Gooch of Spalding, Memoirs of Edward Henry Gooch 1885-1962
Gooch of Spalding, Memoirs of Edward Henry Gooch 1885-1962
Presented by his grandson, Bruce Watson
Perfect Bound Softcover
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In these, his memoirs, we see Harry’s adolescent revolt against his all-powerful father and his flight to Canada after knocking him down in a row. Then there is the account of his adventures in the Lincolnshire Regiment before the outbreak of the First World War, his time in the trenches with the rats and the corpses and only his belief in the Almighty and in his Destiny to keep him going. He tells how he lost a fortune during the Depression, and then made another that he was to fritter away in luxury cruises in the last years of his life. The Second World War gives him a new ‘raison d’être’ – first in the Home Guard and then in the ‘Little Ships.’

He paints a vivid picture of a forgotten way of life, a life of ease, of loss, of heartbreak, and of adventure; though, strangely enough, he never speaks of his personal feelings – it wasn’t the done thing.

He was fiercely proud and patriotic and adored all royalty and aristocracy, delighting in any occasion that permitted him to approach them. But his greatest pride was that of being, first and foremost, ‘a Lincolnshire man.’

Ypres Terrible battles had taken place on this charnel heap known as the Ypres Salient. The soil was full of dead bodies which were buried where they dropped. When trenches were made through these fields of the slain they cut clean through a mass of rotting flesh, the work being undertaken by hardened troops accustomed to such sights. On remarking about these gruesome objects to the guides, they laughed and said they were nothing in comparison to what they would see, but one soon got used to them. Their only consolation was that most of the bodies were those of Germans and Frenchmen. The stench was putrid, they having to hold their noses and to breath through the mouth, otherwise they would have been ill. At long last, the party halted and dumped their things near Battalion Headquarters. The newcomers reported to the C.O., finding a very affable major and adjutant who invited them to a drink of whiskey, Harry enjoying the tot better than any previously relished. It took, for the time being, the taste of rotten flesh from his mouth and bucked them up to better face this new atmosphere, which did not seem particularly agreeable. After the usual formalities, Gooch was ordered to join the Spalding and Sleaford Company, then on duty in the front line, and officer being instructed to show the way. He found the company commander quite a decent fellow and was soon made to feel at home. After a drink in his dug-out, a tour was made of the front line, he being introduced to the men he was supposed to lead. This was thrilling to the Spaldonian, who heartily shook hands with those from his native town, many of them friends and connections. He was impatient to see his brother, eventually finding him on sentry duty, standing on the firing step, peeping over the top to see that everything was all right. When Harry gave him a hearty slap on the back, Frank had the surprise of his life on looking round to find his brother in command of his platoon. Frank had no idea he was in France, much more with the 4th Lincolns. On completing a tour of the trenches, they turned in on a wire bed rigged up in company headquarters. They called them dug-outs; though only sandbag huts, the ground being too swampy for excavating. It was a small compartment dug into the side of the trench with a few beams covered by sandbags. It afforded little protection, but even a piece of tin gave a comfortable feeling of safety. Harry lay awake thinking what a fine lot of men they were and how decent the officers seemed to be. He like the company commander, Lieutenant Read, and expected they would get on well together. Tiredness eventually mastered thought, and he fell into a heavy sleep, awaking to the smell of eggs and bacon on a makeshift table. It seemed peculiar for good food in such a hole, but Read said it was nothing, there would be a five course dinner served up hot that very evening, they living on the best of everything. Breakfast was hardly finished when a cry of sausages was heard. Harry thought he had done pretty well and had little room for more, but Read said they were different and as his men were in danger he had better join them. Negotiating an intricate maze of communication trenches, he eventually found them lying down and bursting with uncontrollable laughter. When their new officer was recognised, he was initiated into the mysteries of dodging minen-werfers, called by the troops ‘sausages’ on account of their shape. These shells were fired by a great mortar and could be seen approaching through the air. They wobbled on their flight and an inexperienced person cannot tell in what direction they are flying, but these Territorials, with several months experience, were wise in the art of dodging. Lookouts warned the troops when they were fired, then, at the last minute, when the direction was ascertained, a rush was made in the opposite direction, they flinging themselves on the ground to escape the blast and flying pieces of iron.
The real author of this book, written more than fifty years ago, is my grandfather Edward Henry Gooch (1885-1961) whose faded type-written notes ended up on one of my bookshelves where they gathered dust for years. His passion for tradition and recalling the past had already led him to write “A History of Spalding” and “Place Names of Holland, Lincolnshire” and on reading through his memoirs I realised just how interesting they might be to Spaldonians, historians and other adventurers. His notes were too faint and old-fashioned to be scanned so it was up to me to transcribe them in a labour of love; and how fascinating I found the task! He paints a vivid picture of a forgotten way of life, a life of ease, of loss, of heartbreak, and of adventure; though, strangely enough, he rarely speaks of his personal feelings; it wasn’t the done thing. Who was E.H. Gooch ? Edward Henry Gooch, “Harry” or “Skipper” to his friends, was a Spaldonian gentleman-adventurer and fifth generation fellmonger (dealing in wool and skins.) Born in 1885, he lived through the reign of four monarchs and during the height, and fall, of the British Empire. He was a fervent patriot and his greatest pride was that of being a Lincolnshire man. He was a soldier, fighting in the trenches of the First World War, struggling to get some sleep on the piled up corpses of his fellows with only the rats to keep him warm. He was gassed and returned to civilian life where he had many an adventure as an amateur sailor. He was shipwrecked a number of times. In WWII he did his bit in the Home Guard and then in the “little ships” before returning to fellmongering. He partook fully in municipal affairs. Probably one of the most outspoken men in the district, he was a member of the County Council from 1919 and an alderman from 1935. In 1919, he became a member of Spalding Urban Council and sat until 1927. After an interval of 11 years, he again returned to the Urban Council and, until he retired from that body in 1950, occupied several chairmanships and committees. He was Worshipful Master at the Hundred of Elloe Lodge of Freemasons. A largely self-taught scholar, Ald. Gooch was well-known as the local historian and writer. His memoirs are presented here by his grandson, Bruce Watson who lives with his French wife and family in the South of France, where he has published a book of short stories about the French Way of Life called “Life’s not all Wine and Roses” published by Iuniverse and available through W.H.Smiths or (ISBN 0-595-27703-9) It is based on his experiences living in the Tarn, where he first came to work in the wool industry (like Harry Gooch) during the 1968 revolution. For the last 30 years he has been teaching and interpreting for industry and the police.

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