Oral History

Mr. L Lester

Mr. L Lester's life and times of a Barwell Policeman

Interviewers:Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Mr. L Lester (LL)

Date of Interview: 27th June 1984

DW. The experiences of a policeman of Barwell.

LL. I was only young at the time in my early thirties. A' cause during my time saw hundreds of changes. I mean at the time I went there; there 'was neither telephone boxes, nor road signs or anything like that in the place.

I used to work Barwell and Earl Shilton and you know Stoney Stanton, Sapcote, and Sharnford was all under the same section.

I was left to manage Barwell on my own, more of less when the war started. (That's the main thing that happened while I was there) I was told I could look after Barwell and anything that happened at Barwell was mine, I'd got to be responsible for it.

DW. Did you have a lot of trouble in Barwell at that time?

LL. Well; it was only ordinary police trouble that everybody expected, I mean, l was involved in practically everything because I was young. There was one or two in our section that were older than me, and nearing retirement; that were sitting back pretty and were waiting to get out but couldn't because when the war started they had to stop in.

I was there in the war when we had a batch of land mines at the edge of the village, you know dropped by parachute planes; there was excitement over that. There was one dropped in a field between Barwell and Earl Shilton that blowed the front out of a farmhouse. There was four or five dropped in a field along there that made great big craters, but didn't do any damage otherwise, because they were in fields.

One day it was exciting really because a farmer found a land mine in his field when he was fetching his cows in, in the early morning and he didn't know what it was. At that time I didn't know what it was, and no one connected with the police force did, because we'd had none before, they were one of the first batch dropped. Well this thing was as long as this room, it looked massive you see and of course we had to get the army to investigate it. When they arrived they didn't know what it was, but naturally there were experts that came and they approached it with caution.

We all had a bit of a laugh after, because we'd been told to keep a mile away from it and yet we'd all been down to it to have a look.

I was ordered to warn all the people in the vicinity, that lived within say three or four hundred yards, to open all the doors and windows, because this thing was going to be exploded in the afternoon. (This is one of the incidents that really interested me). There were several policemen and other people about, we were told to get into the farmyard that wasn't far off, and get behind the hay stacks, as he was going to blow this thing up.

This army expert went down to it, with his pair of shorts and a jersey, and a pair of running slippers. He carried a sort of handbag with his kit in to do the job. He walked down quietly because we were told that the least bit of vibration would set this thing off. Well low and behold, he was nearly ready to set it off when several Tiger Moth planes from Desford, which was a learner station, were flying around, they used to do that you know in the day time.

He told somebody belonging to the police force to ring Desford aerodrome, to tell them to fetch the planes in. We had to wait until they had done that and then they blew it up. The nose cone was bigger than that fireplace; actually it was like the end of the old fashioned copper. When it blew, it went as far as Elmesthorpe.

DW. You mean the bits did?

LL. No'. One piece, the nose, it was like a zinc copper, the end of it was as big and round as that. It finished up in a greenhouse at Elmesthorpe. Well, of course, there was a hue and cry over that.

I was out in the village and I heard this low flying German plane. I heard the thuds; they used to drop seven, there was one; two; three; four; five; six thuds and one heavy one, which did not go off, it landed in this field. They called the brains in, you know, for an inquiry over this. We found out they called them landmines; it was one that the Germans sort of put their hands on after Dunkirk. They were all left behind when we departed and the Germans brought our own stuff back.

D.W. really.'

LL. They did you know, and after that they came with some more and dropped them on Hinckley. About eleven people in Mereval Avenue were killed; they also dropped one down against the station. There was plenty of bombs really near; one on the Leicester Road not far from the golf course, and we had dozens at Stoney Stanton.

They tried to trace the electric cables, which went right through the district, from 'Brum to Leicester and every time they came to Stoney Stanton or anywhere near it, they dropped a load of bombs. They never hit the pylons and never downed the wires. When they dropped them, they made the craters in a line at the side of 'er perhaps a hundred yards from the pylons. It could have put the whole district in darkness, but they never hit them'.

DW. Were they trying to stop the power going to Coventry do you think?

LL. Probably; the funny part about that was it was all deep soft sand and they buried themselves, them that didn't go off. In its infancy this bombing business. It baffled everybody really because it was a case of someone getting down to see what they were.' The military was there for eighteen months I should think. When we first found out this farmer had got all these craters on his land. We went over there and we were told to, "poke down the holes to see how deep were;" you know.

DW. Rather you than me.'

LL. Fancy doing a thing like that. We'd got an old sergeant at Shilton, a good old chap that's just died. He had a lot of experience in the First World War in the Grenadier Guards. I shall never forget it. We went down to this farm; I'll tell you, we'd got a little car and we sat there. He said to me; "I'm not going across there to go poking down no holes. You can if you want." So I said "You're not?" "No.' Let them that dish the orders out come and do the job. I'm not getting blowed up sky high."

Well, we didn't, we left it, we waited all day for the military. We found out, that some of this poking business had been done at Melton. The police had ignited one somewhere out there by this probing business; I think one of our chaps got blown up. After that we were issued with instructions and there was a lot more caution when dealing with them.

I was there when they filled Barwell up with troops from Dunkirk. There was all ranks and I was told, or given orders, to get these fellows billeted in Barwell with the public.

DW. So you had a lot of the soldiers from Dunkirk, billeted in Barwell in people's houses?

LL. Well yes, as a matter of fact; in the course of events they took over the clubs. The military took over the Liberal Club, Conservative Club and the church hall. They used the chapels for canteens and that, but I was told at the time to get lodgings for these chaps.

DW. Yes, quite a job.

LL. I had to get digs for officers, and of course it was difficult because they didn't want to live with just anybody. At the finish, when people saw what the war was, or what it might be, and listening to the stories from these fellows in public houses, and all that. A lot of the public in say, Shilton Road the manufacturers and that, they accepted officers to live there, while they were stationed here.

Before that actually, I was stuck round my home and I am told one morning that there's a load of evacuees from London coming. They were sending evacuees all over at that time, you know. I was simply told these evacuees' women and children, no men, were going to be brought into the village. They had got to be billeted on the public. Well, I mean it was a horrible flipping job. I used the chapel in Shilton Road as a dispersal station, and 'er, these people some of which were kept hanging about all day long; till late at night. I had to think about where I could put these people in. It weren't a case of saying when you knocked the door, "will you have them," it was a case of saying, I have brought this woman and these two children," and you know they couldn't refuse they'd got to have them! Horrible job, you never get any laurels for that type of work, yet you had to do it.

The main job in the war; flipping sirens; telephone communications went west it was a worrying time.

After the war had finished, you know, with working seven days a week and seven nights, if the siren went. Felt a bit shook up, you know. I always said, "that I didn't object to doing what there was to do if I could keep out the armed forces," see what I mean. There were others like me who weren't no hero, it was a case of being on your toes for twenty-four hours a day, very seldom having any time off. I weren't allowed to move out the village. As a matter of fact if I only went to the hairdressers and the phone rang and the Mrs. answered it, they wanted to know from her where I was, and for how long. You have got to be spot on; you've got to be there no matter what happened.

Well; you've got all the trouble; there was soldiers coming home that want compassionate leave 'cause they found some trouble at home. The wife or kids were ill or something and you had to work it out. Then you got messages from the army, we'll say, and had to deliver emergency messages probably. One time, tell a wife her husband is missing or bin captured or wounded, or as a matter of fact killed in action. Lousy flipping nerve racking jobs they were.

DW. No, not a very pleasant job.

LL. I left Barwell in nineteen-fifty. I've always been interested in Barwell though; you know my family were brought up there.

There was a little old picture house run by Henry Cooper, which kept going through the war; straight opposite where I lived. We made a little bit of pleasure because we'd sneak into the picture house, you know, blackout or no blackout.

I didn't want to leave because they were sociable, the people in Barwell, you know. During the war as far as I was concerned they couldn't do enough for you, you were a pal of everybody's.

We had a lot of soldiers, after one batch we had another, we once had the place filled up with Americans you know, before they made the landings in France. The Americans that were stationed in Hinckley and Barwell; we were full up) with them at that time, they took the places over that the Royal Artillery left; we had the Pioneers too. We had some trouble with army personnel but 'er.

DW. In what way?

LL. Well you know, pubs, beer then sometimes in the war beer was short and at that time the pubs would perhaps shut two or three days a week. When they did get any beer in it went quick. There were arguments and scraps and people that thought they hadn't had a drink and ought to have one. There was a rush on the pubs when the beer did come, if you understand what I mean.

DW. Yes I see!

LL. I used to have a lot to do with the Americans, and 'er the element of chaps they'd got were all types. Not so many coloured. Fellows that had never done a days work in their lives. We'll say that they had been dragged into the American Army. There was newspaper boys; there was pavement artists amongst them and they tried to make soldiers of them that had never done a day's work and never lived under any type of discipline in all their lives. I mean one man against all that lot. I had to use me brains because we'd got no facilities much, you did everything on your own. But there was one or two local people that I respected over the years. There was a few if I'd got something a bit dicky l'd only got to pick my phone up. They'd bring a car up to the front door to help me out without any arguments at all.

As you know, overall them years I saw kiddies go to school, l saw them leave and get married. I've got a great interest in Barwell now, through the help I got while I was there, and the people I worked with.

DW. Did you have a lot of trouble with the Americans?

LL. I shouldn't like a lot of this to go down in black and white, but I'll tell you this. The Americans didn't know anybody, and the biggest thing about the Americans; they'd been brought here to do a job. They are in a strange country and they didn't know; well; the regulations that I wanted to adhere to or had to adhere to. They didn't understand and they didn't want to know about it. The longer they stayed with us they realised the fact that 'er (they were airborne you see) they were going to be the kingpins when the whole invasion started again. They were among the first batch that were dropped at Arnhem, and that was a blitz screen, because three parts of them were killed before ever they were landed. Most of them that went from Barwell were shot down before they'd touched the ground and I think a lot of them realised; they were there long enough. We talked about it, I talked about it with their officers, and no doubt they sort of smelt what they were in for.

DW. So they couldn't care less?

LL. Couldn't care less: they did the daftest tricks about the villages; about Barwell, Earl Shilton, Hinckley as well; they did tricks the public couldn't understand.

DW. Such as?

LL. Such as! Well amongst them as I've said there were all types. There were actors, comedians that used to bet up in pubs and clubs and used to do stunts in the street. Do things the public had never been allowed to do. I used to; had to sort of stand there and see that they didn't interfere with any of the public. But you daren't say boo to a goose, else there was enough of them to eat you, if you know what I mean. D.W.: Oh, yes. I went down to the memorial; you know where the memorial used to stand?

DW. Yes, top-town.

LL. One night I went down there and there was a couple or three Americans doing stunts on racing bikes. Going round the memorial riding on one wheel, and you know, standing on the seat and going round like that, it was their entertainment. The public used to get on to me a bit about it they used to reckon; (village people as you know are very bigoted about their own village and they don't like being disturbed) that I was standing there and enjoying it. I had to argue about it. I used to say, well you can't sweep these chaps up with a sweeping brush and the less I said in that way, the better. They couldn't have cared less, and I should have been under their feet and that was as I say a worrying time.

DW. Did you have much black marketing going on, because I mean, there was black marketing in most places wasn't there?

LL. Well there was, yes, and 'er we used to get numerous complaints about this sort of thing going on. It was a very fine point really to deal with and you know as well as I do.

DW. You have got to catch them at it.

LL. Ah: and if they are influential people they are going to fight you tooth and nail about it. You know, we knew these things were going on, but they were going on with every class of the community. Nobody could get what they wanted and anybody had the opportunity to pick something up, that was sort of rationed, under the counter sort of thing, they didn't open their mouths about it did they.'

As a matter of fact white I was there, I had no end of stuff offered to me, whether it was for favours or to encourage me to shut my eyes to something else, I wouldn't know. When I thought there might be something in some of this talk, I used to hear. I wouldn't put myself out and waste a lot of time trying to sort something out that weren't going to come to nothing. As we've said its difficult to deal with this type of thing. I used to drop a low bolt to the individual concerned and he'd just looked at you twice and he knew you'd slipped on to something somehow or other and it very often stopped like that.

You asked me the question: you would have to have a go at almost everybody, and another thing behind all this; no matter what trouble you'd got or what inquiries I had to make. I had always got it at the back of the mind that this chaps got three sons in the army or this woman's just lost her lost somewhere You got them sort of things used to shoot through your mind and you weren't going to follow people over something, when you knew the background of these people.

You couldn't set hard and fast rules, because everybody had got to live and let live at that time and for years after the war. We were living on coupons anti rations till well after the war finished. So you've got to use a bit of diplomacy. If they put on a real brazen face, or if something serious happened amongst the public, I had to put my foot down. I had to stand on my own feet, 'cause you've got no one else to back you up.

As far as my own department, the police was concerned; I've always had a great respect for the police because I worked at the job for over thirty years. I always had a great respect for officers. If a policeman's got a lousy beat, he's got a lousy job. If his officers are behind him in what he does he can do it conscientiously. When he knows he can put the facts before his boss and he is going to be backed. You understand what I mean don't you; we were few on the ground at that time; if you couldn't have looked at your higher ups you wouldn't have an earthly would you.

DW. Any last thoughts?

Because everybody thought they were somebody, there were the bosses of the Home Guard and the bosses of all the other organisations that worked in the war. The ambulance and all that lot considered they were doing something beneficial, and they considered they were; well; they should be privileged in some instances.

Transcript by: Jean & David Wood.