It is hard to believe that the parade of shops in Wharf Road was once the site of the Ash Boathouse and allotments, owned by Charlie Knowles in the late 1800s and then by his daughter Mrs Glad Blundell. They also owned and lived in one of the two houses on the corner of Balmoral Road, which is now the Budgens Supermarket.
There were two large black sheds with dirt floors at the edge of the canal, that housed eight double rowing boats, four skiffs, and two kayaks. During the World War II Mrs Blundellís best customers were soldiers from the tented camps on the common. They were charged two shillings and six pence (22Ĺp) an hour and ten shilling (50p) deposit. Most got as far as the Swan Hotel and left the boats there and lost their deposit. The landing stage at the Swan had two 6Ē (150mm) square upright posts about ten feet (2m) above the water line with wooden teapots on their tops.
Mrs Blundellís son Charlie and I were sent out late at night to find the boats and tow them back to the boathouse. For this we were paid sixpence per boat. It took me a long time to realise how business people made their money! However, I was very pleased with the money that I received. It must be remembered that during the War years double summer time was introduced for the maximum use of daylight hours.
During the winter months my father, who was a carpenter and joiner by trade, would carry out repairs and general maintenance on the boats, equipment and buildings. Later Charlie Blundell joined the Navy and saw service in the Russian convoys. Sadly he died at a young age of a brain tumour. His mother Glad sold off most of her properties and had a peaceful life and died in her late nineties in Abbey Wood, Ash.
It was not unusual for the canal to freeze over for a couple of weeks, and we would all have fun skating and making slides. Indeed, some were about 40 metres long on Great Bottom Flash and Mytchett Lake. It is hard to believe Samuel Cody used to take off from great Bottom Flash in his Water Plane in 1913. It is also hard to believe that his first recorded sustained flight of 1390 feet at a height of 30 feet in 27 seconds on the 16th October 1908 was at Farnborough Common. This was achieved in an aeroplane he designed and built known as the British Army Aeroplane Number One.
At the end of the war we celebrated in various ways, but without doubt all of my generation will remember the tea party at Mrs Blundellís house followed by a very big bonfire in the middle of the boathouse allotments with our parents, when we burnt a full sized dummy of Hitler in complete uniform. Where all of the wonderful food came from together with the fireworks I shall never know, but we all had a wonderful time. The troops camped on the common joined in with thunder flashes and two inch flares and other Ďexplosivesí.
I remember how good the village looked with all of the lights on for the first time in six years.
By Robert Bunyan
If you would like to know more - copies of the Robert Bunyan's book "A Lad in the Village of Ash" are on sale in the Museum at £3 each, with all proceeds being used to support the museum.
This popular illustrated booklet paints a picture of life in Ash before, during and after World War Two. Bobís grandfather, William Henry Bunyan, was killed in action at the Somme and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial in France and on the Ash War Memorial. Bobís father was a leading fireman in the Ash Auxiliary Fire Service. Bob lived most of his young life in 230 Shawfield Road, attended Heathcote School and was married at St Peterís Church. His memories, which include rationing, transport, village shops, sport and VE Day make fascinating reading.