A past life in Hastings recaptured

A Boy From Hastings 2 SUS-180316-101028001
A Boy From Hastings 2 SUS-180316-101028001

In the second installment of his writing Group Captain Peter Holland captures what life was like for a young boy growing up in Hastings.

The beach was still bordered for long stretches with ‘Dragon’s teeth. These were concrete blocks designed to impede the progress of enemy tanks. But, the mines and barbed wire had been removed and the beaches were once again open to the swimming and paddling masses and a sense of peacetime tranquillity was returning.

Swimmers gathered on both sides of the pier near ‘Bottle Alley’, a pre-war cloister of fun with walls of coloured glass facing out to the sea. Little paddle boats navigated around the rubber rings and lilos; further out, larger boats operated from a platform towards the end of the pier.

The pier itself a mecca for optimistic fishermen, clad for all weathers, their holdalls, carrier bags or redundant khaki gas mask containers, brimmed with thermos flask, sandwiches and wriggly bait. Close to the swimmers, children found patches of sand among the pebbles to build their castles, further up the beach sun bathers sported themselves and at the top, rows of multi-coloured deck chairs accommodated the more elderly for a few pence an hour.

Chap 2 – Down to the Sea in Ships.

The boy was fourteen when his father’s health forced early retirement from his role as prison Governor in Wakefield. Hastings beckoned once again.

Temporary accommodation in a dingy basement flat in Warrior Square flanked by bombsites did little to damp his enthusiasm in returning to Hastings in wet and windy autumn. It was a short trolley ride to Nelson Road and the old Grammar School. Founded by William Parker in the days of ‘Good Queen Bess’ it had survived the centuries recalled every day at assembly when the school song was lustily delivered.

The panelled old hall was surrounded on every wall by plaques and roles of honour, telling the stories of hundreds of boys who had distinguished themselves in war and peace, urging the current scholars to emulate their predecessors. ‘Brothers all Hastonians’.

Sadly, the boy was not a hero, talked too much and only distinguished himself by being out for a duck playing cricket on the old county ground in the centre of town. The white panama-hat boasting gentry in the stands clapping him in, and clapping him out.

The trolley bus ride each day from school to his new home on the Bexhill Rd was sometimes varied by walking part of the way down the West Hill.

From the upper reaches of Nelson road, he entered another world: a labyrinth of steps and passages which tunnelled and edged through gardens, houses, cottages, forges, kilns, potteries and cottage industries and tumbled down to Old Hastings, providing a kaleidoscope of changing scenes to emerge via a dozen exit points from which the old smugglers in former years would dodge the excise men.

Now children played hide and seek, parents despaired and old people panted and puffed going up the maze.

The ancient church of St Clements nestled at the bottom, a place of refuge, a place of prayer to save us from the Norsemen; a beacon of hope in troubled days.

But for our boy there was fun to be had. He joined the sea cadets on the beach at the end of the sea front where the Bexhill road begins.

There were dories and whalers, a signals hut, a parade ground and a plethora of World War One rifles and bayonets. There were old guns and gantries, boats and tackle and junior officers and petty officers speaking in Naval jargon. ‘Double away for this’ and ‘Double away for that’. Announcements all preceded by ‘Dyer hear there’.

Continued next week.

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