Grandad - an ordinary life
Alec James (Jim) Jefferies in memoriam by Mike Davies
First the bare bones.
The Jefferies are a Clare family but Great Grandad was a soldier in 16th Lancers although
Grandad's birth was registered at the regimental HQ in Canterbury l believe he may have been born in Hyderabad. Certainly he could remember his father leaving from there for the Boar War.
After the Boer War the regiment moved to Ireland where Great Grandfather took his discharge and eventually moved to Bulmer where he became blacksmith, no doubt putting his skills acquired in the Lancers to good use. Sadly he was not to reach retirement as he was kicked to death by a carthorse in the late 1920’s whilst he was shoeing a back foot. He was stooped over with the leg between his knees and the farm lad supposedly in charge of the front end had his mind elsewhere. He did however leave a Welsh wife of legendary fierceness who ruled over the family with an iron rod (probably literally).
But l digress. Grandad decided to follow in his father' s footsteps when he left Mill Lane school in Sudbury and was apprenticed at the Newton Green smithy for the grand sum of 7d a week for which he had to walk to Newton ready for a 6am start. However, the military was also in his blood, and he still found time to join the RASC whose depot was in Ballingdon at the time and attended the Thetford Camp in 1911 for the annual exercises. This clearly gave him a taste for his father' s former life and he enlisted in the regular army the following February joining the second Suffolks then at Aldershot.
He was soon posted to Ireland as the troubles loomed but from there in August 1914 he sailed for France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Granddad was almost immediately embroiled in the battle of Mons. The first major engagement of the war. Although, in common with many of his generation, he was reticent about his experiences in the war he did recall that the Germans advanced across the open fields at this early stage of the war in parade ground order whilst Grandad and his comrades lay in the grass and mowed them down. For, in encouraging his field grey hordes to sweep this contemptible little army into the sea, the Kaiser had failed to mention two important
facts. This was the only professional army in Europe which had honed its tactics in the Boer War and, armed with the Lee Enfield rifle, it could deliver 15 AIMED rounds a minute (not the spray and pray techniques seemingly used these days).
The German war machine was checked but could not be stopped and in the fighting retreat from Mons by the BEF nemesis was merely postponed. It caught up with the second Suffolks a few days later on 26th August at Le Cateau a mere 23 days since war was declared. Here, as a rear guard facing overwhelming odds, they fought the Germans to a stand once more and themselves to destruction.
Following the battle the ranking surviving soldier called the roll. This was Company Sergeant Major Jack Parsons, all officers being lost. Only 85 including Grandad answered the roll. The Suffolks had been decimated.
It is telling that Jack and Grandad remained firm friends until death separated them in the 60’s. indeed they found themselves fighting together again in the second World War as both joined the Sudbury ARP!
Grandad remained in France for three years and four months gaining the Military Medal in 1917 for rescuing a Captain Murray Walker wounded in no mans land. An action which also gained Grandad a Blighty wound. Grandad always made light of this maintaining that the only reason for rescuing the Captain was that he owed him money.
Blighty meant that Grandad was able to marry his sweetheart Daisy Moore from Boxford in Sudbury on Christmas Day 1917. They had first met when Grandad was home on leave in 1915 and they remained inseparable until his death in 1967. They are now reunited in Sudbury Cemetery amongst a myriad friends and relatives.
Grandad saw out the war in the Balkans witnessing the surrender of the Turks and left the Army in 1919 only serving one more spell under the colours when called from the Reserve for the General Strike.
After the first World War Grandad joined Allan and Boggis as a horseman before graduating to cattle floats in 1944. He told me that during this period he had driven horses and cart from the Lucas Pit on Cornard Road under Sudbury and emerged at the pit on East Street under Constitution Hill. He maintained that Sudbury was honeycombed with such tunnels driven in from the pits to extract the chalk.
During the second World War, aside from the ARP, Grandad drove a cattle float around PoW camps in the area to ferry the prisoners to work on the farms. He always remarked that with Germans he entered the camp, loaded up his passengers and set off with an armed guard and repeated the process again at night. With Italians he picked them up outside the camp and drove them off unaccompanied to the farm. Whilst there he received a haircut and moustache trim. On return he dropped them in town to do a little shopping before returning to the camp. Ironically it was the Germans who stayed after the war because many could not return to their home farms in East Prussia where the Russians would have undoubtedly given them a very warm welcome before packing them off to Siberia to join their less fortunate comrades in the Gulag.
After the war I came along and spent many happy days riding around in the cattle float. I think I attended all of the local markets (now long gone). I still have my little pig stick (a small foot long cane like a miniature walking stick) as a prized possession, along with a fearsome bill hook liberated from the War Agricultural Committee at some point and put to good use on Grandads allotment.
lt was not all work however. Grandad was a leading light in Sudbury Rugby Club and the British Legion. Grandad had an excellent singing voice and used this to good effect in local charity concerts. “Trumpeter” and “Danny Boy” were his favourites and he roused himself from his death bed in St Leonards to render Danny Boy to family and friends and the ward one last time. His voice had lost none of its magic.
At his death Grandad was the last of the Suffolks Old Contemptibles living in Sudbury and there where over 40 wreaths at his funeral. I still recall the solemn procession from his home in Cross Street to All Saints Church led by the Funeral Director in top hat and tails with ebony walking stick.
The short route was lined with friends and neighbours who silently doffed hats and bowed heads as the cortège passed before following down to the church for the final farewell.
So ends the bare tale of one man’s ordinary life. Now I will add a little colour and a few flourishes to the telling.
My mother caught scarlet fever as a child and, as was the way until the last war, straw was spread in the street outside the house to deaden the traffic noise. Unfortunately an Italian ice cream vendor on his tricycle persisted in ringing his bell up and down the street every day. My grandfather was a reasonable man but not one to be pushed too far. After politely asking the vendor to desist and the river. Grandad duly rowed in to shore. Uncle Albert stood up and buried himself in the brambles plucking the fruit. At which point Grandad quietly rowed out leaving Albert hanging! Actions bring consequences and, after the party stopped laughing and carried Albert home to dry him off and remove recalcitrant thorns from his anatomy. Albert plotted the revenge. Unfortunately Albert was a towny and did not have the subtle understanding of the natural world granted to us country dwellers. Thus he thought planting a number of the local hedgehogs in Grandpa’s bed was a hoot.
Indeed it was, hedgehogs are notoriously lousy and there were unforeseen consequences for all concerned for some time!
In the same vein Grandad and his circle of friends were also practical jokers. On one visit to the Maplestead Cock this resulted in Grandad cutting of someone's tie. Revenge was swift. On the next visit whilst he was supping a refreshing pint darker forces were wiring a pair of Mackerels imto the upholstery under his driving seat. It took him quite a while to track down the smell of rotten fish in his car and even longer to get rid of it.
Grandad was the proud possessor of a Singer car of dubious vintage. Resplendent in maroon and black it boasted crazed purple leather seats and yellowing iridescent windows. It also had a little chrome gauge on the front of the bonnet which showed the level or water in the radiator. On one trip to Brightlingsea Grandad purchased some flounders from a local fisherman. He tied them to the back bumper (clearly learned his lesson with the Mackerel) and proceeded home for tea. Arriving he
filled the sink, left the Flounders to soak and put on the kettle. His peace was shattered by a piercing scream from the kitchen. Grandma had come in from the garden to find the kitchen full of flapping Flounders swimming merrily around the sink and jumping out onto the floor. Thereafter they were off the menu unless certified pre deceased.
And whilst on a fishy note I should mention the Eels. Grandad maintained an Eel trap in the ditch running at the bottom of his garden. Eels are notoriously difficult to kill being slippery customers.
Grandad would simply nail their heads to the shed and remove the skin with a deft flick. Efficient yes, but l have never been able to face eating Eel. Can’t imagine why?
So we progress to Sunday lunch. Grandad was a traditionalist. He traditionally strolled up to the Spread Eagle (an apt name for those leaving its doors) leaving Grandma to cook dinner. However, he invariably came back with a copy of the War Cry and a large white jug of beer. This was not only for the refreshment of Grandma tolling in the kitchen but also an essential ingredient for the batter puddings. Grandma used to tell us that, before the first World War, local bakers would light their ovens on a Sunday not for bread but so that housewives could take along their Sunday meat to roast. She also told us that, unlike most shops, the butcher would remain open on a Saturday afternoon so that people who would invariably be paid on a Saturday morning could buy their meat.
The one irritant in Grandad’s life was his brother Fred. They were like chalk and cheese. Grandad was a countryman. Uncle Fred was bourgeoisie (well he worked in a shop) and had airs and a full measure of pomposity. He always addressed letters to Grandad as Alec James Jefferies Esq. M.M. and their arrival inevitably resulted in a thorough exploration of the English language. Like most Englishmen Grandad did not make anything of his gallantry award which only came out for reunions and November 11th. His medals came into my hands eventually and I gifted them to the IWM at Duxford who are custodians of the Suffolk Regiments archives and artefacts. There they can rest with those of his companions and comrades in the Suffolks down the ages so that all can remember them.
My grandfather was a horseman and, of course, used to treat his horses with his own medication. One of his fellow players in the rugby club strained his back badly. Grandad gave him a bottle of white lineament he used on his cart horses, The unlucky man lay stomach on naked on his bed so his wife could apply the miracle cure. She slopped the contents of the bottle on his back and a significant portion flowed down to where the sun doesn't shine. This is why his neighbours were treated to the sight of him running naked up Ballingdon Street screaming before he plunged into the soothing waters of the Stour.
This also brings to mind the fact that grandad produced nuclear strength horseradish to accompany the Sunday roast. It truly irrigated the sinuses. Unfortunately when he invited two American airmen to lunch during the war they mistook it for sauerkraut and after a mouthful became unusually quiet and reflective.
However, the Americans were not deterred. My Grandma had always fancied a nice new tiled fireplace too set off the front room. Those constructed of small red tiles were in vogue but in wartime such fripperies were unobtainable. No matter. Using runway concrete and reinforcing rod and a cunning mould made from MoD timber the Americans cast a very realistic facsimile in situ having stained the concrete red with boot polish. I have often pondered on the reaction of those refurbishing Grandma's home after she moved into Elizabeth Court when they tried to remove it!
So there we have it. One eventful life. A hard life undoubtedly, but a fulfilling one lived safe in the embrace of family, friends and neighbours in the closed community of a small market town in Suffolk. l spent 40 odd years working at the centre of Government advising Ministers and doing their bidding, l collected an OBE along the way for services rendered, but looking back l think my Grandfather was by far the better man. As was my father before me who went from the mines to
Fight through Burma and at lmphal and Kohima. But that, as they say, is another story.