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Exeter folk and friends in their own words - << Previous story │ Next story >>  │

John Moore, a dip in the canal


These are not my memories but those of my Father, as related to me in his later years. Dad was born in 1894 and after leaving school became an apprenticed compositor. At the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Army and was sent off to fight in Flanders - a young man of 20, leaving behind a wife and small baby. He suffered very badly from shell shock and was eventually invalided out of the army. The shell shock meant that he was unable to resume his work as a compositor because he was unable to work indoors for long periods and so he had a succession of jobs that enabled him to spend more of his time out of doors.

In the 1920's he worked for a time as a driver for a local fruit and vegetable merchant. He drove one of the earliest commercial motorised vehicles in the city. So little was known about these new-fangled engines that he had to go to Plymouth for a course to learn what he could about them.

One never to be forgotten incident occurred when he was returning the vehicle to one of the old warehouses on the Quay, where it was garaged. Father had a young assistant with him, and while Father was opening the garage doors the young lad, fascinated by these new machines, could not resist sitting behind the wheel and pretending to be the driver.

Unfortunately he somehow managed to release the brake and the vehicle - with the lad inside - rolled forward and ended in the river. Fortunately the lad was rescued without having suffered serious injury, but recovering the vehicle from the river was an arduous task - as the photograph shows.

The vehicle was far removed from those of today. Father told me that it had solid - not pneumatic - tyres. There were no electric lights - when darkness fell, Father had to get out and manually trim the lamps that were mounted on the front mudguards. Some hills were so steep that the vehicle had to be reversed up them, because the fuel would not reach wherever it needed to reach (!) to enable it to tackle them in a forward gear.

Father often had to make very long journeys in an era that had not heard of tachographs or compulsory rest hours for drivers. When setting out on a long journey. the only instruction from his employer was to get back as soon as possible! If he was away overnight, he slept in the hedge in summer or in the cab in winter.

Life Saving CertificateClick to enlarge

The lorry in the river was not the only time that water featured large in Father's life. I have a scroll that was awarded to him by the Royal Humane Society "for having on the 14th August 1944 gone to the rescue of a girl who was in imminent danger of drowning in the Exeter Canal at Exeter, Devonshire, and whose life he gallantly saved" Apparently while the rescue was taking place, I was abandoned on the towpath in my push-chair!

John Moore was born in Exeter in 1941.

The van being hauled out of the river. The van being hauled out of the river on 13th July 1923, from the Express and Echo. A diver searches for the van A diver is sent down to find the sunken van. Photo John Moore.

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