I am most grateful for the kind invitation to make a guest post on a blog I've followed since I first discovered how to 'follow'.
I'm Helen Devries, otherwise found hiding behind the soubriquet of the Fly in the Web on my own and other people's blogs, long time resident of rural France and now settling in to Costa Rica, but in this post I would like to recount my mother's wartime memories of the Borders...centred on Naworth Castle, Brampton, Gilsland and Lanercost Priory.
Mother, like many other women, was emancipated by the war, as had been a generation of women in the previous one. She found the bounds of Army discipline far more bearable than the constraints of female upbringing and still speaks of her time serving with the ATS with pleasure.
Early to join up she spent the first part of the war in Winchester...being wowed by David Niven who was, I think, serving with the Greenjackets...learning how to shoot -'take one with you' being the motto of the time when invasion was feared to be imminent - and being instructed how to blow up a German tank with a Molotov cocktail, instruction of whose value she was and still is sceptical.
Later in the war she served in London, making radios for the French and Dutch resistance, both in Europe and in their overseas colonies, working in a glass roofed building while doodlebugs fell nearby, targeting the railway lines to the North.
However, it was in the North that she spent the middle part of the war years, at Naworth Castle and what follows are her reminiscences.
She was directed to Naworth, which was to serve as an army logistical training centre, and her party arrived in the dark, seeing nothing but a looming structure, dark against the night sky.
They were billeted in two rooms in one of the towers...one room above the other, and settled down amidst much giggling about haunted castles and clanking chains. The temptation was too much....all through the night she and her friends were kept awake by sounds of whistling, moaning and clanking from the room above and her room berated their colleagues over breakfast...only to be told
'We thought it was you!'
They were promptly rehoused in huts in the castle grounds, where the only hazards were cows clustered close to the huts for warmth and stray cats giving birth to kittens in the beds.
The blackout being in force, there was a problem every night with a light showing high up in the old tower...though no one could find access to the aperture involved and she also remembers one room that dogs would not enter.
She remembers too seeing a portrait of Belted Will Howard, and visiting the chapel in the top of one of the towers where this recusant nobleman maintained a Catholic chapel in the Elizabethan period, together with a priest hole. She was told too that there was a tunnel from the castle to Lanercost Priory.
She explored the area when free....and still remembers taking a lift from a local gamekeeper, only to find the van full of crows which he was supplying to a local pub to eke out the meat in time of rationing!
The Howard family were strong on temperance, buying out licences and setting up temperance hotels, but the Army being the Army, pubs, proper pubs, were to be found! She remembers one where the cellar was down a long flight of stone steps and every time beer was ordered the elderly landlady would stump down to fetch the beer in a jug.
She remembers two in particular...I think in Brampton, but I am not sure...the Ring of Bells and the Coach and Horses. In one of these the landlord had a parrot which could imitate the sound of the brakes of the Carlisle bus pulling up outside, and, being a parrot, it had a good sense of timing. Some minutes before the bus was due to arrive...not too many which might have aroused suspicion....it would perform its party piece and men would be gulping down beer and rushing for the door...only to return a few minutes later, cursing the bird!
She visited Lanercost Priory...by road rather than by tunnel....and fell in love with Gilsland, the old spa town...but one of her walks closer to home led to a strange experience.
She and a friend were walking alongside a stream, where there were a lot of cherry trees in flower. It was warm and sunny, a lovely afternoon. She began to feel oppressed and then frightened...she could no longer hear the stream running, she found breathing difficult. She looked at her friend who was clearly in the same state and they turned and ran back to the castle.
The cook, a local woman, gave them a cup of tea and told them that the area where they had been walking was known to be haunted...some sort of massacre connected with the '45.
Mother is not and was not psychic...but she can still, at 96, remember the sense of terror she felt under those beautiful cherry blossoms.
She tried to visit Naworth twice after the war...once in the fifties and once in the eighties....but with no success.
It was private property and no one was willing to let her revisit it.