November 1948 E (Ted) Harper
A Cotswold Memory
There was another member of Mutual who shared my love for cycling: I refer to the late Ted Huck. Together we spent many happy hours a wheel and it was in his company during a tour of the Cotswold country side in the early days of June 1940 that I added another precious item to my store of memories. After a full day in the saddle we slowly ascended one of the half a dozen hills that converge upon Stow-on-the-Wold and entered the spacious market square to find unusual signs of activity. There followed a skirmish with a company quartering Officer before we found shelter beneath the sign of the White Hart.
After restoring a measure of self esteem to the inner man we adjourned to the bar where all the talk was of the retreat to Dunkirk. Over a pint of beer we learned that the landlord, the proud possessor of a sea going launch, had been hastily summoned by telegram and was at that moment engaged in ferrying to safety his tiny quota of those long grey lines which stretched so patiently across the beaches of Dunkirk. After an early supper we retired to our bedroom overlooking the square. It was still daylight and the heat oppressive after a day of fierce sunshine. Clad only in our Pyjamas we played chess with my board perched upon a cane- bottomed chair between our beds. When the daylight faded we played on by candlelight, screened in defiance to the ‘black out’. At last we tired of ‘skittles’ and moved over to settle by the open window.
The cobbled square was deserted, the moon not yet risen and all was tranquil. Fugitive lights flickered momentarily in the houses opposite whose black outlines showed faintly in the gloom. It was blessedly cool by the window and a multitude of sweet scents hung in the air. It was a perfect finish to a perfect day. We sat and smoked in an understanding and appreciative silence, our cigarette ends making bright arcs as they descended, one by one, to the cobblestones below. The war and its attendant anxieties seemed to belong to another world.
Mercifully neither of us knew that back in Birmingham an ominous buff envelope awaited Ted’s return. It was the first link in the dread chain of circumstances that was to result in his untimely death on the battle scarred fields of Tunisia. But we were to make contact with the chariots of war immediately!
With startling abruptness the peace was shattered as, with blazing headlights, a despatch rider roared to a stop beneath our window. He was evidently expected. Figures ran through the gloom to meet him, orders were shouted, lights sprang up in the surrounding windows and, whilst we wondered, they arrived. Truckload after truckload of tired and dishevelled troops moved to their appointed place and disgorged their cargo. In a short time the square was full with men and their equipment in a scene of orderly confusion. If we slept but little that night it was not only the bustle and noise outside that kept us awake.
Suddenly the war had become very near and very real with the advent of weary troop of men delivered as by a miracle from the jaws of death - or worse, and also, like millions of our fellow countrymen, our minds were full of the fearful implications of the new military position. Even chess loses its savour under such circumstances and it was with chastened spirits that we cut our holiday short and turned our wheels homewards.