Just messing about on the river

Here’s Big Minnow making friends with Ruby the Labrador, paddling in the river on Saturday. I had to smile at the image when I interviewed Jim Smith that evening, for he was about the same age when he met a soldier by the river in Abbotstone back in 1943.

‘Do you want a trout for your supper, lad?’ the soldier asked.

‘Well, I wasn’t bothered,’ Jim told me. ‘Father worked on the water anyway. But the soldier still threw in a hand-grenade and up the fish came!’

Growing up in Bishop’s Sutton during the war, Jim made the most of the freedom afforded by a lack of grown-ups to tell him off. He sneaked into Northington Grange (headquarters of the US Ninth Division) to look at the oak-panelling and gold-fittings. He explored the brick ammunition dumps in the woods around Abbotstone and survived to tell the tale. And when he crawled through the hedge to get into the army camp in Bishops Sutton, they invited him to dinner.

‘They lived like kings and they shared it. They would put a plate out for me, whenever they ate.’

Little Jim was also an entrepreneur: he started with two chickens (Henny-Penny who laid one egg a day and Henny-Tuppence who laid two) and sold their eggs to the cook-house at 6/- a dozen. When he expanded his flock, he was given wooden boxes from the camp to recycle into a new henhouse.

The army camp at Bishop’s Sutton was a rest camp: many different units came here to recover for a few weeks before going out into the war zone. First the black Americans, then the white Americans, then the Canadians passed through. After the war, each family in the village received a big tin of cocoa from a Canadian unit which had stayed there. Later, Jim managed to get hold of a box of paints and a sketch pad to paint this map of the camp between Water Lane and Bishop’s Sutton Road from memory (Water Lane is at the bottom).


But that was enough of military logistics, I wanted to ask Jim the million-dollar question. ‘Did the Bishop’s Sutton soldiers have a mascot like Hambone Junior, the dog who lived in the camp in The Dene?’

‘No, they didn’t need one,’ he replied. ‘They had me!’

Iris Crowfoot and Jim Smith

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