The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.

Bert Dray

Bert Dray was billeted in Clophill during WW1. This article was first published in the Spotlight magazine November 1980

Bert Dray hails from Liverpool. At the outbreak of the first world war he took Lord Kitchener's advice and joined up at the ripe old age of fifteen (the army did, in fact, recruit at fourteen with parental consent).

In September, 1914 he was posted to Haynes Park - now Clarendon School - which had been requisitioned as an army garrison headquarters, and recalls that conditions were pretty uncomfortable, the men having to sleep on bare boards. Relief was, however, close at hand as a number of kindly Clophill families had offered shelter. Bert was duly 'billeted out' with the Dunham family, and this was the beginning of a firm bond of friendship with the village in general and the Dunham family in particular.

George Dunham and his family lived in a farm cottage at 76 High St, and were market gardeners. Alas, the cottage no longer survives, having been demolished to build the three bungalows which lay back from the road approximately opposite the Compasses. Mr. Dunham's daughter, Annie, married Alfie Goby and they live close-by at No 65, so Bert still has a billet for his visits.

Being too young to be posted abroad, Bert was appointed as Regimental Bugler. Part of his duties entailed being up first in the morning so that he could ride through the village to sound reveille for the other lads billeted out. That Mr. Dunham was a market gardener, and thus an early riser, was fortunate indeed, because our bugler often needed to be tipped out of bed himself.

To ensure produce arrived fresh at the market meant that the work of gathering in from the fields often began around 4 30 a. m. Some beautiful celery banks near to the mill-stream would produce 4, 500 heads in a good season. The produce was loaded onto a four-wheeled cart and pulled off to Luton market by a pair of horses. To negotiate Barton Cutting slave horses were used. These were teamed up with the others at the bottom of the hill, returning after the haul up to await the next load. The horses and cart were later replaced by a model 'T' Ford truck, but this had its own problems, not the least of which was, that to start it up in winter entailed jacking up one of the rear wheels. Without this precaution a crank on the handle could result in the engine starting and the vehicle running forward to consume the driver!

Bert learned quite a bit about village life during his stay but eventually was drafted to the Russian front. He spent about fourteen months in Northern Russia and corresponded frequently with the Dunhams. Eventually he returned via Archangel to Biggleswade and his visits to Clophill resumed.

Bert recalls that towards the end of 1916 a memorial service was held at Shefford Church to pay tribute to soldiers of the Bedfordshire Regiment who had been killed in action. As Regimental Bugler, he had to climb the church tower and stood a'top to play the Last Post.

Other memories are of running gun carriages, with a team of six, from Haynes Park and down Great Lane to where equipment and munitions were stored, near the site of the present school. There were collisions on several occasions with the large tree which stood in the middle of the High Street, at the junction with Great Lane. Anyone remember when this was cut down?

A visit to Bedford by fast pony & trap took 30 minutes, a respectable time, even compared with today's car trip.

The village then had six pubs; the Flying Horse (Landlord Sidney Chase), Compasses (Frederick Butler), Stone Jug (Frank Tufnel), Rising Sun (Charlie Durston), Green Man (Mrs. Garton) and the New Inn (Joe Bowless). The New Inn is now a private dwelling - 120 High Street. The son of the Rising Sun's landlord was Jack Durston, who used to play cricket for Middlesex.

After the First World War Bert returned home to Liverpool, where he married and settled down. His links with Clophill, however, remained firm and he continued to make annual visits. It was thus that, when Liverpool was subjected to bombardment in the Second World War and children had to be evacuated, his son, John, came to stay in the very same house that his father had been billeted in during the first war.

John, then six, attended the village school (head was Mr, Holden) and is now Vice Principal, Childwall Hall College in Liverpool. Both father and son received such kindness and hospitality from the Dunhams that they still regard themselves as an extension of that family.

The woods surrounding the village have always been a favourite playground for children but John remembers that during his time here they were supposed to be 'out of bounds' because they were being used to assemble quietly the tanks, lorries and equipment in preparation for 'D' Day; even more of an attraction for young children.

One observation that both father and son made during a recent visit was that the village is now a much quieter place than it used to be. We perhaps forget how much the by-pass has relieved the traffic. By-passed or not Bert Dray reckons he will find his way here for a good few years yet, and we hope he is right.