Mornington-By-Mere – (82) Caterpillar Ride (Part 01)
Downshire is a relatively small English county but like a pocket battleship it packs a lot in, a short but beautiful coastline, a channel port, the Ancient forests of Dancingdean and Pepperstock, the craggy ridges and manmade lakes of the Pepperstock Hills National Park, the rolling hills of the Downshire Downs, the beautiful Finchbottom Vale and farm land as far as the eye can see, from the Trotwood’s and the Grace’s in the south to the home of the Downshire Light infantry, Nettlefield, and their affluent neighbour’s, Roespring and Tipton in the North but it’s in the east coast seaside town of Sharpington where our story takes place.
Sharpington-by-Sea is a traditional seaside resort complete with a Victorian Pier, seafront hotels, crazy golf, the Palladium ballroom, well maintained gardens, promenade, theatre and illuminations, all the usual things to have a great time by the seaside, as well as amusement arcades and of course the Sharpington Fun Park.
The Fun was the first purpose built amusement park to open in Britain, which had an assortment of rides, like the Rotor and the Wild Mouse, The Cyclone and the Morehouse Galloper, and in the dull and austere post war years of the late 1940’s and 1950’s it was like a glimmering jewel.
In the summer of 1949 best friends Jean Fitzsimons and June Gough were travelling to Sharpington for a well-earned break.
Both girls were 24 years old, as well as being natives of Abbottsford. Although they had never met before they joined the Women's Land Army and were assigned to Mereside Farm in Mornington but they became instant friends.
And the friendship that resulted from that first meeting, considering they were on the face of it, two very different characters had lasted for six years and as they got on so well they stayed together long after the war had ended.
This was in part because they didn’t have anyone else, Jean was an only child and her parents were killed in an air raid in 1941 while June lost her parents when she was 12 and was raised by her two older brothers but they had both been killed in action, Tommy at Dunkirk and George in North Africa so they pledged that they would be each other’s family.
Of all the other land girls she had known, Jean found herself drawn to June from the first moment they met.
Their closeness was mainly because they got each other, they shared a sense of humour, a strong faith, a love of music, and going to the pictures.
When the war was over they were both loath to leave Mornington-By-Mere, which they had fallen in love with, but it wasn’t just a quaint chocolate box English Village, it was more than that to them, and it was the beating heart of the Finchbottom Vale.
And although the village was the hub it was the surrounding farms and hamlets that were its life blood.
One such Farm was Mereside on the Southern side of the village where the girls were posted.
The Hoddinott family had farmed the land at Mereside Farm for several generation and with fair seas and following winds they would do so for at least several more.
But the war had depleted the labour force so they were over the moon that their best two girls wanted to stay on indefinitely.
Because they were both such hard working girls and because they rarely took time off Mrs Hoddinott suggested they take themselves off to Sharpington for a couple of days, and because the country had experienced the worst winter in a generation, and the girls were instrumental in ensuring the farm lost no livestock, old man Hoddinott told then he could borrow his pride and joy, a 1929 Austin 7.