All my life
I have kept stock on the hill, as my father did before me. Before the
war, when the quarries were still in operation, our sheep used to lie
down on the railway tracks and they were quite often killed or injured.
If we found one injured, we’d carry it home to get it better.
Father had two poles, wooden ones, with some sacking in the middle to
make a bed. And he and Mum would carry the sheep down, and I used to
trot along by them, just a little girl. We’d carry the injured
sheep down the rides that Lord Boyne, the landowner, used to drive his
When the quarries finished in the 1930s and 40s, we had to look out
for the great pools of black tar that they just left up there. When
it was hot weather we used to throw sticks down to stop the sheep running
on it, because the tar would melt. We had a pony in it once and quite
a few times we’d find sheep stuck in it, and they’d be dead.
Most of the war we didn’t have too much bother, although there
were many planes that came down on the hill. Once a Lancaster bomber
crashed up on the top of Abdon Burf. That night I’d gone down
to a dance in the village. When we were told there was a plane that
had come down, I rushed off on my pony and met some police looking for
the spot. They followed me but not carefully enough because one of them
– a sergeant – slipped into one of the old mine-pits at
the top of the hill, right into the water. Up there it was terrible,
there was this blazing plane, and all of the crew lost their lives.
But there was another time – in November 1944 – when I helped
rescue somebody. I was 22. It was a foggy, rainy day, and I was gathering
up ponies from
the hill. I couldn’t get them to go their normal way home, over
Hay Meadows, and it was nearly dark when I got home. When I arrived,
Father said, ‘There’s supposed to be an airplane come down
up there, you have to go back’. I was exhausted, and the horse
too. Even so I went back up, but I couldn’t find the plane. We
rang the Home Guard, but they said it would be hopeless to come at that
time of night.
So I went up again at daybreak, and there it was, the crashed Wellington
bomber, still smouldering on the Hay Meadows. It had trailed along the
Common and left two dead bodies. I looked under a wing and there was
a man there still alive. He’d got broken legs, a damaged side
and his face was charred. I went and called my father who was looking
out for me half way down the hill, and he quickly went to fetch a flask
and a little whisky which we took back up the hill. Then Father went
to summon the police, and the airforce came and carried the man down
in a Landrover.
I had a lovely time growing up on the hill. Best of all I liked riding
horses, breaking them in – I used to love the rough work even
when they were a bit naughty. I started riding when I was about two,
with Dad up on the hill fetching sheep, sitting in front of him. And
then he’d just leave me on the horse coming down the hill, with
the stirrups dangling and the straps rolled up so you could get your
feet in them. Dad would walk down the slope behind, following the sheep.
Going up on the common now that all the quarries are deserted doesn’t
feel different but you sort of feel older, because looking back you
think: that was a while ago.