The Early Years
There is a hard frost on this war time evening at the Scouts Hut in Longfield Road, Tring. Rogers is embroiled in a game of bulldog, when through the door walks Father Frank with a face like thunder. I am required to return home immediately since the police have arrived making enquiries into certain explosions that have occurred in the area.I am led into the dining room to be confronted by a burly police sergeant, there is a roaring coal fire and I am told that it has come to the sergeant's knowledge that I have been involved, with other boys, in the letting off of explosives. I think I have always realised that when confronted with a situation that is impossible to defend the best way out is to put your arms up in surrender. This I did and when asked if I had any explosives in the house, immediately confessed. I went to the attic and produced a biscuit tin (one of the old tins with a capacity of about one cubic foot), full of gelignite. On taking off the lid the sergeant became seriously agitated and told me I could have blown up the whole street. Taking up a fistful I threw it on the fire and explained that a detonator was needed to cause an explosion.
My interest in explosives had been kindled by Strain, son of the Vicar of Aldbury and, at 13,1 a year older than me. He would manage to purloin a few items from the lab at Berkhamstead School and understood what you needed to do to get a bang. We then became ambitious to make larger bangs and it was fortuitous that the army held regular exercises at Ivinghoe Beacon, just a couple of miles from Aldbury. Scanning of the ranges following an exercise produced a variety of munitions. The most common find was unexpended 303 ammunition, but there were regular finds of unexploded mortars. If a mortar had not exploded the first thing to establish was whether it was of the high explosive or smoke variety. If smoke type it could be handled with compulsion; if high explosive it needed to be touched most gingerly and the detonator carefully removed. Charlie frightened me to death one day when the detonator on the mortar he was handling would not budge and he started knocking the side of the detonator with a stone in an endeavour to free it !
Bazookas were an occasional find and we had a supply of safety pins so that they could be transported, tied to the frame of the bicycle, so that they could not explode. The most exciting find was a Bren Machine Gun with a sizeable quantity of ammunition.
Needless to say the Vicarage at Aldbury became a very well equipped arsenal.
Early fireworks were made from cordite removed from 303 ammunition. The rockets were not very good; they tended to falter having left the milk bottle and then pick up again once they got into the horizontal plain. Our skills progressed until they culminated in what for us was the ultimate firework, although looking back I'm frightened to think of what might have happened if this particular pyrotechnic had exploded in the wrong place.
We took an empty signal cartridge, about 3 feet long by 3 inches diameter to use as the mortar. A smaller empty signal cartridge, about 9 inches by 2 inches, we charged with cordite and let in a small fuse. We then got a thunder flash cartridge which we filled with gelignite and inserted a fuse to its detonator.
We knew there was a risk that the whole thing would blow sky high on the explosion of the propellant, so we made sure that we were crouched below the rose garden wall when the propellant ignited. The sound was right so we knew the missile was still intact. At about 7pm on November 5th , one pound of gelignite detonated about 50 ft above the pond in the beauty spot known as Aldbury. The reverberation went round the valley five times. We were never arrested for that one.
A variety of explosions followed and we found electrically detonated underwater gelignite charges to be more effective at fishing in the canal or reservoir than a length of thread with a bent pin. I think our largest detonation in one go was 40lb of gelignite.
I was dully arraigned for my activities with Bazookas and can remember feeling quite wronged by the prosecution. At the age of 12 I knew what I was doing with the shell. By carefully inserting the safety pin every time we moved one and exploding them safely we were clearing the ranges of dangerous debris. We would explode the Bazookas from trenches above Aston Clinton by removing the safety pin and throwing the Bazooka in a well lofted arc. If it didn't go off, the safety pin was re- inserted for transporting back to the trench and then it was thrown again. They always went off eventually.
I was bound over at Aylesbury Magistrates Court to keep the peace for 12 months. 6 months later the boys told me they had come across an open store at Witchurch, containing spigot bombs (a source of gelignite) and something we had not seen before, 24 hour fuses. It was many years later that I learnt that all this was part of the Top Secret Experimental Weapons Department at Whichurch. From my father's bedroom window there was a good view of Stubbings Wood Tring. During the day I had secreted a small charge set to explode at 10 o'clock with one of these new long range fuses. My father was surprised that I wanted to admire the sunset from his room, but nevertheless agreed. The explosion occurred 10 minutes later at 10.10.
My second arraignment was at Wing Magistrates Court when, with several others, I was again charged. I was the only one currently bound over and thought I was for the high jump. My father hired a barrister to defend me and I was quite amazed to learn how the process of law carried on. I was bound over to keep the peace and I had breached this condition, but my barrister proved that the Magistrate shouldn't know about this. Plainly daft! The outcome was that we were all bound over to keep the peace again. The second court appearance did make me more cautious and by this time I was beginning to see the terrible havoc that could have been wrought by our actions.
I was begot by the Union of Frank Rogers with Violet Edith Brinkman.
Frank had two brothers and a sister. I never knew Frank's father but I remember stories about him driving the London/Birmingham Stage Coach; regularly he would blow his horn on cresting Pendley Beeches for his meal to be heated. I have early memories of my Grandmother, dressed voluminously in black at her little house in Henry Street, Tring.
Quite short in stature, Frank was a man with great charm and patience; always a ladies man and invariable asked to reply for the ladies at the many functions where he spoke. He trained as an auctioneer and forester at W Brown & Co, Tring, where he ran the cattle market before moving to Aylesbury. He loved his time spent in the agricultural world; a visit to a farm to perform the annual valuation would be an all day job with lunch and a cigar and cognac to follow. Then back to the office by bus to write up the valuation long hand. Today's auctioneer will speed round 6 farms in one day dictating his reports as he goes: progress!
In the first world war he volunteered and found himself parading with a thousand or so before Lord Kitchener. Kitchener walked the ranks inspecting each man and when my fathers turn came, Frank returned Kitchener's strong glare; this resulted in the order to step forward a pace. Frank thought he would be charged with dumb insulance in fact this gave him his first strip and he moved on to become regimental sergeant major. He served at Gallipoli and had a couple of very close shaves. In each instance he heard the shell coming, threw himself to the ground and was all but buried in the soil thrown up. Not good for the ears! On one occasion a Turkish shell went straight through the entrance to a dug out, but failed to explode. On removing the shell it was found to be made in Sheffield.
An accolade about my father always sticks in my mind. It was from George Simms, farmer and cattle dealer. On meeting George he said "boy, if you are half the man your father is you will be great".
Aylesbury cattle market was an experience. Glory the cattle drover lived in a hovel at Oving and talked endlessly about the wife although no woman would ever put up with him. Glory's job was to hold open the gate for animals to enter the appropriate pen after being sold. On one occasion he put four huge Gallaway steers in with one little Jersey cow. Brow Pratt, cattle dealer, told him he should have more gumption than to put four huge steers in with one little cow. Another dealer commented that Glory didn't understand the word gumption, to which Glory retorted "Course I do that's the stuff you put on cows tits".
I remember that in my day at the cattle market I lost a bullock on the railway line, but I think my shining glory was when half a dozen sheep escaped. At that time at the top of market square Aylesbury, James Walker, the jewellers had a very smart shop with a heavily recessed entrance, before entering the shop proper. Chased by young Rogers the sheep headed towards the top of the square and headed straight for James Walker. The entrance way funnelled them in and, most unfortunately, it was a hot summers day and the door was open. Frightened sheep are not good news for jewellers' carpets.
The zenith of my dealing achievements was reached at Aylesbury Cattle Market on a Wednesday. On the previous Monday I had been entrusted with the job of selling the day old chicks at Tring. The pullets were in great demand and made a shilling each. No one wanted the cock and it occurred to me that 240 birds had to be good value for one pound. Father was not too happy to see me feeding them watered milk on the lounge carpet, but the birds prospered. By Wednesday they were stronger and amazingly had all survived. I put them in the auction and they were two keen bidders. One had an ancient tattered and oiled coat, held round him by binder twine.. He eventually bought the chicks for seven pence each. I later reflected that Natt Grossmith who went on to found a huge poultry empire did not often concede a six hundred percent profit over two days. Further reflection told me that there was no doubt that he had a substantial profit ear marked for those chicks.
My father was a good friend of Frank Bly the antique dealer of Tring; some years ago after my fathers death, Frank had been rummaging through some old papers and found a photo-graph of Frank that he thought I might like. Indeed I was most grateful to receive it; it showed my father in full military regalia in Versailles in 1917. I remarked to Frank that I was not aware that my father had served in France and Frank agreed that he had not. Clearly a good day trip and we were amused to ponder the purpose.
My mother, Violet Edith was one of five daughters born to Brinkman the nurseryman of Northchurch. I never met either grandparent since both died early, but I hear stories especially from Ivy the youngest born. Grandfather was a hard man to his daughters laying down strict rules and requiring them to work hard at the nursery. I gather that one of the female staff would help take produce to Chesham Market and apparently grandfather was always in a good mood on this day. Annie was the only sister not to marry, but I remember her telling Queenie of an experience she had with a man on Hunton Bridge, Watford. The man exposed himself and apparently is resembled a milk bottle. Queenie's question was "but my dear, half pint or pint?" The nursery was a full mile from Berkhamstead Church. This gave the sisters an opportunity to put on their finery and parade to and from the church in the hope of meeting young men. Ivy did particularly well; she met Les Evett, farmer and dairy man; a man big in stature with an even bigger sense of humour. For me, Ivy's house was the big time. In the war you would walk in to a blacked out room, so thick with smoke you could hardly see across it. Clutching their cards would be the four players, some with green shades, and I would watch transfixed as piles of half crowns were moved to and fro. Untold wealth at the fall of a . card. It took Ivy several years to forgive me (aged 11) for putting a suggestion to her daughter Janet (aged 8) in her bedroom one night.
My mother was a handsome and very intelligent lady; she had a gift for clairvoyance. Summer holidays were taken at Greylands Hotel, Margate, where a very happy atmosphere pervaded and all the holiday makers joined in games on the beach. My mother would read tea leaves with uncanny predictions for the year ahead. Some were predictable such as a pregnancy to an amorous couple, but others were totally out of the blue. During one of the games on the beach a guest lost her wedding ring. Everyone was searching in the sand for the ring when my mother called a halt. We are going about this wrongly - let us all concentrate on thinking about the ring - she then walked over and plucked it from where it was buried in the sand. She had an exceedingly good eye for fashion; my father always said that somebody in the fashion world was spotting what she did. If she made a dress with huge buttons in 1936, huge buttons would be the fashion in 1937.
Early in the war my mother became mentally unstable and was institutionalised for the rest of her life, although her condition was much improved in the later years with the arrival of new drugs.
School was an absolute pain. Living on the western side of Tring the distance to the railway station on the eastern side was two miles and the theory was that the station bus would meet the Berkhamsted train. The steam train was very often late so the bus would go and I had a very good knowledge of every tree, house, and paving stone between station and home. One glimmer of light on the journey was Muriel. Being the only school girl on the train she was most careful to distribute her favours fairly. North church tunnel lasted for one minute and twelve seconds and once every three weeks it was my turn for a grope with Muriel whilst lying in the string luggage rack.
School orders were so ridiculous that you were put on a charge if caught speaking to any female who was not your mother or your sister. The saving grace was chemistry and the access it gave to fissible material. Eventually I took to cycling to school. The trick here was to catch up with the bus on the return home as the vehicle slowed for Pendley Beeches fuelled by the gas trailer it was towing. A pull up Pendley Beeches would speed us for the down hill run into town. Several V1 bombs exploded during term time, but fortunately these were in the woods outside town. Landmines floated down by parachute and caused huge craters but again luckily there were not severe injuries from them locally. In the hot summer of 1940 you could see dog fights in progress in the skies high above Tring. There were many aerodromes in the area from which raids on the continent were carried out.
A Warrington bomber flew over the house belching smoke. The pilot struggled to miss the houses on Icknield Way and the plane plunged into a field, just 200 yards beyond the houses; all seven aircrew were killed. Many B27's crashed in the woods and aircrews clothing would be flung into the branches. It all brought home the suffering that was being undergone for our protection.
I think one of the best lessons I learned at school was to do with a boy called Glazier. He was a bully and much feared. On one of the occasions when he had a go at me, I got mad and decided to risk everything and have a go. By good fortune I got a punch into his solarplexis and he never bothered me again - a fundamental lesson.
Earlydays at Work
My father ran Aylesbury Cattle Market and I liked what I had seen of the work that was entailed and the conviviality. On my first day I was introduced to Mr Green who would give me my task for the day, "you will need this Rogers" he said, giving me an object with a handle and a three sided blade, "come with me down to the market". Mr Green explained that on Friday there was a sale of attested dairy cows, today was Thursday and all the shit from the unattested fat stock sale on Wednesday had to be scrapped off the pens for tomorrow. Over to Rogers.
In a year or two I was doing all manner of things. Surveying, property negotiating, helping in the market or whatever. One Wednesday was spent in the market as usual and I learnt that Mr Jones had come in to see me to buy a house in Limes Avenue, but as I wasn't there he bought it from Percy Black, who would collect the £100 commission that I had missed. Decision taken to spend no more time messing around in the market for five shilling commission. Hugh Dix was my mentor at this time, not surprisingly known as Tubby in view of his vast size. A man with a sense of humour, a love of people, with an ability to mix at any level and a desire to natter on forever if it was a case of reminiscing about the past. I think Hugh would have found his funeral arrangements hilarious. On the occasion, Wingrave Parish Church was packed to overflowing and the cortege was at the house only two hundred yards distant. However, Ron Miller was extracting some dead elms and the timber lorry got stuck, blocking in the cortege. Hugh eventually turned up late for his funeral with everyone looking at their watch declaring that the old bugger was late again.
I recollect that my first professional assignment with Hugh was to value a house on the Southcourt Council Estate which, surprisingly for those days, was being bought by the tenant. We duly rolled up mid way through the morning and Mrs Mop answered the door with her hair in rollers, "we are from the insurance company, come to do your valuation" says Hugh, "but you can't come in without an appointment I haven't made the beds yet". "Gal - that's alright as long as you've emptied the piss pots". "Oh you'd better come in then". Another lesson learned by Rogers.
Christmas office parties were the highlight of the year. There would be a one hundred percent turn out at Tring Hill Cafe and after a fair amount of imbibing games would commence. Teams from Aylesbury, Tring, Berkhamstead and Hemel Hempstead would participate with gusto and various things would be done with balloons and a teaspoon on a length of string. The final game never varied; bonus points for the team producing the trousers of Richard Cole, Senior Partner. I remember that at one party my guest was to be a married lady; she would not remove her wedding ring so put a plaster over it. Goodness knows what they all thought. I think it was perhaps at the same function that in my earnestness to compete in one of the games my foot caught an occasional table and brought forty six glasses of sherry crashing to the floor.
One of the tasks I had inherited was to run a fortnightly furniture auction. This was held in a dilapidated corrugated iron shed in Church Street. It made no money and created an enormous amount of hassle. I campaigned for several years before I managed to get the firm to agree to close it. From my days in the auction room is born my dislike of victorian. Countless suites of furniture would come in comprising a chaise longe together with matching chairs. Again and again I would ask a shilling and more often than not there was no response. The occasional suite might make as much as five shillings if it was an exceptional quality and perhaps inlaid. Gems did turn up occasionally and Frank and John Bly the antique dealers from Tring were always very helpful in giving guidance as to any object that needed special treatment.
In his capacity as Sheriffs Officer, Hugh Dix had to seize various goods in security for judgement debts and, if not paid, then sell the goods. I remember he once sold a Spitfire Fighter for eleven thousand pounds. On another occasion two engines for formula one racing cars sat in our offices for about two months until the debt was cleared. That particular racing firm still exists and is now prominent in the field of Formula 1 motor racing.
It wouldn't happen today, but the variety of activities I have undertaken under the broad banner of surveying is pretty wide. From cattle market to furniture auction room, right through every aspect of estate agency including the processing of metallic printing plates with photographs, advertising, structural surveys, building society surveys, land surveys, inventories, schedules of condition, planning applications, planning appeals, rating work, negotiations with the Inland Revenue, rent reviews, letting and sale of shops, offices and factories, measuring slag heaps, applications for the licensing justices (I remember one of these as a tall order since I had to visit and comment on all licenced premises within 1 mile of the application site which was in the centre of Aylesbury). I think twenty five hostelries were involved and after my first nine half pints of beer I had to delegate some of the work.Another of my lessons of life was learned at the public enquiry into the Aylesbury Town Map 1958. At the auction room we had a porter, Gower, who owned a couple of acres in Buckingham Road, the draft map showed this land to be car parking and I suggested he try and get that changed to residential. He agreed to this but, being without funds, it was agreed that I would fight the case for him on the footing that, if successful, I would sell the land for the usual commission. The enquiry went on for a week or so and high level most eloquent barristers marched to and fro in their finery and mounted complicated cases for change. Rather nervously I put my case and asked the Planning Officer a few simple questions. When the final copy of the map was eventually published there was only one change of substance and that was the reallocation of Gowers field. The second lesson I learnt on the same outing was that Mr Gower then did not hold true to his agreement with me and I didn't get paid.
It was thought desirable to widen one's experience by working in a different environment and I thus went down to 'improve' with Sadler & Baker at Camberley. A combination was in rented rooms with shared kitchen; two ladies sharing one kitchen is not conducive to a happy atmosphere.
Philip Rowlinson, in charge of Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors professional examinations was a strong and professional character who was quick to correct some of my errors. Nevertheless he could not prepare me for the day when a most attractive applicant, with considerable décolletage, wanted me to show her a building site in Frimley Wood. The job took most of the afternoon and she eventually bought the plot for eight hundred pounds.
I didn't get too fat on the salary of five pounds a week, especially considering the digs cost two pounds fifty.
Estate layout, property management, insurance valuations, valuations in defence of company takeover.
I think it is the last listed item that probably creates the greatest pressure, since invariable there is a totally unreasonable time limit and whole gammut of work to be undertaken, with no prior knowledge of the sites to be valued. In one instance I had seven days to value sixteen residential building sites spread through the Home Counties. Each one had to be inspected, a plethora of documents assessed and valuations constructed. The only possible way to achieve this was to cut oneself off from the office and work from home. It was then possible to work straight through to midnight and if you woke up at three, you could go back and do some more. The neighbours must have wondered about all the motorbikes arriving with packages, but the valuation at seventy six million pounds went out on time.
Property auctions can be exciting but the mentality of buyers can be hard to understand. Selling land worth one million pounds itis always nice to have a real start so that I will usually go as low as necessary to get there. You will quite likely have to struggle to get just one bid of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, but once it gets to one million pounds there are twenty people waving their catalogues at you.
I can recall some unusual experiences in business;-
1. I'm carrying out a survey of an old cottage at Long Crendon. I'm in the roof and I'm poking about with a six foot rod. I pushed the ridge beam and the whole section of worm eaten timber falls round my ear.
2. One deal for four million pounds took about two hours and was completed within fourteen days of the outset.
3. I had one hundred and fifty houses to sell for a particularly volatile builder who could be quite obnoxious at times. On several occasions I thought of telling him what he could do with his houses, but then did the mental sum of one hundred houses left, times three hundred pounds, equals thirty thousand pounds - be careful. When it got down to fifty houses, I did eventually let fly, having been antagonised by some very derogatory remarks about the ladies manning the site. Although expecting a letter of dis-instruction none arrived and I think our relationship was the better for the contretomps.
4. I was selling some building plots in North Bucks for the County Council. What with me, the County Council Estates Officer and his assistant, the County's solicitor and his assistant and the Clerk, we numbered six facing a company of buyers numbering two. Even worse thetwo were together and counted as one. Nevertheless I launch into the auction sale, but just before calling for bids, the door is thrown open by a distressed gentleman complaining that he has been held up in traffic. No he's definitely not too late. We then had an extremely successful auction with the plots getting comfortable beyond their reserve price.
5. Another auction at North Marston, again for the County Council, was of a very run down farm house with four acres. We thought it was worth about seventy thousand pounds and that was the reserve price. There was a good company of buyers, I asked for seventy thousand pounds and a man in the front row bid it. The rest of the company was stunned and I am sure he bought the property cheaper than by commencing the bidding at thirty thousand pounds.
6. I found myself at the Royal Courts of Justice acting for a builder in a case where the client was retaining monies on the justification that the bungalow was not properly constructed because the ceilings were bowing. The Specification for the ceiling timbers was three inch by two inch softwood and this had been installed. Our case was that the client had put boxes in the roof which had caused the ceiling to bow. We brought as a witness one of the removal men who had put the boxes in the roof. In cross examination the barrister for the plaintiff was questioning our witness about his statement that the boxes each weighed about half a hundred weight. How was he qualified to tell the weight of a box? Well, I am an amateur weight lifter sir!. Case won.
7. I had sold various properties for a client including a block of let cottages.About a year later the client phones up and asks if I will help him in a valuation matter. About a year before I sold the block of let cottages, they were valued by surveyors for estate duty purposes and their valuation was much higher than the price for which I had sold them. He wanted me to act as valuer in his action in negligence against the other surveyors. Reluctantly I had to agree and a conference took place with his advocate at Lincolns Inn. During the conference is was disclosed that the defendant surveyors had retained Mr Weatherman of Connells, to act on their behalf. At the conclusion of the meeting, I said that I did not know Mr Weatherman, but I was sure that he was a reasonable man, why didn't I go and see Mr Weatherman to try and agree the matter now. Oh no Mr Rogers, we don't want you to do that at this early stage - lesson learnt.
8. Life long friend Derek Bowers is fighting an appeal at Haddenham in respect of a refusal by the District Council to grant his application to build forty houses and eight shops on five acres in the middle of the village. He is cross examined by bumptious Johnathan Fairn for the Council who says "Mr Bower you see yourself as the entrepreneur of Haddenham, "I'm sorry sir I do not understand that word". Mr Bowers you're going to build houses here, you're going to build houses there, you're going to build houses everywhere". "Oh no sir", says Mr Bowers, "I think you mean Aylesbury Vale District Council". Appeal won.
9. Philip Rowlinson, my boss, is in court regarding a boundary despute he is handling for a client. I have surveyed the offending boundary fence which is not quite straight and has a little blip in it. Questioned about the blip in the witness box, Mr Rowlinson explained that it is just a slip of the draughtsman's pen - I was outraged.
10. I had a new experience at Stoke Mandeville, in one of the mid 1970's heat waves. I was called to this year old bungalow, which was suffering heavy fracturing of the walls and various stresses causing windows and doors to seize. By constructing a cardboard model the only way I could get the cracks to open in the same way was to push the model from below. My first experience of clay heave caused by dried out clay beneath pear and apple trees taking on moisture once the trees were removed. The first movement breaks the drains and more moisture is introduced. Over three months I took level readings and whilst the front of the dwelling was stable the rear wall rose one whole course of brickwork.
11. Royco are building six hundred houses at Haydon Hill, Aylesbury and the digger driver is shaping a mound of clay collected from elsewhere on site, when he notes a glint. With amazing presence of mind he climbs down to find part of a partly broken terracotta pot with a number of shiny Roman gold coins.
12 Arthur Humpston suffered from the Nimby Syndrome at Monks Risborough. He had an acre of land adjoining his house and it was clear that the site was emminently suitable for the erection of four four bedroom houses, in keeping with the area. Because of vociferous local objections from neighbours his application was turned down but his appeal succeeded. The neighbours were still vociferous in their objection and somehow or other the ministry consent was challenged in the High Court and set aside. A new planning application was thus promoted and this too was refused. Another appeal was undertaken and this again was permitted enabling a sale of the land to proceed. Three points emerged from this sorry story:
(a) Mr Humpston's fortunes improved because the land doubled in value, due to the enforced weight before striking a sale.
(b) Having been so vehemently against development, neighbours then asked Mr Humpston's if they could have access over his new road, so as to build houses in their back garden.
(c) Confirmation of what I have seen so very many times: It is disgusting for a neighbour to build a house in his garden, but it's quite all right for me to build one in mine.
You can't always trust a client.
This lesson was learned when I had a client who had consent for seventy or eighty dwellings to be built on the southern side of a village. Unfortunately the then Ministry of Transport had put a village by-pass line right through the site, sterilising the proposed development. Without initial fee and on the footing that I would sell the dwellings if I could get the by-pass moved, I did succeed in persuading the Ministry to drop the idea of a Southern by-pass. Quite a major achievement I thought, but the builder reneged on his promise of sales.
I was retained to dispose of Prebendal School close to the Church in Aylesbury, upon the closure of the establishment. It must have taken two years and an appeal to the Department of the Environment before achieving planning consent to convert the house and its four acres into an office. The market at that time was in no great shape and the eventual purchaser to come forward was Lady Roseberry from Mentmore, who was looking for a 'smaller' house upon the death of Lord Roseberry. After all the fighting to get a change of use to office purposes, I then had to submit an application seeking to convert six thousand square feet of offices to one dwelling house!. Lady Roseberry was a delight. She very kindly invited me and my wife to lunch at Mentmore Towers, just prior to Sotheby's sale of the contents. We were to arrive at ten thirty for a conducted tour of the ground floor and, after lunch a comprehensive look at the upper level. Luncheon was a memorable occasion for me sitting in such grand surroundings together with Lady Roseberry's Lady in Waiting. Clad in white gloves, the butler and maid ensured a smooth passage of food and drink. My interest was in trying to steer the conversation back to Lady Roseberry's experiences. On one occasion she was playing cards with King George V, when the butler had announced that the Queens carriage had arrive "we'll she'll damn well have to wait, I have an excellent hand" was the retort. At another time, in 1940 I think, she was lunching with Winston Churchill and the First Lord of the Admiralty ; the disposition of the Home Fleet was the subject under review. Churchill wanted it to remain in Scapa Flow and the First Lord of the Admiralty to base it at Portsmouth. Churchill eventually conceded that the fleet could be moved.
Examination of the contents of Mentmore Tower etched on my mind the dexterity of man in the immense variety of art form that could be seen and the sheer quality of the work.
Anne Bolynne's milking pails stick in my mind as do some four hundred years old chairs which, when the covers were removed displayed the most beautiful embroidery with crisp bright colours as if done today.
In the afternoon, upon entering one of the principle bedrooms with several Sotheby's staff cataloguing, Lady Roseberry said "Mr Rogers let me show you my favourite piece". The piece was a most ornate French ormolu bureaux. Opening a door she said "watch this", pressing the number three button when the number three door below sprang out. I said "can I have a go", "of course she replied". Number one drawer on the right hand side shot out at my command. I then reloaded my drawer and Lady Roseberry went to reload hers. However, in so doing, the ormolu surround came away in her hand. She addressed the nearest Sotheby's person with a poremptory "mend that will you". The final call was downstairs to the kitchen where the Sotheby's china specialist was drooling over the contents. I asked him what most excited him and he pointed to a Sevres oyster stand in the finest white china, with blue edging "I didn't even know Sevres did this" was his retort. Lady Rosebery then said "perhaps you would like a momento of your visit Mr. Rogers?", "yes please" Lady Roseberry. "Mr Sotheby that will be alright if I give Mr Rogers a plate?". "Well, Lady Roseberry, if you do that I'll have to count them all over again". Whereupon Lady Roseberry replaced the chosen monogrammed plate on its rack!
I was acting for a national charity whose local Chairman was a military man of considerable presence, used to having things done his way. We were successful in obtaining planning consent for a thirty thousand square feet office building on the charity's land, where it was desired to locate the regional headquarters. Thirty thousand square feet was far in excess of what was needed and the hope was that the charity could develop the site, take a small areathemselves and lease the remainder to provide a regular income. There was a condition to the planning consent, limiting occupation to a locally connected business; this made the prospects of finding a tenant pretty remote. In seeking a release from the condition we arranged a meeting with the Department of the Environment at Queen Anne's Gate, between the Colonel and myself on one hand and Mr Jones of the Department on the other. On arriving at the security desk we were asked our business with Mr Jones. The clerk was visible shaken at the shouted response from the Colonel 'assassination'. The meeting got nowhere and I had to come to Mr Jones defence, since he was simple going by the book. The Colonel was fuming in the lift as we descended. A few days later I had a telephone call from the department from Mr Jones superior "we've been thinking about your meeting last week with Mr Jones, would it be in order to write to you agreeing the relaxation you seek?" The Chairman had got hold of somebody and put pressure to bear politically. All for a worthy cause in this instance.
As the years progressed I became less wild at Christmas parties, but other younger souls emerged to carry on the tradition. One such was Dave Allen and, quite late, it was decided to descend on the party of Wilkins & Son, esteemed lawyers in Aylesbury, whose party started four hours after ours. The extremely professional senior partner Jim Stevens, enquired of me if I had any knowledge of the gatecrasher who had just come through the door wearing a blue toilet seat round his neck. I made a rapid decision to deny any knowledge of my number one sales negotiator.
The first six months of my national service was spent on Salisbury Plain at the Larkhill School of Artillery, where I was trained to be a flash spotter. The idea was that with a series of observation posts the first flash of an enemy gun would be seen by one or two posts who would give approximate bearing and distance to headquarters, who would pass on "look in angles" to the post that had not seen flash. On the second firing the position of the gun would be located within a few hundred yards and on the third firing a precise location would be found. Part of the training was to direct high explosive shells onto tanks only a moderate distance in front of us. Calculations were done on slide rules and, surprise surprise, we always ranged the first shot too far.
Thirty five days on the troop ship Dunera to Hong Kong was not the most pleasant means of transport and the final five days from Singapore to Hong Kong were in a big swell with 95% of the troops sick as a dog. Arrival at Hong Kong in January was quite some reward for all the suffering. Sunshine temperatures in the high 60's, and ladies who wore cheonsongs, split to the waist. The poverty was dreadful and whenever we stopped for a snack on exercises, queues would form for any left overs. The observation post looking over the border to China were probably all of 2,000 feet above sea level, but young Chinese would drag up crates of Coca Cola in the hope of exchanging them for army ration biscuits.
There was a calibration shoot when all the guns in the colony were lined up wheel to wheel, to fire out to sea and have their fall of shot reported. I was at Able Post on a peninsula, high up with my instrument looking down at the target water. As ten o'clock approached, two motorised junks sailed into the firing area. I alerted the C.O. Major Lewis to their presence and he said "what is that behind us?". "A red flag sir". "What do you see on the other headland?" "A red flag sir". "Carry on Rogers".
At ten o'clock the two junks are centred on my cross wires. Over the telephone comes 'shot one' a 5.5 inch high explosive shell despatch. Thirty seconds later 'shot two', thirty seconds later 'shot three'.
Shot one explodess about two hundred yards short of my cross wires and the two junks turned to run away from the land, on the line of fire. Three or four shells crept after them staying about two hundred yards behind. I wonder what they were saying?
Our team was despatched to Malaya to carry out a similar calibration exercise there. I was given a revolver and put in charge of the train from Singapore up to Tampin. The train never seemed to go faster than thirty miles an hour and kept stopping for buffalo on the line. This was bandit country and it was a nervous, though uneventful journey.
Carrying out the pure survey for the baseline was a joy. Seldom does a land surveyor have the chance to indulge in pure land survey in such wonderful surroundings where trigonometry points do not exist. The baseline was to be set out across the bay and, due to the steep cliffs and jungle the line at right angles, f or angular measurement purposes, was set out in the sea. My theodolite for measuring the angles to the three ranging rods was set up in about eighteen inches of sea water and the lapping of the waves on the tripod made the hairline throb. We felt a sense of achievement when the calculations checked out to within a tolerance of about point three of a metre (brilliant by standards then, but dreadful today).
Having completed the baseline survey my position (able post) was one of five posts was at the foot of the straits of Malaca lighthouse. Artillery teaching was that in setting up the instrument you should take two bearings in the far distance, one in the middle distance and two in the near distance. The further away the point of bearing the more accurate the set up. In the far distance there was only one clear cut point, the right hand edge of Borneo. In the middle distance all that was clear cut was a pointed rock on the seashore. In the near distance was jungle and the one thing that stood out was a tree in the shape of a letter Y. On the day of the shoot I go to the lighthouse early to set up the instrument; mist is obscuring Borneo. Turn to the rock; it has disappeared, submerged by the tide. The prominent tree then - wildly quivering as a troop of monkeys cavort among the branches. People don't believe me but I promise this is exactly what happened. Headquarters will confirm it because able post was 'off bearing' until the mist cleared.
Whilst at Tampin I remember the padre was ambushed whilst riding up top in a light armoured car. He gave good account with his machine Gun and rounted the terrorists. A week or so later I am being driven in a similar vehicle through a Malay village when there is a bump and the driver stops "what was that" enquiries a worried Rogers "a chicken" says the driver. Despite my exhortations he insists on leaving the vehicle in an endeavour to find the owner of the carcass in his hand.
The light house keepers provided us with a scorpion, whose sting they had removed. I remember now the squeal of the unpopular squaddie when his foot alighted upon the reptile between his sheets.
Back in fabulous Hong Kong I had the occasional duty of marching out the guard. One of the main duties was to prevent the Chinese climbing the sixteen foot barbed wire surmounted fences and stealing the fans; they still succeeded with monotonous regularity.
On one particular night, when I was in charge of the Whitfield Barracks Guard, there was a problem. A WAAF in the camp was raped and being on guard we were all asked about events that night. Special police said "you read out standing orders". "Well as a matter of fact no, they had all heard them before". "Every two hours you marched out the men to their guard posts?". "We'll, no, they all knew where to go". Events culminated in an identity parade consisting of the guard. The young lady stopped at the slightly built man standing next to me and he ended up in the glasshouse!!
Chinese New Year took us by surprise. Initial feelings were that the Chinese had come over the border such was the extent of fire crackers which would hang twenty feet long from upper floors giving an endless cascade of minor explosion. The following day the streets were littered inches deep in the debris. New Year was cause for much jubilation for those of us who would be returning home in April. Synthetic San Miguel Chinese beer is bad for the system in large doses. I ended up in hospital with a suspected ulcer, but it turned out to be acute indigestion. In hospital at the same time was a number of soldiers thought to have mild malaria and several with severe poliomyelitis. This became an example to me of the way it is possible to acclimatise to nasty bugs. I think two new arrivals died from the decease, two who had been in the Colony two to three weeks were paralysed and those with mild symptons four to six weeks.
I formed an early friendship with Derek Bowers whose outlook on life seemed identical to my own. Is it possible to make a laugh out of any situation? If so, then lets. Born three days before me Derek is also a Virgoan and I think this is a strong characteristic of this sign of the horoscope. Derek's wit was always much faster than mine and his retorts were instantaneous. I remember at Raymonds Review Bar, he capped the comic's line. The comic tried his drop dead routine, but Derek captured the entire audience until, after a row of Derek' ripostes the comic had to capitulate. I am not sure that others agreed but we used to thinkthat dropping our trousers was funny. Perhaps the most unfunny thing was at an International 505 class sailing dingy open meeting at Hastings, chaired by the Mayor. The tables were assembled in U fashion with the Mayor seated in a grand chair with gaily painted mayoral canopy at the head of the U. Drink flowed well and streamers abounded. Derek collected armfuls of the streamers which he stuffed under the chair of the incredulous Mayor. The Mayor departed his seat with alacrity once Derek put a match to the streamers (I think this brought about the banning of the class from Hastings).
A friend Johnny Mewha told me I should join round table and he would propose me if I so wished. I agreed and Johnny duly put my name forward. He was somewhat embarrassed to tell me that I had been blackballed, the reason being that a number of the members feared for their wives (I know this is hard to believe when you look at round table activities these days). Nevertheless, Rotary took me on since presumably I would be performing a good service if I could amuse some of their wives to leave them free for their mistresses. This was altogether too boring and vocational service I thought was dreadful. All this lead me on to the 505 sailing dingy lot, which was a sort of travelling rugby club. Derek subjected himself to crewing with me. Out on his trapeze I've dumped him in the water in most of the seas around Europe, but he still came back for more. Perhaps the worst episode was in Denmark where I dropped him at every mark of the race; it was also in Denmark that we had our finest hour, coming second in a in a world championship race.