' Squatter's Write' - Part 9 of Dick Sturch's memories of growing up in 'The Camp' at Millwey Rise

  Posted: 12.01.21 at 12:28 by Dick Sturch

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By Dick Sturch


I am currently awaiting, and it can't come fast enough, my COVID jab, but there were times when I would gladly have been at the back of the queue.

At Axminster junior school we had several different health visitors. There were regular examination for 'nits' The dreaded vaccinations that were then underway for TB, diptheria, etc. Queueing outside. Waiting to be called in for the jab. I'm sure the same needle was used for the entire class and only dipped in disinfectant for sterilisation between injections. It always hurt and most kids left with tears running down their cheeks.

Even today the thought of visiting the school dentist's mobile surgery still looms large. The caravan would be set up in the school car park, its presence casting a dark shadow over the coming days. Pupils were called in alphabetic order for their visit. As Sturch was one of the last names to be summoned, I was made to sit in cold fear and trepidation awaiting the dreaded command: "Derek Sturch to the dentist"

I can remember nervously climbing the caravan steps into the treatment area. Sitting in the chair and being told, "Open wide." The dreaded examination, tooth by tooth as he recited their number and condition to the nurse, trying not to wince when his metal prong touched a 'jumpy tooth' All in vain. The pain of the drill hitting nerve after nerve without the help of any numbing anaesthetic. Nearly fainting, before the final, gagging taste of amalgam filling in my mouth. Ugh. My punishment I suppose for a diet rich in syrup and jam sandwiches plus any other sugary confectioneries available.

Graham Turner, Dave Thorn and Doug Dickson


As I've written previously, the The Camp was a great leveller and a great place to make friends, both for adults and kids. It was mainly young children who arrived with parents searching for a family home after five years of war and deprivation. There were older youngsters but they tended to form their own cliques and had little time for the younger element.

Most, like Henry Trenchard, Perce Downton, Tony Turner, Derek Putt, Dave Izzard, Jack Wakely, 'Chunky' Mowlam, George Vicary, Tom Norman, Cedric Vernon et al were eventually 'called up' for National Service and disappeared, returning two or three years later as adults.

"My group of friends were the younger boys and girls all around the same age, Rodney Rendell, Geoff Vicary, Gerald Jordan, Willy Salter, Brian White, Taffy Cloud, Beryl King, Sheila Hutchings, Joan Day are a few I can still recall. We had the freedom of The Camp and the surrounding countryside to explore and play in where most days we could be found."

At the top of The Camp, above what is now Cunningham Avenue, was an extensive wooded area that has now disappeared under cultivation and the industrial estate. In those days we called it the 'copse' and it was possible to walk through it all the way to Lodge Lane. To us it seemed to stretch for miles and became our adventure playground.

Millwey Mums

There were swampy hollows, whose ponds had an abundance of newts, tadpoles and frogs. We spent hours making dens, climbing trees, tracking, hiding, bird nesting. We'd dam the stream that still runs through the valley bottom and spills into the Axe beside Weycroft Mill. The 'copse' and the surrounding fields were whatever we wanted them to be and we were free to do whatever we wanted - but always with a wary eye for Mr. Dymond or Mr. Cox the local farmers.

There were some interesting infrastructures on The Camp that we utilised for various pursuits. There were large storm drains laid under the roads to carry the surface water away. Most of the year there would be little or no water running through them so they became ideal hiding places. Very handy to disappear into when you or your gang were looking to escape detection.

Sometimes we would dam the inlet until the flow stopped, then, after the water built up behind the barrier, we’d suddenly release it and race to the other end to see whose stick arrived first. I remember this happening, when unknown to us, some other kids were playing at the opposite end and were actually in the pipe when we burst our dam. Their yells echoed through the drain but we didn`t investigate, just quickly disappeared from the scene. Luckily there were no casualties only some kids with very wet clothes. How different things are for today’s children.


A Polish resident, whose name I cannot remember, set up a weekend firewood business inside the entrance to the 'copse'. He cut, stored and delivered logs from here which he sold by the basket full from his van for two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) A bundle of kindling cost sixpence (2.5p). I helped him with deliveries on Saturday mornings for which I received two shillings (10p) which he always appeared to hand over with some reluctance. His instructions to me were always the same: “Put two or three large logs in the bottom of the basket first," the idea being it then took less logs to make the basket appear full. I don`t know if the tax man was ever aware of his extra income but it was just another example of The Camp’s entrepreneurial spirit.

My wages went towards purchasing comics and visits to the cinema, great sources of inspiration and enjoyment - The Dandy, Beano, Topper, Eagle, Wizard, Rover and their Christmas annuals. My early favourite was Rupert Bear. His wonderful escapades in which I would imagine myself together with Bill Badger, Algy Pug, and of course Tigerlily. The small illustrated comic books with Buck Rogers, Kit Carson, The Lone Ranger, all my cowboy heroes, became must reads as I grew older.

Perce Downton, Graham Turner, Tom Norman and Doug Dickson

A trip to the Plaza cinema in Axminster became a weekly treat which I will cover in my next article on The Camp.

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