Life from leaving school (age 14) to joining the army (age 18).
by Arthur Cox.
These are notes written in July 2013 to remind myself to write more in the form of an autobiography. But as I am now aged 85 I very much doubt that any more will ever get written and so these notes will remain as notes.
Leaving school: I left school on 22 December 1943 after an additional autumn term because of my birthday. During this last term at school I did some lessons (a repeat of the former term) but also did jobs for Mr Rose, the headmaster. I took milk money to pay it in at the bank, I did the ink monitor’s job, I used a sickle to cut the grass on the sloping banks of the playing field, I helped the caretaker with deliveries of coke. As Mr Rose wrote in my final report “Arthur is a useful fellow to have around”. The school was the Wickford Senior School in Market Road, Wickford. It is now a junior school.
Other family. At the time I left school – Mother was working as forewoman in the Land Army and busy clearing fields of scrubland mainly around Wickford, Basildon, and other such nearby places. Father was working nights at Marconi’s in Chelmsford. Younger sister Olive was still at school. Elder brother Donald was working at a farm in Crays Hill. Eldest brother John was working on land for the War Agricultural Committee (hedging and ditching work).
Home: Was an old wooden bungalow in Nevendon Road with about ¾ acres of land including an old long neglected orchard. There were lots of old sheds which were previously used for chickens and dogs. The bungalow itself was much neglected. I did a short job at a local plant nursery. And I did odd paying jobs for neighbouring people – trimming hedges, mowing grass, etc. I looked after the house and did the housework.
To catch up with poor schooling, I started studying by means of various postal courses. The subjects were Maths, English, French, German and Russian. I had (and still have) a great interest in languages. I also studied shorthand and phonetics.
I did a lot of house maintenance and repairs. Rewired the whole electrical system of the bungalow and fitted new main fuseboxes. Constructed drains for the kitchen sink and to drain some boggy areas of the garden. Dug a large pond for the drains to flow into. No main drainage existed at all. Pruned the orchards and scythed the grass among the trees. Cut down the lower branches of a row of large ash trees that shaded the whole orchard on the south side. Cut down two very large and dangerous elm trees. Cut the timber up for firewood. Found a rainwater drain blocked by the roots of two small cherry trees and dug up the old drains and laid new stoneware drains and then renewed all the house guttering. Repainted all the exterior wooden walls. Repaired an area of flooring (because of woodworm!) and covered the floorboards with varnished hardboard. Did wallpapering, interior painting, ceiling papering.
I joined with mother to grow vegetables, make compost, etc. We rented a small adjacent field for more vegetable growing. Helped brother John to re-dig a long ditch all along one side of this field.
Joined with my mother to grow flowers and we experimented with cross pollinating and then drawing coloured pictures of the resulting new colours. (mainly wallflowers, poppies, Russell lupins in different years).
I was good at woodwork and built two large looms and taught myself weaving. I borrowed books (via the local library) from Manchester University and found out about spinning, weaving, looms, etc. I still have some yards of Harris tweed made in those days. This picture is from Google and not my own loom but is the same type and size.
Converted an old coal cupboard into a small bathroom (there was no bathroom there before). Made some new windows and installed them. Built a wooden press and experimented with cider making to use the apples from the orchard. I used an old cycle dynamo and made a wooden propeller for some wind-powered lighting in the wooden outdoor toilet (bucket type).
In summer I went out cycling – to Brentwood, Ongar, Epping. Once northwards to High Beach and then round to the Lee Valley and back into London – came home on train from Liverpool Street Station. Often cycled to Southend, Hadleigh and that area.
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