never allowed to forget them!

[At this point in the writing of his memoirs Jim Essex became ill and was never able to finish them. He passed away after a short illness.]