Bernard Green offers another of his distinctive reminiscences about his early life in post-war Surrey.
In about 1949 my father purchased a large Victorian house called Homefields. It was situated at Whiteways corner in Runfold near Farnham Surrey. It had been requisitioned by the Army for the duration of the war and I knew it well, having played there for years when the Canadian soldiers were stationed in it. At the end of the War there had been Italian then German prisoners of war at this house. There had been no bars or barbed wire to keep them there. I found the Germans very interesting and playful. They carved wooden toys; one which they gave me was like a ping pong bat with four little chicken on it. When you swung the ball hanging below the bat the chicken pecked the bat in rotation.
After the war, one of the Germans stayed and worked for my father for a while. His name sounded like Kinter Fisher but I suspect it might have been spelt Gunter Fischer. When he returned home my eldest sister corresponded with him but he was on the wrong side of Berlin and the authorities stopped him writing.
I am digressing from the story of the gun – but not too far because it was a German one, a 9mm automatic pistol. But before I get to the story proper I need to tell you a little more about our house. It was very big, twenty one rooms and it was situated approximately four hundred yards from the road. At the rear there was a large brick building about fifty feet long by thirty feet wide and at the end was a modern metal double door. Originally it was built to grow grapes but during the war the Canadian soldiers made it into a cinema. My father was converting this house into a hotel mainly for lorry drivers and cyclists. The cyclists used to race to Alton and back a distance of thirty miles. It was named The Green’s Guest House.
I was now fifteen years of age. One day, our village milkman (who had already taught me to ride his Cotton water cooled motorbike on the A31 trunk road – without Tax and Insurance) showed me a gun that he had “acquired”. I already had a .410 shotgun and a .22 rifle for shooting rabbits; and he offered me the pistol for a fiver (£5). I thought it a bargain, so a deal was done. (I was getting pocket money for cleaning in my father’s café, mainly horrible jobs like cleaning the toilets. I also had to look after the paraffin lamps in the hotel.)
As I mentioned before, it was a German automatic 9mm pistol; I do not remember the maker’s name. It was in perfect condition, like new; and there were two boxes of 9mm copper jacket bullets. Next day was Sunday, so I went down to the Sand quarry next to the house and fired the gun at steel oil barrels. These were empty ones of course; I was not a vandal! I was amazed when I saw that the bullet went round the fifty gallon oil barrel like a tin-opener.
On returning home, I showed the gun to my younger brother. We went into the large brick building at the rear of the house, the old greenhouse, which had three brick walls and one glass one on the east side. I told my brother that the bullet would go through the big metal door. We were standing in the middle of the room, about five feet from the rear wall, when I fired. A tremendous noise reverberated round the building but was overshadowed by a zing-zing-zing. There was a second of silence then my eldest sister’s voice said “What are you doing?” She had stepped through the door as I fired. The bullet had hit the stanchion of the door then ricocheted round the walls passing behind all three of us! After that, I dismantled the gun cleaned it then hid it in my room.
One afternoon, when everything appeared peaceful and there were no clients around, a large man strode in to the house. He did not just walk, he had an arrogance in his demeanour. He was powerfully built; probably six feet tall, and wore a black patch over one eye. I think it was his right eye. He entered the kitchen where my mother greeted him, “Hallo Stanley,” she said. I stood watching from the open doorway and Stanley just said “Where’s Alf?” Mum said “I don’t know.” Then Stanley, without a word or moment’s hesitation, swept his arm down a shelf full of mugs, sending them crashing to the quarry tiled floor. He repeated “Where’s Alf?” Another “I don’t know” from my mother led to a line of new dinner plates joining the heap on the floor with a crash and tinkle that echoed around the house – all the more so because there was a scarcity of carpets. A third time he asked and then a cupboard in the kitchen opened and my father came out. I was shocked, ashamed that my father (who was often aggressive to my mother and to others) had hidden like a child in a cupboard. I was told to disappear.
[It was many years later that my mother told me that my father had been involved with Stanley in some nefarious activity. This London gentleman had served a prison sentence and had declared all his other crimes which included robbing a train. Apparently he thought the train was delivering money to a bank, but all he got was royal mail bags full of letters.]
All I knew at the time was that Stanley turned up once a month in a different car that must have been stolen because I actually heard him say to my father “There is another car for you to get rid of.” But before that my father had to drive him to the railway station from which Stanley travelled first class back to London. My father got rid of all the stolen cars by dumping them in a quarry whose entrance was right opposite Alf’s Café. When my father wanted to dispose of any kind of rubbish, he just drove across the road – there were no gates to the quarry – and threw it into the water. There was about a fifty foot drop into the water which in turn was twenty to thirty feet deep.
Then one day my treasured pistol disappeared. When I asked my mother about it, she said she had found and it and thrown it away. I did not believe her and went to my father saying, “Dad mum’s got my gun.” “What gun?” he asked. “My 9mm automatic pistol,” I replied. He stiffened; his face went white. Rushing to the house he asked my mother about it, she told him she had thrown it away, I don’t think he believed her either for he did not work for nearly three days while he searched the house. Remember there were 21 rooms, 5 garages, a flat and outhouses; but in the end he found it. Of course I didn’t get it back; I knew he would keep it.
After a couple of years my younger brother and I decided that Stanley must be blackmailing our father. So as he walked towards the door my brother and I confronted him and I said “Stan, We think you are blackmailing our dad.” “So what?” he replied as he turned slightly sideways. I recognized the warning signs and jumped backwards but my brother was not so quick and Stanley brought his hobnailed boot down his shin. This was harsh, considering that my brother was only thirteen years of age. And that was the end of any protestation from us!
However, Stanley only appeared once more after this; and obviously it was not because I had spoken to him! And now I have put these facts together I have come to an interesting conclusion. Stanley was very unlikely to have stopped coming voluntarily. But remember that my gun had been confiscated by my father, who had a liking for firearms and also kept shotguns for shooting rabbits. It occurs to me now that when he was forced to drive Stanley to the Railway station it would have been quite easy for him to eliminate his blackmailer in the car with my 9mm pistol and then drive 100 yards or so to the quarry edge. The quarry was backfilled to a depth of over one hundred feet many years ago… But do remember that this is all conjecture…
My father died in 1983 and left many problems for me. There were numerous people demanding money they said was owed to them. Also there were three separate ladies who produced Wills which they claimed had given to them by my father; and they all thought they owned the Runfold Café property and were quite rude to me. One was a nurse at Farnham hospital and she telephoned one day to say she was the new owner. I laughed, so she said “Don’t laugh at me – I am your boss.” I asked her for the month and year of the Will and told her that there were many others given out after that date! But in fact I had purchased the property from my father years before he wrote those wills.