First relic find?
Sometimes I think that relic hunting started for me when I won my first metal detector and started finding those .303s as written about in the ERH history... but my first ever find is more amazing. My Aunt and Uncle ran a guest house which had been in the family for decades, my aunt lived there almost all her life. When my uncle came home from fighting with the 44th Indian Aribourne out in Burma he lived there too and unknown to anyone so did some of his items he brought home from war. My Uncle seldom talked of the war, his wasn't too pleasant, evacuated from Dunkirk, being one of the last to board a ship, then he spent the rest of the war out in places like Burma known for being horrific. After my aunt and uncle has both passed away my father was left the property and as it was such a large property with all the many guest rooms it was pretty full of items to sort through and clear out. I travelled down to Kent to give him a hand. We sorted though hundreds of items, room after room and were making good progress
however anyone who knows me knows that my attention span is rather limited and I either get distracted or bored rather quickly and my mind wonders around. I needed a change of scenery and I remember from when I stayed there as a child that there was a big shed in the Garden. I called to my Dad and asked if he had looked in the shed, hoping to hear a no. He said he had looked but it was all falling down and everything looked rotten and for me not to bother. However I thought this sounded far more interesting than what I was doing and headed off downstairs and out the back into the garden. I saw what he meant by it was falling down, the rood had fallen in in places and what ever was in there was saturated and rotting or had already rotten away completely. I climbed in carefully, trying not to get too covered in crap as I would be getting the train home that evening. I opened drawers in cabinets, looked in some odd boxes but there really was nothing of
Above - Ken, my uncle left and Sgt Phillips (his Best Man taken out his home on his wedding day) Stanley Road, Margate
interest until I saw a cowboy how hung on a peg in the far corner, just beyond the collapsing roof. It was yet black and almost completely covered in cobwebs, I hooked it down with a piece of garden cane and thought this would be of interest to my Dad as he does love a good western... although thinking about it, he loves the bad ones too! He always wanted to be a cowboy, but was scared of horses! That would have made him the only pushbike riding cowboy in the world! I started to walk back towards the house, picking off cobwebs, leafs and brushing of the dirt as I walked... then I looked inside the hat and saw it was green. What the hell I thought... now I don't know much about cowboys, but I had never seen any wearing green hats before. I stopped walking and started to brush off more of the dirt and everything started looking greener. Then I saw a patch on the rim and noticed and matching pair of push studs. Then it hit me. Holy shit, I had just found my uncles felt bush hat from the World War 2. I even vaguely remember seeing one photograph of him wearing it. I then ran inside to show my Dad who was amazed and for once he was very pleased
that I didn't listen to him. Of course for me work stopped on clearing out the guest house and now I was firmly set in the task of cleaning this cap. It looked as if someone had cleaned a chimney with it and felt like it had been dipped in soot too. I found some old rags and with a lot of warm water it began to clean up back to its original colour. Although the green is faded in places, its all still pretty green, the folded cloth around the centre is almost a completely different colour when you look under the folds. The patch was something I was worried about cleaning and had no idea what was on it, I cleaned it gentle and was amazed that it cleaned up so well. However I won't lie, I was slightly disappointed to see that it was only two horizontal stripes which must be some kind of unit marking. Even now I have no idea
what this means! (if anyone knows, please send me a message). So this really is the first item I ever found and without my stubbornness to listen to anyone it probably would never have been found. The shed was later knocked down and removed. My Dad had some luck and found some really old negatives in the tiny basement and when we brought them up to the light we could see Ken in tropical uniform, vehicles and groups of soldiers. There was at least 20 of these negatives, amazing! A reminder that don't stop looking after you get one good find, there are still items to find. Later on a few odds and sods came up, a letter addressed to him with his serial number and unit out in India that he had obviously brought home with him, sadly his medals were never found and we assume and hope that his son has them somewhere safe. Although as Ken was out in Burma and the knowledge that you had to claim your own medals after WW2 it wouldn't surprise me if he never claimed them. Lots of soldiers who were entitled to the Burma Star were not keen on wearing it for being reminded of what it cost them, both mentally and physically to wear it.
Above - Kens frame with photo, envelopes, cap badge, shoulder title, telegram and replacement medals with his hat hung up on the side of a book case beside it. Cpl Ken Kyberd 794082, 44th Indian Airborne Divisional Signals, India Command.
So it would seem that you don't always have to go very far to find relics! However nothing would prepare me for when my mother in law passed away and we inherited her estate. A lovely yet slightly run down farmhouse with barns and stables, mostly all unused for decades. My wife's mother was a hoarder, I don't just mean someone who keeps stuff... I mean someone who actually keeps everything and buys more to put on top of that everything. Although this was a nightmare for 99% of the rubbish we cleared, every now and then a little gem would pop up. It took us over 40 runs to the tip in a large 4x4, we have had about 10 skips too and still there is so much more we need to get rid of. Examples of things we have found, military marked horse stirrups dated just pre WW1 a few sets, military marked WW1 horse cart driving bit, Princess Mary tin with WW1 medals, buttons, badges all related to family members, WW1 letters, discharge paperwork, pocket watches, WW2 medals, diaries, postcards, mail, telegrams about a missing soldier, then captured, the diary confirms he was captured at Tobruk! Multiple gas masks in boxes with the leaflets still inside, RAF badges, medals, insignia, photographs and pay-book to 'airwomans' and a whole heap of other items, my favourite has to be a large stack of drawings that were all done in a PoW camp in Italy by my wife's Grandfather George. He was a quite the talented artist with a passion for drawing transport, especially trains and boats. As well as those he drew the camp, including the Italian guards and captured snippets of daily life. Also in his diary he goes as far as to record how much tobacco and cigarettes he was given or earned as part of working as the camp cobbler. As much as these finds are fantastic, they don't really count as finding relics, after all, I'm sure lots of us will be left similar items when family members pass on.
So why does this new home of ours feature in this story? We had been living here a good few months before I even started to look into the out buildings properly and started going through what was buried at the backs of barns. In the stables I found a huge stack of flour sacks that were all neatly folder, the very bottom one was the only one that was dated and it was a railways sack dated 1946. At first I thought it typical that it wasn't a year earlier, but it was still an interesting find. However later on I discovered why these were there and why they were so neat. Near the end of the war and into the very late 40's, Italian/German PoWs had worked the land as it was still a working farm, it was most likely that these were all stacked up so neatly by the PoW's. As carrying, fetching and tidying could be done by anyone, regardless of knowledge of farming. I for sure would be given these sorts of jobs being a city boy. I had a good rummage through these and found lots of interesting local companies from little villages all around ours. However nothing could compare to what I found next...
It was at the back the dilapidated cart shed that I could see a large shape, partially covered with straw, boxes, soggy cardboard, sacks and other miscellaneous crap. I had to climb over all sorts to ever get close, including smashed up window pains that were, like everything else, kept just in case it was needed one day! I stood beside this big pile and started to removed the crap from the top when I started to see what looked like and giant crudely made wooden box. Odd.... then I removed more and more and realise that it wasn't one item, but many all stacked up. They look like duckboards, but surely they couldn't be? Could they? I got out my phone and set some photos to a couple of good friends who I relic hunt with and ask what they thought. Well both were totally convince right away. I wasn't so however, it just seemed too good to be true. After all, even the War Museum only display a tiny piece of one and here I was looking at stacks and stacks of them! Sadly I never did take a photograph of them all in there original location. Mainly as I thought they would just turn out to be firewood! Thank god I didn't do that with them. Some of the ones on top where in great condition, the ones at the very bottom were completely rotten and couldn't even be moved without falling to tiny bits, with an assortment of conditions in between. I moved them all into different and more secure and waterproof barns to dry out. I invited several collectors round to see them and get opinions, all of which were positive. I was starting to be convinced that these were actually surplus that was purchased along with all other wartime items we found around the house/yard. Alan came and did some work for us fitting windows, he left one day with a full duckboard strapped to the roof of his car! It was an amusing site to watch drive off into the distance. It now resides in his museum!
I started to sell them odd ones here and there and then one day I was doing some filming at home with the BBC for the forgotten army dog-tag project and Mark Smith was round from Antiques Roadshow and I happened to mention the duckboards. So we went into the barn shown left and had a look. He was pretty much gobsmacked and at a loss for words which is very unlike Mark! The room looks very different from that now and there are not too many left... still more than probably anyone else has. I have only displayed a small piece of one for myself as they are just so big! I did have a complete length of one in my office but it is currently on load to the Herts at War display, although that may have finished now or is about too?
I will at some points get around to finding room to display a complete length with other relevant items on top, such as rum jars and the odd helmet etc. When I find the time and motivation to start hauling 6 foot lengths of wood around!!! I'm in no rush. So far I have I re-homed some of these boards right around globe. One has gone to a history professor in Australia to have in his classroom, others to America, Canada and all over Europe. I also gave a few bits away during a raffle to raise money for the forgotten army dog-tag project Xmas 2017 which was met with great favour. Sadly though there isn't many places left unexplored on our land that other items could be hiding, unless they have been purposefully hidden like under floor boards! But who know what else we might discover while to renovate the house...