My Village by Dr. Thomas Wood
I live in a village. It s name is Bures; B for brother U - R - E - S.
If you look on a large-scale map of England you'll find it near the East
Coast, inland from Harwich and on the banks of the River Stour. Maps have
always held a fascination for me. When I was a lad, I used to lie on the
floor, with my nose in an atlas and wonder what they were really like,
those places shown as little dots, what people who lived there talked
about, what they ate and what they did on Saturday afternoons,
Well, by now, I've been to
many of those little dots. Twenty-two countries in all those five continents
is the tally so far. And what I've learned is this. The more people know
about one another, all the world over, the better for the world. This
is true in peacetime. It's truer still in war. So as a small and personal
share in spreading this knowledge, I'm going to tell you about this village
and parish of Bures where I live: Myself and 728 friends of mine, what
we talk about, what we eat, and what we do on Saturday afternoons.
My house stands on a hill
which looks across the valley to another hill. Between the two lies Bures,
set in orchards and snugged into a hollow. Through the trees you can see
a cluster of red roofs round the church, a winding river with a mill in
the crook of its arm and poplars on the skyline. Now they are bare, the
leaves dropped, but in spring they change to tall green misty spires and
the water meadows below them turn golden in a night when the buttercups
come out - sheets and sheets of gold as far as you can see.
There's only one thing lovelier
than that of all the things I know and that's the bluebells in April,
when the woods are carpeted thick and blackbirds whistle in the sunshine.
The winds turn westerly then and pile up the sky with mountains of creamy
cloud - just as Constable painted them. He lived only a few miles down
river. If you know his pictures you'll know this part of England and if
he came back he'd find nearly all his own subjects. Here are the same
sorts of chestnut horses, the same black-faced sheep, the same lush meadows
and the same rich, moist, brown earth. The Tudor tiles he loved to paint
are still keeping out the weather and the bells he heard still ring in
every square church tower. This countryside has not changed much this
last hundred years. In essentials, it has not changed this last four hundred
years since Queen Elizabeth came here in 1567. The house she stayed at
is still lived in, still loved and in the room in which I thought out
this talk was built just about the time that Columbus reached America
But - you'll say - that's all right, very pretty and all that but it's
no good living in the past. What we want is progress. Right, I can report
it. We plough with tractors. Nearly every cottage in the village has electric
light and a wireless set. And if that's progress, there it is at the front
door. But more important are the things of the spirit. This village has
its own band and its own dramatic society. You can get practically any
book you want from the traveling county library. And any child in Bures
School that shows promise can go from there, stage by stage, right up
to university without costing its people a penny for education.
And that is progress. It's all part of this new England. Even to an Englishman
this is a puzzling land. It's steeped in tradition. So are other countries.
They get old. England gets younger. Other countries go in for revolution
every so often to show they're keeping up to date and they tell the whole
world about it. In England there's a revolution going on all the time
and nobody says a word. We call it peaceful change. What is true of England
is true of this village. I said it hadn't changed much this hundred years,
but it's fairer to say it's changing always but remains unchanged in peace
and quiet loveliness.
Peace, you say and there's a war on? Well, this isn't our first war. In
Bures church lies the effigy of a knight, Sir John de Cornard. He died
in 1330, after fighting in the Crusades. His people had his likeness carved
in English oak and there he is still, his shield on his arm, his hound
at his feet. He's the first Bures man I know by name who went off to the
wars. Since his day, the young men have had a hand in any trouble that
might be brewing. In August 1914 they walked into Sudbury or they cycled
into Colchester -those of them that weren't already in the Navy -and joined
the old 12th Foot or the Essex Regiment as a matter of course. Some of
them never came back but those that did meet now and then, not as soldiers
but as members of the British Legion. We had a supper last February, I
was in the chair and at the Angel Inn we ate good food and we drank good
beer and we sang good songs and we listened to the old hands tell stories
- real Anglo-Saxon humour - that I daren't tell you, for this microphone
would crack and we laughed until we ached. Fifty-four men. That's not
bad for a village. And between them they'd medal ribbons of every campaign
we've fought since the 80s.
That supper was eleven months ago. Since then the young men have gone
off once more. They made no fuss about it. They just went. Fifty-two of
them so far, more waiting. Not one failed to pass the doctor. That's one
result of this revolution that's taken place in England - in this case
a vast change for the better in health and fitness. You'd be proud of
those young men. We are. We allowed it in a sensible sort of way. We got
up a whist drive and a concert which made £27. This paid for 52
parcels, all alike. Each contained things to eat and smoke and wear and
read, a Christmas card and a letter from some child in Bures school. They
were delightful letters. They all began Dear Chum and went on to talk
about cats and dogs and family pets and the best of all finished up like
this: I mustn't tell you about the social activities of Bures because
the censor might stop it so a Merry Christmas and a safe return from,
your loving friend, Joyce Constable.
And now those of us who can't be soldiers are left facing another war.
What's it like? I'll tell you faithfully and exactly about one village
anyway. First, work. No one in Bures was out of a job in peacetime, so
now we only work a bit harder. Farming mostly, though there's a builder's
yard and a Maltings, the railway, a place where they dye silk - an old
Suffolk trade - market gardening, fruit and a blacksmiths. Next, food
and fuel. Mr Gordon Drake, the butcher, says this; All right so far. Mr
Chambers, coal and coke dealer, Plenty, all we want and all you want.
Mr Cousins at the Eight Bells Garage, Petrol's rationed, of course, but
generously and plenty's coming in. Mr Braybrooke, grocer, told me this:
"Butter's rationed, as you know Doctor, and bacon and sugar, but
everything else - plenty. Why with all iv`e got here and with what my
father's got at the other shop in Sudbury, I could feed Bures for two
Next question. What difference has the war made? Answer - not, as yet,very
much. Nothing like what we expected. We got ready for evacuated children,
but none has come because Bures is what they call a neutral area and if
aircraft ever did come over, we'd be in the front row of the stalls. There's
a blackout, of course, but no one in the country minds that. The moon
shines for half each month, with luck, and if you do fall into a ditch,
it's your own fault for not knowing the road better. All the girls are
going to nursing classes. The Women's Institute is busier than ever. Buses
run. Evensong at Church is at three and not six-thirty. Bob the postman
brings the letters twice a day. And on Saturday afternoons Bures United
plays football. But there's one difference, it's knitting.
I think the ladies must knit in their sleep. They're making Balaclava
helmets for the minesweepers, the trawler men and the searchlight crews
out on the Suffolk hills. You can see them at work on starry nights, sending
up long white beams that meet and cross and move away. Nobody asks where
the men are, but once a week a dispatch rider from the whole brigade calls
at a certain house and carries off another batch of gloves and helmets.
If the women can't fight, they say at least they'll knit to keep the fighters
warm. Well that's what life is like nowadays in Bures and there are some
of the changes brought about by the war. The biggest change I've left
to last. It's bigger than all the other changes put together, for if s
a change not of habits but of mind. In 1938 we were miserable. Now that
the war has actually come we're - well, we're not glad: what`s the word?
- we're relieved. That`s it, relieved. And ready for anything.
What this anything will be I don't know. Prophecy isn't my job. I can't
say whether the searchlights on those hills will ever pick up a target
for the guns, whether we'll all go hungry, whether this valley arid all
this dear land of peace arid quiet loveliness will crumble, with the rest
of England, into ashes. But I do know the English and what I'd really
hate would be to have them as my enemies. The young men are magnificent
- the finest generation I've ever seen; but I don't envy the people they
come up against. And they've got the spirit of their fathers and grandfathers.
What that is, I could tell you in 50 tales. Here's one. An old soldier
in the village came along to see if I could get him back into the Army.
There wasn't a hope. He was sixty-eight. He said he'd tackle anything,
so I said what about the Utility Squad which was to deal with fires and
bombed out houses and so on? - if we ever got any. He was all for it,
so we filled up the official form.
Question No, 3. "Now",
I said, "do you suffer from any physical disability?"
He said, "Now then Doctor, only thirst."
That's the stuff. We've got our tails up. That's a straight tip and -
can you hear me, Australia? - it's dinkum
Acknowledgment to the Suffolk Free Press