Thursday, 24 January 2019

A fatal game of cribbage

Call me an old cynice, but I do wonder if drinkers were quite as stoic and unflappable as wartime propaganda made out.

The article below is a good case in point. I'm pretty sure that I would have been a lot more panicked if half of my pub suddenly disappeared.
THEY play a good game of cribbage in a little pub in a West Country town, or rather, they did — till Hitler bombed out the barrel on Wednesday night.

When the raid began, rotund Arthur, the licensee, was pouring out beer for his customers in the front bar. Behind sat ten men playing cribbage tournament. The profits were going to the air-raid distress fund.

Suddenly there was an explosion. Arthur was behind the counter, his front bar customers were still sitting, beer in hand.

In the back of the bar stood ten beer mugs with dust floating them. But of the ten men who had been drinking from them there was no sign. The pub had been sliced exactly in half and the ten men had vanished in the ruins below their beer.

Crawled Out
Customers set to work to dig them out. They carried the more serious casualties to a shelter. The landlord’s wife and daughter-in-law crawled out almost unhurt and also helped.

One of the players, an inoffensive sixty-year-old postman, was killed instantly.

Yesterday standing behind part of the counter for the last time — for they are pulling down the remains of the pub — Arthur served his last pint of beer, and his customers drank it standing on the edge of an abyss, with only the sky beyond them.

Arthur then led his last customers down to the ruins where barrels of beer had been slung, and he served them again by the green cribbage board, which was still sticking out of the wreckage. They drank to their comrade who had passed on, and they drank to vengeance on the man who killed him.

Then they sang "There’ll Always Be An England."

Calm Mothers
When the raid started husbands rushed to a hospital a hundred yards from the public house and carried their wives to a shelter on the ground floor. Bombs fell round the building and chunks of rock landed on the roof and gardens, and part of the scullery wall was blown away.

But the mothers within remained calm and serene, soothed by the nurses, and in the midst of the turmoil a child was born.

And when the raid was over a sister climbed into her bed in an upstairs room with only an empty void below it, and went calmly to sleep."
Daily Mirror - Friday 28 February 1941, page 12.
Note that the name of the town where this took place isn't mentioned. That was quite deliberate, as they didn't want to give too much away to the Germans.

I remember seeing as article in the Newark Advertiser, the local paper of the town where I grew up. with the headline "Midlands town bombed". Again, without naming it. Except everyone knew it was really about Newark, whose ball bearing factory had been targetted.

I do like the idea of having a final pint in the pub before it was demolished. I wonder if it was ever rebuilt?


Phil said...

What's stuck with me from George Orwell's Blitz diaries is how tired he was all the time - week after week of interrupted nights would do that. In this story, I think that woman going 'calmly' to sleep - in a first-floor room with no ground floor underneath - is a clue: I imagine she (like many others) just passed out from exhaustion & wasn't too bothered about her surroundings. Not so much stoicism as just keeping on.

qq said...

Cardiff was hit on 26 February 1941. There's some other clues - a 60yo postman dying, the pub was 100yds from a hospital.

If only there was someone in the West Country with an interest in pubs in the 20th century...