James C W Spurrier
I am eighty-eight years of age and am in the process of writing my life story. As an ‘old boy’, I am hoping to give you a shortened version of my story from when I was born until the present day. It all began in Portsmouth in the year 1929 when I was born. I was the second eldest of six children; three boys and three girls. We all lived together with my parents in Temple Street, Portsmouth.
My father was a veteran of the First World War and could not get regular work, only casual labour, which did not bring much money into the house. He did jobs here and there in all kinds of weather. He was forty five when he became seriously ill and passed away leaving a widow with six young children. Due to him not having a ‘proper’ job, my mother was not entitled to a widow’s pension, so she had virtually no money coming in at all.
My mother could not look after her six children; the youngest was just 18 months and the oldest was eight. She didn’t know which way to turn, until she had a word with one of her elder sisters, who said that she should get in touch with a welfare official. As my mother was a Methodist (my Father had been a Roman Catholic), she contacted someone from the NCH&O and after exchanging a few letters and conversations with officials from Portsmouth and Newton Hall at Frodsham, they informed my mother that they would take four of the children into the Children’s Home, which would leave her with two, the eldest and the youngest. This was a very distressing decision for my mother to make.
The day came, when we said our goodbyes to our mother as we boarded the train with one of her sisters. She was coming with us as far as Waterloo Station, but being very young we were not really aware of what was happening.
We arrived at Newton Hall and my brother and I were introduced to Sister Florence Walkett, at John Fowler House, who was in charge of all the children. (Editor’s note: Newton Hall was near Warrington.)
As we settled in, Charles and I had a good look around and we were amazed at what we saw. There was a lovely big circular area in the centre. Around the edge were the children’s houses, a hospital, a chapel and an administration block. We both looked at each other and we knew we were going to like living there. I thought to myself, there is something about this place, as if there was an invisible word, saying “WELCOME”. I will always remember the big poster that was hung up in John Fowler House, it was of the Lord Jesus with children around him, and on the poster were the words SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN TO COME UNTO ME.
In all of my eighty-eight years, that poster will always remind me of the four-and-a-half years we spent at Newton Hall. I shall always treasure those years at the home. I think Mr Snell and all the staff gave the Spurrier family a good start in life. In later years as you get older, you appreciate the good work that the NCH&O has done over the years. Well done.
We stayed at Newton Hall for four-and-a-half years and while we were there the Second World War started in 1939.
It was at that time, that my mother became very worried about us children, with all the bombing in the Liverpool\Merseyside area; she was going through the same trauma in Portsmouth. She had been bombed out twice and lost all her belongings from both houses. Very distraught, she found luck when she met a fellow who was offered a job as a Carter on a farm in Wiltshire. He asked my mother if she would like to go with him as his housekeeper. His name was Percy. Mum loved the idea of getting away into the countryside so accepted his offer. He knew she had two children, but was unaware of the other four of us in the Children’s home. After a little while, my mother explained to Percy about us and after careful consideration, Percy said she could arrange with the Children’s Home to have us sent to be with her in Wiltshire.
The day came when we finally said our goodbyes to all the wonderful Sisters that had looked after us for so long, and also to our friends. To be honest, we were reluctant to leave and were sad; we loved it at the Home.
Mr Snell (he was our hero) drove us all the way to Wiltshire to meet with my mother. Our house was a thatched farm cottage and a bit primitive. It was on the farm in a village called Ogbourne St George. We all settled in and went to the village school. We also joined the church choir for morning and evening services and gradually got used to life in the country. In fact, we loved it, especially the animals and wild life. Village life was really exciting for me and my brother Charles, because of all the Army camps around us. Imagine the military tanks, lorries, guns and all the soldiers driving through the village, what a lovely sight for a couple of young lads!
However, my mother was still finding life hard financially as she was only receiving a farm labourer’s money and had to again seek advice from a welfare officer. She told him about her six children and after a few questions, he offered to place the two eldest (Charles and I) on a Training Farm in Kent. My mother agreed for this to happen. It wasn’t long before Charles and I were saying our goodbyes again! We had dearly loved our time in the village so this was tough for us.
Mr Fegans Home ran the training farm. First we had to do our schooling at Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire. Charles and I were not impressed! From the outside it looked like an ancient building and was depressing.
We settled in after a while. We were issued with our clothes which consisted of grey serge short trousers, shirt and jacket, no underclothes and black boots. The discipline was quite harsh. All the staff were called ‘Masters’ and woe betide anyone that misbehaved. The punishment was severe. I am talking from experience (twice) and it did me no harm. I turned out a better lad for it really. I believe in later years I was ready for Service life, which came in 1947 when I joined the Royal Navy.
However, when I was fourteen, I was transferred to the actual farm in Goudhurst, Kent, but my stay at the farm was short lived. I had only been at the farm three or four months, when a flying bomb was brought down over the hop fields. Unfortunately, it hit the corner of our dormitory, and sadly, some of us were injured. My injury was a three inch piece of tapered glass embedded in my right ear. I was really lucky as I was fast asleep at the time, but when I woke, my bed was covered in blood and glass. There was no one else in the dormitory, but I managed to get down the stairs. I didn’t know any more until I came round in the hospital. Thankfully I survived to do other things.
Sadly, my mother heard about this episode. She was so worried about me that she wrote to Mr Fegans Homes to ask them to send me back to Wiltshire to be with my family. I went back and thankfully I was now aged fourteen and eligible for work on the farm, so I could bring in a wage to help the family purse. I enjoyed every minute working on the farm and would hate to have missed it.
It was now 1945; the Second World War was over. My mother decided that she would like to go back to Portsmouth to live, so we packed our clothes and personal belongings and made our way back home. It was sad for us children because we loved the village people and village life.
After our arrival back home, my mother sorted schools for my brothers and sisters and I got a job in Portsmouth Dockyard. I was there for about a year and I decided to join the Royal Navy.
I enlisted in the Royal Navy for seven years. I must say they were a very happy seven years. I travelled the world, mainly in the Far East and Middle East. I also took part in the Korean War – that was an experience!
I came out of the Navy in 1954 and decided to get married. We had three children and now have three grandchildren who we adore.”
Editor’s note: I believe NCH&O refers to the National Children’s Homes.
James has also filled in the questionnaire that has been sent to other old boys. Many of his memories are enclosed in the previous prose, but he was born on 19th August, 1929. Despite the many places he called ‘home’ as he grew up, he was born in Portsmouth and resides there today.
He remembers one member of staff at Fegans, Mr N Bennet and describes his life at Fegans as ‘strict, but fair’. He remembers his chores as cleaning the Mission Hall and looking after the chickens and pigs.
Yes, like most of the boys, he got up to mischief! He remembers he stole an egg and boiled it in the pig swill, to eat. He also stole a slice of bread and toasted it. He was punished for both misdemeanours. He describes himself as ‘an average scholar’.
He loved his time in the Royal Navy and throughout his working life, has worked in a brewery, then in the rag trade and following that on the busses. (Editor’s note: Sitcoms from the 60s?!) James finished his working life working on the ferry boats.
James has been married for 64 years to Brenda. They have two sons and a daughter and were married at Portsmouth Cathedral in 1953. To date they have three children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.