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James Bell and a story of salvage

During the War and for many years afterwards, householders in Exeter were encouraged, to place all bottles, metal, paper, and swill separately next to the dust bin for the council to collect once a week. From time to time there were bottle, metal, and paper drives. All this was done, not to save the environment, but to stop waste. Don't you know there is a War On! was a slogan you heard, all through the War. It was used as an excused for any thing that was difficult, or not immediately available. All Salvage was sold by the council.

There were mile long book drives, the first book was laid on the footpath at the fountain in Sidwell Street by the Mayor, and the second one next to it, until you came to the Guildhall which is about a mile, and then back again. All the books were collected and went for salvage, some excellent editions were unnecessary destroyed. My Father was not alone in filling a canvas bag with books, and exchanging them with books on the ground. There was also a mile of pennies towards Wings for Victory Week. It raised quite a lot of money. Boy Scouts were organised to pick the Penny's up.

The council provided a galvanised bucket for swill with a slide away lid for each household. The council collected the swill, processed it, and sold it to pig farmers at a premium. One farmer decided to collect the swill before the council did, and so avoided the premium. He was charged, and convicted for stealing from the council, and given a heavy fine. Years later the council stopped collecting swill, they did not collect the swill buckets, it must have been an expensive exercise.

Like many boys I collected waste paper and sold it to Pearce's in Coombe Street. I would get about a shilling on Saturday morning. I collected a lot of the paper by removing it from back lanes after it was put out for the council. I had a box on pram wheels. When I found clean newspapers I put them in a bundle and exchanged them for a bag of fish and chips at the local fish & chip shop.

Finders Keepers?

In the late 1940s there was a cafe in lower South Street, called "The Black Cat" which burnt down. The owners lived a few doors from me in Blackall Road, and after the fire they sold the house, leaving behind a sack of waste paper, which the new owners put out for the council. I took it home and sorted the contents. It was full of small; white paper bags, containing counter foils of the bills tendered in the Black Cat Cafe. Written on the outside of the bags was the date and the amount taken which corresponded with the counter foils.

One bag had £11 10s 6d written on it and inside, with the counterfoils, was the money. I told father, who said you must hand it to the police or you could be charged with stealing by finding. Then one of my siblings said James could be charged with stealing from the council. I said, that if I had not found it, it would have been pulped – in any case the insurance may have already paid out on the loss, or an employee made to make up the short fall, and then out of peek set fire to the cafe!

Did the money belong to.
1. The owners of The Cafe,
2. An employee,
3. An insurance company
4. The new owners of the house
5. The council.
6. The person who found it – "Me"

Father said, "it is quite clear the money belongs to the council you must hand it over."

"But Dad they could charge me with stealing."

"It is not your money James, so you must hand it over. You must do right in the sight of God, always keep a clear conscience."

My Mum said "Frank, I will not have you getting James into trouble just because he found the money."
Father said "let me pray and think about it, In the meantime I will look after it.

I kept asking for the money – then after six months, Father said "I have decided what to do. I will send the money anonymously to the council. That will clear the matter up."

"But Dad what about the paper that I sold – that also belonged to the council."

"How much was that."

I said "about 4 pence."

"I will add that to the amount."

"But Dad I have been collecting the councils paper for well over a year."

"Oh James, James what am I to do with you, stealing from the council for over a year! Don't you realised that I am ultimately responsible for what you do." – if only he knew!

Mum said "Frank, you were stealing from the council when you exchanged books in the Mile of Books."

"That was different – I was saving valuable books from being pulped."

"It was no different from what I was doing, you stole – you stole from the council."

Father give me the money, and I bought a very nice wrist watch from Lisle the Jewellers in Goldsmith Street – I wore It for years and I still have it over 60 years later.

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© 2011 James Bell

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