by Maurice Harvey
In the 1940s I was a young lad living in Berry Avenue. There were several other youngsters and we all got along with each other very well. The lads soon formed the Avenue Gang. Names come to mind - John and Dennis Moore, John and David Makins, Peter Riley, Peter Johnson. John Moore was 'Boss Man.' We played various games - football, cricket and a form of hockey whereby the Avenue was the pitch, the ends of the road being the goals. Willow sticks were the hockey sticks.
For football, we stuffed an old leather case with wool and cloth - you couldn't get rubber bladders in the war years. We once used a pig's bladder to play, but it soon burst. After the war, when real footballs became available again, we played in the field above the Avenue. Often, on summer evenings the menfolk joined in with us and we really enjoyed this.
It was much safer to roam the countryside in those days and our parents had no fears about our outdoor activities. We made a camp beside Tonge brook - in fact it was built into the bank of the brook. I was forbidden to visit this camp on Sundays - we wore our best clothes then! However, being sneaky and quite naughty, I did join the others on Sunday evening when they visited the camp.
Unfortunately, when crossing the brook to our camp, I fell in the muddy water. I had to return home wet-through, covered in mud. My mother was not amused and I was confined to 'Base' for a week - as well as a tanning!
We made a raft one summer holiday at Cloud Hill quarry - at the so-called 'bottom end' of the quarry. It was disused and became a lake of water. The raft was made of old pieces of wood that we found in the quarry, together with oil drums. The wood was lashed to the drums and a fine raft was built. We behaved ourselves and the quarry management allowed us the privilege of playing there. The water was only about two feet deep.
There were two other gangs of lads in the parish. The Tonge Gang included Colin and Peter Foster, Peter Bradbury, Arthur Barber, the Cartwrights and Bill Carrington. The Breedon Gang were the most vicious - really good at fighting and they scared us to death. This gang was led by the dreaded Alex Platts! On one occasion they raided the Avenue Gang and I was taken prisoner. They took me up to Manor Farm and locked me in the chimney - which still stands today. This was the chimney belonging to the slaughterhouse that operated at the farm. Fortunately my father chased Platts' gang off and I was rescued. Alex still talks about this incident today. It was a good job my father didn't catch up with him - he might not have been in existence now!
John Makins was probably the cleverest member of the Avenue Gang. After the war ended, John built himself a small television set with surplus war materials. It was a bit crude but worked well enough. We thought he was a wonderful engineer. Late in life John ran his own TV business in Melbourne, which you will know of. On one occasion when coming home from school - the old stone built school - Peter Riley and myself found a half-crown piece. What wealth! We went straight down to Percy Taylor's shop, which was situated near to the Three Horseshoes, and bought sweets, 10 Park Drive cigarettes and a box of matches. We had twopence change! Peter kept the cigs and I the matches. We spent the next five evenings smoking a cigarette each. Unfortunately my father caught us both smoking on the last evening. I never smoked again until I joined the RAF At my home, smoking and drinking were out for me - even at the age of twenty years. I came home on short leave once from the RAF and dared only to smoke a cigarette when my mother was upstairs cleaning! Even when she came down I was accused of smoking. I told her, it was smoke from the coal fire - the chimney needed cleaning!
If one was really good in those early years, one might be allowed to go to Melbourne pictures - the flea-pit! You could manage on seven old pence for bus fares, entrance to the pictures and still enough for a cup of tea and a bun whilst waiting for the return bus home. The only time we lads - and girls - had any real money was during potato picking in the autumn. We had a week off from school to help with this harvest. Work was from 8 am to 5 pm weekdays and 8 am to 1 pm on Saturdays. At the end of the week I was paid 8 shillings and sixpence - 42½p today. Absolute wealth! Today's Human Rights surely would not have allowed such slave labour! On a similar venture I once attempted pea picking for a local market gardener. We were to be paid 6 pence a basket. I took mother's shopping basket but was told - not big enough! I was given a laundry basket to fill! I went home!
One job our gang enjoyed - without pay - was scrap collecting during the war years. Mr Cuthbert, our Headmaster, gave us permission to go collecting round the houses on Monday mornings - a morning off school. This was fine for me because I was the school ink monitor. On the Monday afternoon it took me all that time to mix the ink in a bucket and fill all the class inkwells, as well as clean up afterwards. I enjoyed Monday school!
When I look back and recall, it is with some sadness as well as joy. Many of the lads mentioned in the 'gang' have since died along with other Breedon boys who went to school with us. Many of their families still reside in the area - so no names. We had lovely times as well as bad. What a pity today's youngsters don't enjoy the same freedoms as we did! We were able to roam without fears and our parents had no need for anxiety for our safety. We had no "telly", no computers, radios nor any such gadgetry but we found great joy and happiness with the simplicity of life.