Grandad Ally (Legge): Part Two

Ray Starling

Ally Legge, grandson of Chafer Legge, son of ‘Boozer Legge’. You will notice that his features are typical of a true Fenman; short, wiry, an eagle-like nose and he had jet black hair. I recall as a youngster that he had many many visitors over the years who would come and talk to him about his life as a fisherman, shooting, netting game and fish and a host of other outdoor activities. I spent many an hour in the evenings with him when he would be knitting pheasant nets. He and his wife Mary are buried in Southery cemetery.
Photograph donated by Ray Starling, grandson of Ally Legge

Continued from part one.

I recall grandad Ally in my early days walking to and from his fields each day at the Decoy, I also recall him cycling as I remember that I cycled with him when I was about 14 or 15. This was when dad bought my first bike from Attlesey’s garage opposite the old Waring pond; it was a brand new Rayleigh, colour black, and it was for my 14th birthday. Grandad was a very nervous character which I will explain later and although there was very little traffic on the roads in the mid-50s he would still insist I cycled close to the verge. On one occasion as we approached the Feltwell road junction to the Decoy a sugar beet lorry was approaching us and unfortunately grandad and I collided and I finished up lying in the middle of the road. The lorry stopped inches short of me but I always believed this was intentional just to make sure we were more careful in future. I dread to think what Grandad Ally was saying to me after the event. Even if I could remember I’m sure I would not dare put it in print.

Water boots and a cap

I recall two items of clothing that grandad always wore when he went to work in his fields, one was his thigh-length water boots which were worn spring, summer, autumn and winter, and the other item was his cap. I particularly remember his cap because this acted as an extra pocket which would contain his packet of St Julian tobacco, a box of matches and a sack needle, there may have been other items if I could remember them. He occasionally also had in his cap a stick of twist which was a small oblong block of hard black material which he would have to scrape pieces from with a knife into his pipe to smoke. Grandad was a pipe smoker which he lit first thing in the morning and it was not taken from his mouth, other than to eat or drink, until his head hit his pillow at night.

His dockey (food) and a brown beer bottle of cold tea was carried in his ‘dockey’ bag which was an old army back pack dark green in colour. I’ve always thought that part of the reason he continually wore thigh-length water boots at work over the decoy was because I recall him telling me to keep away from dykes and the side of the decoy wood because of adders (which were also known as vipers). Adders are very poisonous and I guess that grandad’s thigh-length water boots would give him protection from them, particularly during the summer when they were more active. Perhaps another reason for grandad’s thigh-length water boots was that grandad had fished. He netted fish and shot game and duck all his life to feed his family, and this brought him into contact with rivers, drains, dykes and wetlands.

Of a nervous character

I previously made mention that grandad was of a nervous character and I think this could well have been because of his misfortune during active duty during the First World War. I’m not sure what age grandad was conscripted but I recall a large framed picture of him hung in the front room of his bungalow at Common Lane Southery. I’m sure this framed picture must still be in the Legge family somewhere today but I recall that he was a good looking young man in his army uniform and peaked army hat. Well, I learned over the years that grandad was sent to France and Belgium and while he was being transported by rail to the front near Ypres a bomb landed aside the railway truck that he and others where in. I don’t recall hearing how old grandad was when this happened but Passendale was often mentioned. If this was the year the battle of Passendale took place he would have been nineteen. The truck was blown off the railway line and the next I heard was that grandad had been brought back to England where he spent a year or two at Hellesden Hospital Norwich recovering from shell-shock.

I recall as a youngster that whenever there was a thunderstorm you would always find grandad either under a table, in a corner or behind a door with his hands over his head. I would often see him during cold spells wearing for work his old army ‘great’ coat.

Part three continues here.

See also