As the third generation of well-known Island farming family, Newport-born David Biles is a storehouse of colourful memories – from bidding on cattle at the age of seven, to his days as the Island’s knackerman, his car rallying exploits and the terrifying days of WWII. He shared some of them here.
David was born in 1935 in Newport, six years after his only other sibling, sister Joyce Pattie.
Their father Harold was a local farmer and knackerman, his mother Annie a hard-working farmer’s wife who pulled her weight in the business, and was known on occasion to have cut up half a ton of pet food before breakfast. At that time the family lived at Devonia (now called The Birches) on Forest Road, next to what is now Snows BMW Garage.
One vivid memory of these early days is leaving his tricycle in the middle of the road, where the local baker ran over it. David remarked “I don’t leave things in anybody’s way anymore. I learnt my lesson the hard way at the age of four!”
David was always encouraged by his parents to get involved with the community and mix with people – in fact, at the tender age of just four, he was dispatched to be an ice cream boy, (stop me and buy one), in Newport Carnival.
During the war, the current Snows( BMW) was a factory where Mosquito’s (wooden aeroplanes) were built, so the Biles’ house was commandeered as an office for the Chief Engineers. This meant they moved into their old family home with his grandparents at Trafalgar Cottage, Union Street, where David was brought up, in those days the telephone no. was Newport 79, a bit different from today.
He recalled how, in those days, parents were very different. In terms of explaining things to their children: “I remember on one occasion I asked my father a question, and he turned round and apologised and said to me, ‘I’m sorry David, have I not explained that to you?”
“My father used to take me everywhere with him. I was bidding for cattle at the age of seven. He would poke me on the foot with his old stick when it was time to stop bidding. I also remember he used to send me off to farm sales to buy old harnesses that were not used anymore after the war. I used to have to clean it up and then sell it again, and that’s how I learned the skill of bidding. Although I still have a lot of what I bought then still stored away in a shed.”
David has vivid memories of the war as a child, and can remember that most of the time at home they slept in what they called “table shelters”.
“I vividly remember when Moreys were bombed, and because our house was built properly, I remember the thick plate glass from our windows flying everywhere”.
He also recalls watching the fighter planes battling it out, and loved watching the pilots come down with their parachutes open.
David’s early school days were spent at the National School, Newport, (which is now a block of flats) and at the age of eight he went on to Ryde School as a weekly boarder. He was accompanied to the school by his friend Terry Wood, whose father used to own The Bugle Hotel in Newport.
“One vivid memory of Ryde School was the night before D-Day. I remember seeing the Solent and Spithead full with boats, in fact you could almost have walked to Portsmouth, there were so many boats! You couldn’t see water. I woke the next morning to find it empty, not a boat in sight. That was a fantastic memory”.
David admits he was not a great lover of school, and at the age of 13 his parents were told by Ryde school that they didn’t think they could take him any further, so he returned to King James School, and became involved in the Combined Cadet Force, and soon became Battery Sergeant Major,
“I loved the drilling, the soldiering, and I was a first class shot. I then became Head boy of King James School and left at the age of 17.”
On leaving school, David went to work for a year in his father’s business, which had been running for three generations on the Island. His father who was a cattle dealer, farmer and knackerman, used to pick up dead cattle to feed the pigs. However, when the war started there was a large demand for the best meat from the shot cows and horses they had previously collected to be used for pet food.
“I remember we had to put a green dye on the meat so as people could not eat it, and the demand for the meat was so great we had to issue ration cards, so people could only have 2lb per household. The meat was prepared at Park Green Farm and then sold from Trafalgar Cottage. There used to be 100 people queuing up to buy it. It was funny, because when meat came off rationing the following morning the queue dwindled to two.
After working with his father for a year, David volunteered for National Service in 1953, and he recalls “These were a happy two years of my life. If you said ‘Yes Sir, No Sir’ in the right places, you could get away with anything really.”
David says in fact that had he not had the family business to return to, he would have been happy to sign up for the Army, as he enjoyed it so much.
David carried out his National Service at Aldershot and Blandford. One story he tells is of the time he hitch-hiked from the barracks at Blandford to Liverpool to attend the Grand National.
“It was 1953 – I hitch-hiked to Liverpool and slept on the station platform, then I had some breakfast in the fish market. I remember carrying the bookmakers’ boards to the racecourse for them, I also remember walking round the course. I had a bet and lost my money, so I only had a few shillings left.
“In those days you had to put a deposit on a cup, for a cup of tea, so I drank the tea and then bought a pork pie when I got the deposit back. I had no money to get back to the barracks, so I got back to Lime Street station by offering to carry the bookmakers’ boards for them. When I arrived at Lime Street I said to the Guard I want to get back to London but I have no money, so he said go and wait over there until I call you. I ended up travelling back to London with Raymond Glendenning and all the reporters from the race, drinking whisky and eating lots of ham sandwiches. I arrived at London, walked across to Waterloo, talked my way onto another train and in thosedays at Portsmouth station they always kept a train heated because of all the troops, so I slept on this train. A policeman would come and call you in the morning for the mail boat going back to the Island at four o’clock in the morning. I walked back home from Newport Station, slept for the day and then got some money and went back to Blandford that night”.
During his National Service, David’s father summoned David back home one weekend to ask him if he wanted Somerton (the farm where he still lives) to live and work from. If David hadn’t wanted it, his father had received an offer on the farm, and he was going to sell it.
“I made the best decision of my life and told my father I definitely wanted the farm once I had finished my National Service. In those days each generation of our family was handed down a property from which to earn a living. My grandad bought the knackers yard along Forest Road, my dad bought the one I live in currently, and I bought the farm in Calbourne where Sam and his family are going to live shortly, that’s how it’s built up.”
“My father was a well dressed man who liked his cars, so every year he bought a brand new car and on this occasion he bought a shiny new Vauxhall Cresta. At this time he used to have a chap move the pig manure in a Model T Ford Lorry from Park Green Farm back to Somerton and was paid 30 bob (shillings) a load, so one day, dad followed this chap and saw that he was only half filling the lorry, so he drove his car into the middle of this field, got out and gave this chap a real bollocking (David’s words!). “Anyhow, when dad had ran out of steam, he turned round to get into his car and found it was gone. He asked the chap where it had gone, and the chap turned round, and calmly said, ‘I can see something sparkling down there in the stream’.
It seems that whilst my father had been laying into the old chap, the car had rolled down the hill and into the stream. The chap of course found this most amusing. So this chap helped dad pull the brand new car from the stream. It was badly damaged and dad later received an invoice from the old chap for pulling the car out of the river using dads lorry, which I don’t think dad paid!”
“After I had completed my two years National Service I returned home to Somerton, which I later inherited, and worked for him. During this period I was admitted to hospital for appendicitis, and whilst I was in hospital my father was admitted to the ward above me after suffering a severe heart attack in Newport Market. In those days, they were not as advanced as they are today and unfortunately my father died of a heart attack at the age of 61. That was the worst day of my life, 18th July 1961.
“The most memorable time with my father was the year before he died, when he won the overall points championship at the agricultural show with horses, cattle and sheep. That was the height of his career.
“After my father’s death, all his friends rallied round and gave my mother and I lots of help and advice which helped to keep the business going. During these years my mother was a rock, and that was the time when she and I formed the company A & D Biles, which we are still called today even though my mother passed away on November 2nd 1988 at the age of 86. However out of respect, I still trade under the family name.”
David continued working in the knacker business whilst also working for the Fat Stock Marketing Corporation for 25 years, and says that at this time of his life he was extremely busy.
“During these years I built a really good friendship with my brother in-law. We used to do a lot of sport together. We used to go car rallying, and I remember in the 60’s we won the Daily Telegraph Trophy for the best Isle of Wight Car. He even told my sister once that he would rather fall out with her than he would with me! We were there for each other, I suppose”.
David courted his wife Diana for three years after a chance meeting at the Channel View Hotel in Shanklin. “Diana worked in London at the time, and could only come to the Island weekends” he says. “At the time this suited me, because as a bachelor this gave me all week to go out with my friends!”
“Diana was never allowed to miss the last train back to London on the Sunday evening… If she had not said to me when are we going to get married, I suppose she would still be going up and down to London on a train even today. Even when she sort of asked me if I would like to get married, I wriggled. I remember we went to Newmarket races and she asked me outright are we going to get married. I suppose I was about 30 then, and I said then, ‘No I’m not ready yet, there’s a lot to live, so we sort of called the job off’.
“Anyhow we did agree that if we met again we would get married. Diana was a clever woman so she sent a message via one of the local girls that she was going to be in London New Years Eve, and that she was going abroad to work, so I thought she might be going to America, because we were not corresponding at the time. So I decided that I would travel to London on New Year’s Eve, although at the time I wasn’t sure whether to go to London or see my mate in Dorset. I went round the roundabout in the New Forest about six times before I decided to go to London.
I arrived at Trafalgar Square and still did not have the pluck to pop the question. We eventually got round to it two or three days later. So I called grandpa in Nottingham and told him he had better get the champagne out, and he replied ‘We drank that a long time ago!’, as he was fed up of being messed about.
David and Diana finally married in 1965, at Edwalton in Nottinghamshire. They still have many good friends in Nottingham, and see them regularly. Within three years of marriage David and Diana had their first child, a son named Samuel (Sam).
“In those days Sam was a very modern name. At the time there were two quite well known Island characters with that name – one was Samuel Watson the auctioneer, and the other Samuel Mole the famous butcher from St Helens who drove carriages, both of whom thought I had named my son after them, but I named him Sam so I could shout it quickly – something short. But because Sammy Mole thought I had named Sam after him, he left him a very valuable carriage.
After being brought up on his family’s farm, Sam went on to study Land Management, and subsequently became a partner in the well known Island Estate Agents Creasey Biles & King.
He’s now now married and lives on the Island with his wife and three children. A few years after Sam’s birth David and Diana had Sophie, who is now 36, married and lives on the mainland. Sophie is heavily involved in carriage driving, in fact she is a BDA Judge and has just written a book on the subject of carriage driving.
They have just had the good news that she is expecting her first child. “I have had a wonderful life,” says David. “There have been some ups and downs along the way, we are a family that’s been brought up by kindness and we have built our business by that – more so than perhaps by being realistic. To us, a deal still is done on a handshake. Sadly those days are disappearing. I like people and I still live life to the full, and I am determined to enjoy every minute of every day”