My family story in 10 objects… number 2

Object 2: My dad’s diary from August 28th to September 10th 1937

My dad (Donald or Snick) was born in 1919 in Saffron Walden in Essex; he was christened in Peterborough Cathedral, but spent most of his life in Cambridge until our family moved to Somerset in 1967.  From an early age his best friend was Sammy, and in 1937, just after his eighteenth birthday, the pair of them set of on a holiday cruise. They kept a diary which is fascinating reading! It is interesting for many reasons, not just as an insight into the carefree pre-war world of two young men who had just left school, not just a record of the way young people were eighty years ago and what to us seem simple pleasures, but as a personal story to us, his children and grandchildren.

The lovely details of what they ate, how they entertained themselves with sing-songs, how they knew all the people along the river and in the old pubs, their knowledge of the fish and of fishing… what an idyllic picture it portrays:

We started this afternoon from Banham’s Boatyard at 2:30 p.m. under a beautiful clear sky and a slight breeze behind us. After successfully passing through Baits Bite and Bottisham locks, we settled down for a nice long stretch of water. We did not hurry and at 5:15 p.m. we stopped about 1/2 mile from Ely and had some tea. We then pushed on to the Cutter Inn at Ely where we moored for provisions etc.
Half an hour later we were off again and after travelling along  magnificent stretches of water we came within a quarter of a  mile of Sandhill Road Bridge, Littleport. We put ashore here for the night and moored our craft securely before having a short and unsuccessful attempt to fish the water round about us.
We went for a stroll after dark along the bank, the air being cool after the sunny afternoon. On our return we wound up the clock and made our beds and in a short while we were “dead to the world.

Sammy at the wheel

We woke on Monday morning at 8:30p.m. and this was shortly followed by a brisk swim in the river the water being very cold. After dressing and attending to the engine, we took a trip down to the farm which was about 1/2 mile away and collected the milk which we had ordered. Breakfast was soon prepared after we had returned.
The remainder of the morning was spent in fishing and exploring the neighbouring copse on the other side of the river. For dinner we had corned beef, beans and potatoes followed by pineapple and condensed milk. In the afternoon we decided to go for a ramble round by a wood, passing the old mill, which we had previously explored, on our way.
We had to push our way through long distances of rushes which came about shoulder-high, and climb overhanging trees to get across marshy pools and streams. It was while we were groping our way along, that we found a couple of swans eggs which we found after we had broken them; they were very antique. In fact we made our way from them as quickly as possible.
After uselessly trying to stalk two wood pigeons, we returned for tea. In the evening we fished, Snick catching nearly all the roach in the net.
As my pen has run out I shall have to continue in pencil until we can buy some.
The evening at the Dragon resulted in a very close and exciting dart match between the Cambridgeites and the Fenites. The Fenites one by two matches to one. It was all due to “Old Percy” who, by the way has forsaken his “bombers.”


This morning we had our usual swim, the weather being lovely and warm with the sun shining. We had breakfast and cleared the boat up and went to fetch milk from the farm. We then made our way to Wilton Road Bridge and walked 1 1/2 miles to Wilton where we bought some chops and provisions. We arrived at Cross Water again in time for dinner then had a good rest to work off the effects. The afternoon was spent in sun bathing and fishing and finished with a long swim through the locks. My luck was in as far as fishing was concerned this evening and several good specimens of roach were landed.

Lovely potatoes with a big lump of butter

After the usual routine of swimming and breakfast we decided that we would walk into Lakenheath for some pollard and stores. It was quite an interesting walk about 4 miles along the bank of the lode river. We saw half way along the bank where they were installing a large pipe to contain fen drainage from the small fen into the large fen.
After dinner as it was rather windy we played at cribbage and fished, likewise in the evening. Another pleasant evening in the Dragon was spent playing darts with the landlord’s daughter and a regular customer. Percy was engaged in a game of dominoes with the people from the auxiliary yacht “Spree” which came up this evening.
This morning was the most doubtful morning for a swim but we stuck it out and felt very much aglow afterwards. The whole boat was cleared out n put shipshape and after saying goodbye to the landlord we left Crosswater Staunch at 11 a.m.
Our destination was Denver which proved a very pleasant and warm cruise with the sun full on our backs. The wind dropped and the sky was streaked with clouds and it was just the right weather for the trip.
We moored on the west bank at Denver at 1:20 and went to see Mr Beasly who told us that we should be able to go through between 5 o’clock and 5:30 p.m. to Overstaunch. We manged to get through the lock at Denver at 5:55p.m. on the first level of the tide. The Hundred Foot was very uninteresting and although we made good speed we had to moor the boat 1 1/2 miles away from Earith Suspension Bridge at 8:30p.m. We were rather anxious during the night in case the level should fall and we went out to look at 12 o’clock, 2: a.m. and 5:0 a.m Luckily everything was alright except the extremely cold night.
When we were at Denver we noticed that where the water from the Ouse met the Hundred Foot there seemed to be a big sand bank shelf across the river. After a conversation with the lock keeper, Mr Beasley, we were told that it was only the freshwater meeting the slat sea water. Mr Beasley also told us that the locks were a hundred years old.

Sammy and Snick and Jim with his accordion

At 7:30 p.m. we made our way to Overstaunch which we reached at 8:15. We went to see Mr and Mrs Ellis at the “Boat” as we found it was now called. Breakfast was the next item on the menu and after this we went through the lock and moored above the staunch.
We enjoyed a perfect swim round the lock and superb dives into the deep clear water from the diving board just off the pier. Unfortunately Donald was doing some submarine exercises and cut his foot on  a broken bottle but it has been washed and bandaged and seems alright at the moment. At any rate, he is running around the boat swatting wasps at the moment.
Dinner consists of lovely potatoes with a big lump of butter and a tin of peas followed by a tin of pineapple.
We have a perfect evening swim in front of the boat and after baiting up, we hope to get some real good fishing, nothing under 2lbs!!!
We fished all afternoon and in the evening until we could not see and then made our way to “The Boat” where Mr and Mrs Knight were. We had a good talk and after being given some lovely young spring onions we went aboard for supper, where we had cheese and onions.

We rose at 6:30a.m. this morning and fished in the swell below the staunch. Don caught a little silver bream.
We learned from Mr Knight the Snick spaniel, Digger, had been destroyed on Friday as it was suffering from liver trouble.
Boiled eggs were served up for breakfast with very hot coffee. Round about our boat are real enthusiastic fishermen who came yesterday about 8p.m. and who are still fishing now. The best part of it was that they didn’t have a touch all night! I think our rest in bed was a bit more sensible.

We managed to get up this morning at 8:15a.m. and we had finished breakfast and cleaned up by 9:30a.m. we went for a walk across the fields to Brands Farm to get some milk. We found that the milk was under contract for the Milk Marketing Board and so she had none to give us. we ordered a dozen eggs there, and two large loaves and were promised a pint and a half of milk next milking time.
We went into Bluntisham where after a while we managed to find a general store where you can buy anything but meat.
We returned for dinner and served up veal and ham roll with potatoes and baked beans followed by apricots.
Though we fished in the afternoon we did not do much good and so in the evening we decided to spin for pike with the spinners which Mr Knight kindly brought from Donald’s. Donald fixed up his tackle on the fly rod and I had my roach rod with a 4lb silk line. Anyway we both landed a pike about a pound a piece. We had to stop after a little while as the light had gone.
When we entered “The Boat” we found a big party, Mr and Mrs Knight and George, Mr and Mrs Bradshaw and Jim, Leslie Holt, Earnie King and Gus King. After “Earnie Ting” had proved himself at a game of darts Jim Bradshaw then fetched his piano accordion which he could play very skillfully and we began a sing-song. We soon moved into the room with the piano and there we had fine solos, duets, trios, presented by many friends. Mrs Bradshaw played the old-time music for the “old boys” while Jim gave us popular dance tunes fr “us young ‘uns.”
It was very late we had seen everyone off in their cars. George Knight and Jim Bradshaw slept in the hut and after seeing them safely in bed we soon found ourselves asleep in our own little boat.
P.S. Swim below the staunch at 11a.m.

The old mill

We were up again at 6:15a.m. and Don and George went shooting and Jim and I fished. Jim was the only one in our party who did any good, with a few, small, silver bream.
After our breakfast which consisted of three rashers of bacon, an egg and 4 fried tomatoes we went for a swim just below the staunch.
A sing-song on the old gate on the bank was then proposed. The sun was very hot.
In the afternoon we fished for eels and Don got two nice ones which we are going to fry. I only caught two bootlaces which we used for baiting the dead lines which we put out at night.
We heard an interesting discussion on fishing the river between Mr Knight and some other gentlemen who came down this evening in a big white boat from Hemingford Grey. We turned in for a good night at 11:30p.m.

We had a late morning this morning and we did not get up before 9:15a.m. We had a large breakfast of bacon & eggs and fried tomatoes and then proceeded to wash down the boat from stem to stem and after checking over the engine and ticking her over, we went to say cheerio to Mr Ellis. Mrs Ellis had one of her Queen’s Pudding’s for us but we were not staying at the staunch for dinner but when she said she’d make it for us Friday we promised our return.
At 12 noon we left our moorings at the staunch and pushed on to St Ives, where were  to pick up Mr Nunn on the Thursday and arrived there at 12:15a.m. just below the staunch where we made our moorings.  We changed our clothes and went to look at St Ives and finally had a  very nice lunch at a café opposite the market place. On our return we fished but were not successful in catching anything really big. Only a few dace in fact. This continued throughout the evening. An at supper time we turned in and played cards until 11:0 p.m.

It was quarter to nine before either of us woke this morning and after lighting the primus we soon had breakfast ready. We went into St Ives and bought some food. We returned as it was spotting with rain and the rain came on faster as we put up the awning for the first time. We were surprised at the size of the awning which fitted over the complete stem of the boat.
The rain continued to fall heavily until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon during which time we listened to the wireless, played cards and had a sing-song.
When the rain had cleared up we wrapped up as it was cold and went prepared to meet Mr Nunn off the train but were disappointed to find that there were no more trains from Cambridge that night. We spent the rest of the time walking all round St Ives and after paying a visit to ‘The Robin Hood’ where Don had a friend, we bunked at about 11:30p.m.

The lock at Denver; Mr Beasley’s cottage was probably the white one by the lock gates.

Today looked more like a summer day early this morning and although there was a slight breeze blowing, the sun was out.
We squared everything on board and cast off from St Ives at 10:15. From that moment until we reached the Pike and Eel at Over, we had very little water to move in. We had to test the water all the way with a boat hook.
Eventually we reached Overstaunch and we went through the pen with the Explorer. We moored below the lock at 11 o’clock. We went to see Bill Ellis and as Mrs Ellis had promised, she had made us one of her special Queen’s Puddings which we devoured with great relish, also tucking a few sausages in the odd corners.
We proceeded to Hermitage Lock at 1:30p.m. and arrived at 2:15p.m. On the way we saw Mr Pleasants and Mr Webster and after stopping for a chat we forged ahead.
We arrived at the Fish and Duck at 4:0p.m. having a fairly slow journey. The barges were all up the river containing gault for the banks. The river was not wide enough for us to give full throttle because the water crashed against the banks and swamped them.
A gentleman from the ‘Madame’ came aboard to look over the boat that he would have taken had we not nipped in and ordered before him. He was fed up with the 2 stroke engine in his boat which would not keep running.


They finished their holiday and the diary. Two years later my dad was called up to serve his country as a paratrooper in the World War; he must have often thought back to those peaceful, happy days on the river.


      1. Lois

        Gosh! My aunty and uncle lived in Bottisham (Bott’sham) nearly fifty years, and a cousin’s wife who i’m very close to – her family are Littleport born and bred!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois

      Yes he was! I think Snick was a family name – his older brother was called it, and dad was known as young Snick in the family. Where it came from I have no idea!


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