The Bridge Interviews
Many of our interviewees over the last two years have been people who have moved into this area in the last ten, twenty or thirty years. This month’s interview is with a man who did move into this area from outside but before many of us were born. So far we have featured residents of Asthall Leigh, Burford, Fordwells, Fulbrook andTaynton but he is the first person living in Swinbrook to appear in this spot.
Malcolm Hudson was born at East Preston in Sussex but spent his early years in Scotland where his father worked as chauffeur to Captain McKinnon on his Scottish estate. One of Malcolm’s earliest memories is of accompanying his father in 1939 to Campeltown (on the Kintyre Peninsula in Argyll and Bute) to collect a parcel. A woman ran out of one of the shops and said “We’re at war with Germany”. Captain McKinnon was a Territorial officer in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. He immediately moved to South Lawn in Swinbrook accompanied by Malcolm’s family.
The captain then went off to the war, which he survived. While he was away Malcolm’s father was out of a job. Although he was a skilled engineer, having served an apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce, the only work he could find was as a labourer sweeping up at RAF Brize Norton. One day he gave a hand to a member of the ground crew who was fitting an engine to a Spitfire. He was immediately in trouble for doing work he was not regarded as qualified to do. Up before the commanding officer, he feared he would lose his job. However there was a happy ending as he was sent to Rolls-Royce for official training. He met a Mr Maddocks who, on hearing the name Howard, said “What are you doing here? You should be training the others; go back to the air force”.
Malcolm was six when his family moved south (“I went to school for one day in Scotland”). He went to Swinbrook School for a time. Then a number of evacuees of about his age came to live at South Lawn. Malcolm got to know them and, as they were going to school in Shipton-under-Wychwood, he decided to go with them. How did he get to Shipton? “The evacuees were issued with bicycles. At first I went on the crossbar of one of the bicycles. The Americans at Milton dumped a lot of equipment. I found a bike without a wheel on the dump. Then I found a wheel, so from then on I had a bike”.
There was a great deal of aviation activity in the area during the war. There were many aerodromes, mainly used for aircrew training. There were also four big radio masts at Leafield. Each had a red light at the top to prevent aircraft from crashing into them. One night a huge number of planes flew over as far as Leafield and turned left. They were German bombers, using the lights to navigate by, heading for Coventry as part of the raid during which much of the city was destroyed on 14 November 1940. Top photo on right is a defused 1,000 kg parachute mine.
Another wartime memory is the night when a parachute mine landed at Swinbrook. It was dropped by a German bomber which was probably on its way to Coventry but was being chased by a night fighter and jettisoned the bomb. The explosion caused a great deal of damage, including blowing out one of the windows of the church. “It blew me out of bed up at South Lawn” says Malcolm. The parachutes of such mines were housed in a container rather like a dustbin lid. There was a mystery; why had two of these covers been found when there had only been one mine? Six weeks later a gamekeeper found the second mine in a wood, hanging by its parachute from a tree. A naval bomb disposal officer came and dealt with it. On moonlit nights it was easy to see the German planes passing overhead. One night they dropped 140 incendiary bombs on Leafield. “It was so bright that you could read a newspaper by it.”
After leaving school he joined Jack Wharton’s garage on the road into Witney via Minster Lovell as a turner and fitter and then as a mechanic. He left there when he found that everyone else apart from him had received a pay increase of 3d per hour. [For younger readers – three old pence is the equivalent of 1¼p in new money]. He then joined the RAF to do his National Service, signing on for three years. After square bashing at Bedford he served at Weeton (near Blackpool). He then spent two and a quarter years in Germany, based near Cologne. He enjoyed his time there very much and was able to travel all over Germany and Holland.
During the years after leaving the RAF Malcolm worked for several companies in the area: for Alfred Groves & Sons maintaining their cement mixers and lorries, Taphouse garage in Witney and for seven years for Haynes & Sons, sand and gravel suppliers, again looking after their vehicles. At the end of this period he was working with two other mechanics. A garage was for sale on the A40 and the three of them decided to buy it. They called the new business Windrush Motors and they specialised in commercial vehicles and MOT testing. They ran this garage for 40 years before selling it. All three partners were still there by that time and the business had grown from the original three to employing 23 staff.
Malcolm’s wife, Joyce, was the daughter of a carpenter who worked at Capps Lodge near Fulbrook and lived at Hit or Miss, the cottages at the top end of Swinbrook.
They have been married for 62 years and have two children: Keith, who lives at Burford and Paula, living at Carterton. Malcolm and Joyce spent their early years together in a caravan at Witney and later lived in three different flats in Swinbrook including one at the manor house.
In retirement Malcolm has kept himself busy using his engineering skills to make models – he showed us a working model of a V8 aero engine he had made from several hundred parts. He also races pigeons, something he has done since he was 13.
There has been no shop in Swinbrook since the beginning of the war but in the post-war period there were two grocers’ vans which came to the village twice per week. There was a post office which also sold a few other things such as sweets. Joyce was the postmistress until it closed in 1961. Malcolm and Joyce bought the old post office for her father in 1972. After he died they moved into it themselves.
Swinbrook has changed enormously in their lifetimes. There are very few residents who have been there for a long time, and a lot of the houses are now second homes.
Swinbrook is perhaps best-known for its association with the Mitford sisters. Malcolm knew them well and they used to come back to the village even after they had moved away. “They were nice people and they would always stop and ask us how we were.” He buried the ashes of three of the sisters in Swinbrook churchyard. “Deborah [the Duchess of Devonshire] didn’t want to use a professional firm so she asked me to do it”.
In 1994 Malcolm and Joyce were invited to Chatsworth to attend the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the creation of the Dukedom of Devonshire. “We were given a white parking sticker. We had a drive around the area and then joined a long line of cars waiting to go into the car park. We noticed that most of the other cars had red or green stickers. Then someone came along and told us we could go to the front of the queue. We were sent to the VIP car park, so I could park my Cortina alongside the Rolls Royces and Bentleys. We also ate in the VIP marquee”. A suitable honour for such long-term residents.
The pictures of the Swinbrook Duck Race (bottom right) were kindly provided by Pete Gould.