When I was a small child in the years following world war two, very few people had, or could indeed, afford to own a car. The bicycle was the prominent form of transport for most ordinary people, and the ownership of a motorcycle was largely the province of the middle classes. Only the very well off could enjoy the pleasure and freedom that a car would give as family transport, especially as the rationing of fuel was still in force. You will then imagine the excitement when our father turned up one weekend with an MG Magnette touring car.
The car was in beautiful condition and was painted in two complimentary shades of green, a light grassy colour above a deep dark racing green. The top of the roof was black, covered with strong oiled and varnished canvas, and a spare wheel with a luggage rack on the back, gave the car a look of purpose. We kids loved the silvery spoked wheels and flowing wings, and its headlights and radiator grill gave the look of a cheery, cheeky face at the front. The car had the unusual feature of the doors opening in different directions, leaving a very big entry space, and the rear seats were higher than the fronts, so we kids always had a good view of the road ahead. Dad had scraped together fifty pounds to buy the car, a good amount in the late nineteen forties, and we were the only family in the street with our own car. It was in immaculate condition, and although built in the mid-thirties, had been little used, as the previous owner had perished in the war, and the car had been garaged and unused ever since.
Dad had spotted it whilst talking to the owner’s father about gardening, the garage being open as they discussed the rose bushes and lawn, chatting over the garden gate. After having been given a close look at the car, the previous owner’s father told my father that it had belonged to his son when he was at university before the war. The son had been given it as a twenty first birthday gift by an uncle who had also promised him a position in his law firm after he had finished at Oxford. Sadly, Britain went to war with Germany before he finished at college and he quickly volunteered to join the RAF, where he had trained to become a pilot, based in the East of England. The car had been used briefly during his training and then garaged with his parents when he was transferred to a squadron based at Manston in Kent. Within a few months he was thought to be dead, lost over the English Channel near to Dover, shot down defending the Coast as a Battle of Britain pilot. His parents not being able to drive, the car had remained unused for eight years, but was carefully kept, as they still hoped their son might turn up as a prisoner of war, held in Germany. It was now accepted that he had perished after being shot down over the sea.
Our dad was an expert on rose growing and over a few months the friendship had blossomed. I often went with my father to Mr. Bowen’s house, and while the two men attended to the garden together, I enjoyed myself exploring the shed and garage, having biscuits and tea with Mrs. Bowen in their cosy kitchen, or sometimes sitting in the MG pretending to drive. To this day I can still picture the big hexagonal dials on the dashboard, and the quiet clunk as the doors closed. Dad loved the MG too, and the Bowen's recognised his enthusiasm.
A deal was struck, as Mr. Bowen really wanted our family to have the benefit of the car, especially as my father had given so much of his time to their garden without asking for any payment. To us kids it was a great surprise when the car was driven home, we had no idea it was coming at all!
On the first Saturday, we all cleaned and polished the MG until it gleamed, it really did look very special and posh sitting on the front lawn. Dad had removed the gate posts to get it into the garden, as he was worried about it being left outside on the narrow road. All along the street neighbours peered from windows or suddenly decided it was a good time to walk to the corner shop. A couple of the bolder chaps actually came to admire the car and give their views on MG's versus other makes, even though neither of them were actually able to drive. Dad had driven during the war, but usually tank transporters and large trucks in the desert although he had also had experience driving the General in his staff car from time to time.
With petrol rationing still being in place, he had to drive the car carefully and without making any unneeded journeys, but as a special treat on our first Sunday of ownership, he and mum arranged a surprise picnic for us at Bodiam castle, just over the border in Sussex.
The car ran beautifully. Dad had only cleaned a few bits and bobs under the bonnet, and checked the tyres and brakes, but that was all that was needed, it was almost like driving a new car. It was very new to us anyway!
A year or so went by and we remained the only family with a car. Sometimes dad would take Mr. and Mrs. Bowen out too, if they needed to get anywhere special or to bring large shopping items back to the house.
It was on one of these journeys that the mystery started. Mrs. Bowen could only travel in the front of the car, as she quickly became travel sick if seated in the back. Early one morning, dad had picked them up to take them a few miles to visit an elderly relative. As they made their way along the A259 coast road towards the seaside town of Folkestone, Mr Bowen suddenly asked my father to stop and turn off the engine. The old chap sat in the back of the MG listening very intently, and with tears streaming from his eyes. He kept repeating softly 'At ten o'clock, at ten o'clock' and rocking gently back and forth. My father climbed out from the driving seat and opened the door, asking Mr. Bowen what was the trouble. It seemed that as they drove along the road a great feeling of fear had come over the old man, he had suddenly felt very cold and felt something lightly pressing on his shoulder, as a weak but recognisable voice intoned 'At ten o'clock' over and again in his ear. He described the sound as being very electrical and faint, like a badly tuned radio broadcast. My father wondered if he had maybe fallen asleep for a short while, and started to dream, but the old gentleman insisted that he had not. They carried on with the journey, nothing more happening, and the incident was quickly forgotten and not talked about again.
Several weeks later we went out as a family, a day out to the beach at Dymchurch, a small coastal village on the same coast road and to the west of Dover. As a family treat it was a great success, we even had a cream tea and ice cream, a real luxury in the hard days following the war. The effects of the conflict were still apparent in the area, including the old concrete listening posts on the hillside overlooking the French coast. France was just twenty miles away across the channel. The barbed wire fences were also still in position in places along the beach, there were much more important things to do than remove the wire, British people were struggling to survive still, and essential work was being performed in other areas of life.
We rambled about Dymchurch in the afternoon, relishing the sunshine and freedom of movement which had been denied for six years, and by the time we returned to the green MG, all of us kids and mum were completely tired out. We travelled back through the country lanes, only rejoining the coastal road as the sun made its way below the horizon across the sea, a blaze of gold against the darkening skies. I became sleepily aware of a cold pressure against my leg and without waking completely told Toby to stop playing around. My young brother was always a fidget, and I was very sleepy. As I started to doze again a tiny voice seemed to whisper into my ear. 'It is coming from ten o'clock' it said, just that, no more. But, it terrified me. I suddenly awoke completely and it was as though a bright orange light was bearing down on me very fast as I opened my eyes. I froze completely and could not move, a feeling of great danger and fear taking me over completely, and I screamed out loud. Dad swerved to the side of the road and quickly comforted both me and Toby, who, frightened by my sudden scream, had burst into tears. Mum and dad thought that I had fallen asleep and woken in the middle of a nightmare, and joked with me about having had a tiring day at the seaside. We had stopped close to a small roadside cafe, so more ice cream and fizzy drinks calmed us down before we went on our way home.
We never had any trouble from the MG, which we had all christened as a family, 'Maggy'. Dad was very keen on checking everything on the car every Sunday, topping up the water and dipping the oil, a job which I often did myself as it felt very like being a real mechanic.
Mum never learned to drive properly, but she did often have a go in the car. She was OK driving in a field or open space, but was very scared of driving with other traffic. Looking back, there was actually very little traffic in those days compared to the snarled up roads today.
One of the real pleasures of the car was receiving the friendly wave from other MG owners as we met them on the road. It was like an impromtu club, and we really felt that we belonged to something special.
One summer afternoon, we had stopped at a country pub, and were sitting outside enjoying lemonade when another MG drove in. This one looked very sporty as it was bright red and cream, and was open topped with just two seats and a wicker picnic basket fixed to the back. The driver parked alongside ours, and within seconds was chatting to dad about the cars. He actually recognised our car!
It turned out that he had known young Mr. Bowen quite well when they were students together, and had fond memories of the car too, as they had often taken girls out together in it to summer parties before the war. In fact it had been the reason that he had also bought an MG, although his one was a sporty PB Midget. It looked far more exciting to me, as it sat there without a roof and two tiny windscreens, just like a real racing car. During the afternoon, he took my father for a short ride, and they quickly became friends, as folks do with a common interest. His name was Rupert, and before many months had passed we were calling him uncle Bear, after the Rupert bear stories in dad’s newspaper. He told us many tales of his time at Oxford with David, our cars previous owner, and how they had toured down to the west country together in the spring of nineteen thirty nine when the seeds of war were growing in Europe. David had been passionate about doing something to help if push came to shove and war really started, and hoped to be joining the air force if possible, Rupert told us.
We would sometimes all go out together, two lovely MG's and their passengers, heading off for a picnic perhaps, or a day at the local races at Folkestone and stopping on the way back for tea in one of the villages.
Dad was now working near Rye, a lovely ancient town which had originally been a famous coastal port until the sea had receded. Rye was now a couple of miles away from the coast but was served by a tidal river and still had a full fishing fleet sailing from the quay. The drive to Rye is a lovely run along the coast from Hythe, following the edge of the Romney marsh and cutting over the tracks of the famous Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway, the world’s smallest public train service, which serves the market towns and villages along the way. He would sometimes stop to photograph the lovely engines, each one a small exact model of its full size counterpart. The trains had run throughout the war, carrying supplies and also being armed with antiaircraft, and antitank guns to fight off the threatened invasion if it ever came.
On one of these trips to Rye, driving along the coast road close to Lydd early on a fine summer morning, dad had felt the presence of somebody or something close to him in the car. Of course, and as you know, in England cars are driven on the left of the road, and the driver sits on the right side of the car away from the hedge or pavement. He had this strange feeling of being accompanied for a good part of the journey, but put it down to the noise of the tyres on the road, reflected back through the open window.
Then, passing round a sharp curve, he was suddenly blinded by the full low morning sunshine projected directly into his eyes. At the very same moment he heard the words said loudly in his ear 'it is coming from the sun, directly at ten o'clock'. Dad felt the steering wheel being physically turned sharply to the right and the car immediately speed up, and then hitting the curb on the right side of the road before coming to a fast skidding stop in the open entrance to a farm drive. Feeling the shock, he looked behind and across the road to see a large and solid petrol tanker truck with steamy water pouring from its radiator, and at the exact spot where he had heard the warning voice. Shaken, he got out of the MG and ran across to the truck. The truck driver was already out of his cab, and sitting on the step with his head in his hands. 'Are you alright' asked father, 'what happened?' The driver looked up and kept repeating 'I am so sorry, I am so sorry' in a shocked voice. ' I am so sorry, I could have killed you, my brakes failed as I approached the bend and the lorry would not turn in fast enough to go round the curve, I thought I was going to kill you. How did you see me in time to swerve?' Dad put his hand on the drivers shoulder to comfort him, 'I did not see you at all' he said 'The sun was blazing directly into my eyes as I went round the curve, but I was warned, and somebody, or maybe something, seemed to take control of the car from me' 'It told me quite plainly 'it is coming from ten o'clock', then it steered me out of danger'. 'Is your car damaged' asked the driver, 'and I hope you are not hurt either, this could have been so much worse'.
It seemed that no damage had been done to the car at all, but the lorry had knocked down several fence posts which had damaged the radiator and lights and it had also burst a tyre. They were both glad that nothing worse had happened. Dad took the driver into Rye where he could find a telephone, report the damage and arrange to get the lorry removed. He still felt shaken and after calling into work was promptly sent back home to recover.
A few days later Rupert came to see us all, bringing a new girlfriend, a young lady who had been an aircraft tracker at Manston during the war. Dad of course told the story of the near crash, and Grace listened very intently to the story. As dad finished the tale, she looked away with tears in her eyes. 'I must tell you' she said, 'at ten o'clock, is a term used by flyers to show the position of aircraft in the sky, seen from the point of view of the pilot and using a clock face as reference' 'It seems to me that a pilot was warning you of the impending crash, indicating that the impact would be coming from in front of you and to the mid left hand side. Whatever, someone took avoiding action and saved your life that day'. Rupert had listened closely to all this, and his face had gone pale. Quietly, he said 'David'. 'David was looking over you and the MG too, he really loved that car, and must be so pleased that you are taking care of it for him. David's spirit was taking care of you!'
There seemed to be no other plausible explanation, and our family has thanked the spirit of David the airman ever since that day. We all now believe in ghostly intervention.
We kept the car in the family for many years, it was revered by all of us, and it gave us much pleasure to be keeping it as David would have wanted. It passed through the family, from person to person, kept spick and span, and was finally retired by us to Rupert as a gift, as we felt that he was the closest person to David. The car still exists, and I have since seen it looking smart and well cared for at vintage car shows across England. Many years later, it still retains the MG number plate that it was originally registered with, and the headlights twinkle and the grill still grins like a happy face, but which also has deeply secret knowledge.