Memories of Blisworth Arm, 1939 - 46

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John Dale

I was born in Soho, London, in 1934 and moved with my family to Blisworth Arm in 1939.  My father, Ernest George Dale, was hired by the UK government and we were accommodated in the house of the canal company's area manager - Charles Hadlow, being the "Toll House" by the bridge, while Hadlow was away presumably for the war.

My father's job was to find warehouse storage for emergency supplies of food and oversee the importing of goods and its transportation by canal, probably mostly via London docks, to the warehouses.  One of the chief warehouses was the empty corn mill belonging to the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company at the bridge in Blisworth so an obvious location for organising canal transport was the GUCCCo. boatyard at the Arm.  My father was partnered with a guy from the yard, I think he was the foreman Jack.  Another guy was brought in to help with day to day boatyard duties as Jack was busy with my father.  Jack had a little old Morris and the two of them frequently went off looking at stock or for more warehouses.  The collection of the strategic stocks of food was part of the plans to offset food shortages if the success of the German U-boats had become unbearably high. [the function of the mill in the war years became known to villagers - there are a few anecdotes in the Blisworth Mill page and in the out-of-print book on Blisworth - George Freeston found much paperwork in the canal office at the Arm and this is amassed at the N.R.O.].

I went to school at Blisworth and remember the headmaster Mr. Cole.  I remember school-organised efforts to help the economy, for example cutting and saving nettles.  In 1945 I passed an entrance exam and went to Northampton Grammar School, travelling there and back daily by bus.  I recall playing around the Arm area and it still amazes me that, in the warm summers, we bathed in the canal.  It seems remarkable in that nobody suffered from disease despite the canal being more like a sewer than a river. [it was routine then for families on boats and some of the houses to discharge all waste straight into the canal].

The brewer who owned the large house had a French name, a wife and 2 daughters and I played with one of the daughters who was my age.  [the brewer was Mr. Brabs Baillion, a senior manager with Phipp's Brewery, Northampton, that owned most of the small pubs and inns in this area.  Mr. Baillion became well-known in the village in the 1960s as he was a councillor for a few years]  On Saturdays I, at 7 years old, was hired by the local farmer, Bill Whitlock, to help drive his bullock herd the 5 miles to the Northampton  market, first to Milton and then along the main road.  We left at first light, walked to the market, took care of the stock until 3 pm and then took any which weren't sold and walked them back to the Arm.  My wages were 2 shillings and sixpence for the day. Great deal!  On Sundays I often helped one of the farmer's employees hunting rabbits in the warrens and invariably got to take home one for dinner.

I certainly agree that there were some supplies intended for the mills which slid off to a "couple of odd destinations".  Jack and my Dad especially did 'rounds' on the weekends when no other staff were around.  I do remember when a couple of friends sent a couple of tons of tea to the Arm.  My father felt that it was illegal.  He wanted to protect his buddies and during one night poured out the tea, dumping it all in the canal.  The problem was it wouldn't sink and next morning the sun came up to a couple of miles of tea on the surface of the canal.  At the end of the war, Dad's job came to an end and he was hired by the C.C.G., ie. the Control Commission for Germany.  He was posted to Duisburg in Germany to re-organise their canals in the reparation effort.  That's another bunch of stories.  At first my mother and I moved into a boarding house, basically one of the larger cottages, on the High Street, Blisworth, that was operated by an Irish lady of rather powerful build [no success so far in identification].  At the end of 1946 we also left and then joined father in Duisburg.  I now find myself in Canada, indeed I have been living here for 40 years.