Chin and Alf

This is a true story of an amusing event that happened in wartime Kempston, and I think it ought to be recorded here for posterity. Some years ago this story was accepted by a national monthly magazine, but unfortunately I did not keep a copy of the typescript, but will now relate with additional information which I have to hand.
So let us start with Chin. My mother Rose Field had four brothers and four sisters who mostly were known by their popular nicknames very prevalent in their day. The brothers were Arthur (Bunny), Charles (Onk), Ernest (Chin), and Horace (Sam or later Yammy). Her sisters were Beryl (Maud), Marjorie (Lou), Winnie, who died as a small child, and Elsie (Polly). Later when deceased these nicknames mostly appeared in the bereavement columns of the Beds Times, as their given names were hardly known. Chin and Onk played football for Kempston Rovers before they were called up for war service in 1940. Bunny was also called up and spent the war advancing with infantry up the Italian peninsula. Chin and Onk joined the Royal Artillery and were posted to gun sites in Eastern coastal Scotland and the English south coast respectively.
Now let us have a look at Alf. He was born early in the 20th century with a serious muscular disorder, had a speech problem and was confined to a wheelchair. Alf Gillet was well known along the High Street for many years and enjoyed being out and about. His mind was clear and he understood what you said to him. He would sometimes have to wait for someone to help him up a kerb or up a small rise. Crossing the road in those days was very easy, there were few cars about as petrol was rationed and only allowed for essential services. Everyone else had a bike for local transport. Alf wore a cor blimey cap and could be seen around on most of those wartime days. Most of his friends were called up and Alf would sit sometimes under the huge elm trees which stood adjacent to the war memorial and Lidls, or at the other end at the High Street Cemetery Road Eugster Avenue Junction near the pillbox. Alf’s wheelchair was a one off, having two 28” bike wheels fixed to a strong frame with to pedalling handles fixed at shoulder level driven by chains linking the two sprockets. Alf developed strong shoulders and the chair was set at a comparatively low gear, and Alf got on well with it. Fred Maynard of Campbell Close regularly serviced Alf’s machine and kept it in good working order.
One day in the spring of 1944, Alf arrived all out of breath and excited at Rose’ parents house in Campbell Close. Jacob and Kate calmed him down, but could not understand what Alf was trying to tell them. So they fetched my mother Rose as she was one of the few people in Kempston who could understand what Alf said. Apparently she went to Church End School with him and learned her art there. After a while Rose told her dad ‘He says he has seen Chin’. Further questioning revealed that Alf had been watching the world go by at the Eugster Avenue Cemetery Road junction when a convoy appeared and Chin waved and shouted ‘Hello Alf’ from the back of a lorry. They viewed Alf with utter disbelief. But Alf insisted he had seen Chin. Kate then produced Chins recent letter from Scotland, from behind the clock and read it to Alf. It couldn’t have been Chin they said. Alf left eventually, quite upset that no one believed him.
Later in the Half Moon the news had spread and things got worse, no one believed Alf and some suggested he had fallen asleep and dreamed that he had seen Chin. Alf enjoyed a pint, and got quite a bit of fun out of life despite his disability. The landlord kept a pint beer bottle behind the bar for Alf who could not drink from a glass. The bottle was filled up from the beer pump, and Alf somehow used to get his arm around it and tip it up to drink from it. Alf got ragged and ridiculed every time he went to the pub and eventually got quite distressed as no one believed that he had seen Chin.
About four weeks after Alf’s sighting of Chin, Kate received a letter from him and it read something like this, ‘Dear Mum, Hope this finds you all well at home. As you will see, I have a new address which is on a gun site along the south east coast. We have only just settled down here after travelling down from Scotland in a convoy. We passed through Kempston and I got to the back of the lorry to see if I could recognise anyone I knew as we passed through. At the Cemetery Road junction I saw Alf in his wheelchair and I shouted and waved to him, and he smiled at me as he saw me.’
That evening Chins dad Jacob took the letter to the Half Moon with Alf and read it out to the assembled company who immediately profusely apologised to Alf. It is said they bought him beer, and at closing time pushed his chair a little way along Church Walk and then let go, with Alf happy and pedalling furiously towards home.
Bunny, Chin and Onk all survived the war and lived long and very full lives along with Alf who also was around Kempston High Street for many post-war years.

Doug Rowland
Spring Road, Kempston.