‘Of Calverton in wartime, a story I shall tell…’
Dick Webb of Calverton Manor Farm near Stony Stratford has been a wonderful story-teller about farm life when he lived in one of the labourer’s cottages with his parents and seven brothers and sisters in the middle of the last century. One story concerned a wilful horse that struck terror in soldiers guarding a radio station linked to Bletchley Park during the 2nd world war.
Horses were key to the efficient running of the farm, and usually, there was no problem:
Dad used to ‘break in’ the horses, so you could use them. In the field by the big house, he would take the horse and hook it on to a big log and make it work like hell until it nearly dropped - that was the way to learn it that it’s got to do the jobs and that he was in charge of it. But then he’d take it and feed it and brush it down and that’s how he got the horse to do it.
But not every horse was so easy to handle:
We had a horse up the farm called Smiler. When it was young its mother died and it was fed by bottle and the children teased it. It never forgot that - she didn’t like anybody at all. She’d come at you to bite you and it kicked you. They’d built the radio station at the back of the church – it was all to do with Bletchley Park. There was two big elm trees and they had one put right underneath these trees so that you couldn’t see them. Dad would have the horses up there in that field. Now soldiers were billeted at The Crown. They’d either walk up or bike up to Calverton and they had to guard this radio station. But if Smiler was in the gangway where they got to go, they wouldn’t go through. They was soldiers with guns but they wouldn’t go through! They’d come back down to the house and say, ‘Bob, that bloody horse is there. Come and get rid of it!’ And he’d go up. But you see, he was crafty because he’d try and keep it in that field all the while because when he come down to The Crown, they’d always treat him to a pint, so he got his beer! (laughter) Smiler was a nasty one but she got him his drink.
(Dick Webb, LAMK 2013)
The story is retold ingeniously in this song, written for the LAMK radio ballad The Horse and the Tractor, which includes extracts from Dick’s interview.
Images and interview extracts from LAMK archive. The song is featured on The Horse and the Tractor and in the Living Archive Band’s
full studio production, Calverton, the Songs (LAMK)