Down Rye Way – Percy Sherwood

Regimental Town Crier

About two years ago Down Rye Way featured Percy’s father Mr. Frank (Jerry) Sherwood. So there is no need to establish Percy’s credentials as a Ryer of many generations’ standing. Percy is not quite sure whether he was born in Lion Street or Wish Street; either way, he went first to the Infants School in Lion Street and on to the Boys’ School in Mermaid Street. He was one of the first pupils to join the new Rye Modern School in New Road (now Freda Gardham School) and left as soon as he was allowed to, to find employment.

Percy Sherwood 2

Although only fifteen he took a job on the Rye dustcart of which Archie Frampton was captain. The crew was only two in those lays, Archie and young Percy and six months of this gruelling work was really a bit too much for him. His next job was with Simpsons of Rye Harbour, the spun concrete firm, as a stoker on their Sentinel steam lorries (see our March issue 1973 vol. 8 No. 3 p.9). The work was demanding and responsible, but fun for a youngster. The day would start around 4.30 a.m. to be down at Rye Harbour at 5.00 to light the fire for the boiler. Then around six o’clock the lorry would swing out amid clouds of steam and cinders and commence its journey to London delivering concrete. There was no time to loaf around and look about on these journeys. The driver would be continuously watching his pressure gauge and calling out orders to Percy to stoke up the fire in preparation for the next gradient. They were astonishingly efficient vehicles, however, and Percy well remembers the lorries cruising cheerfully up Rye Hill with 20 tons on board and as much again in a trailer behind.

Following in father’s footsteps young “Perce” enlisted in the T.A. (5th Royal Sussex) as soon as, or indeed rather sooner than his age permitted. He remembers that C.S.M. Deeprose, who swore him in and gave him his shilling, said to him when it was all over “well now boy, you can tell me how old you really are”. Rye Company Royal Sussex Regiment was the Support Company and Sherwood was immediately introduced to machine guns which were to be his constant companions for the next 30 or so years in the Army. In 1937 his father moved to Enfield as a Butcher and Percy went too, working in the Enfield small-arms factory on Bren guns by day and at evenings and weekends training on the Vickers gun with the Middlesex Regiment T.A.  A month before war was declared in 1939 Percy was called up as a full Corporal in the Middlesex Regiment and was Percy Sherwoodabout to entrain for France in 1940 when he went down with German Measles and was lucky enough for this reason to miss Dunkirk. Instead he was posted to the 2nd/7th Middlesex Battalion at Woolwich and in 1942 his battalion went out to North Africa where they joined the 51st Highland Division near Tunis. From then on Percy fought with his battalion all the way up Italy with his machine guns and later with 4.2w mortars and Oerlikon guns. And he managed to see Rome and Naples on short leaves.  He survived a number of good battles, with only minor wounds, and at the end of the war his battalion was posted to Egypt to deal with the troubles caused by the Stern Gang (the Israeli fanatics who were attempting to bring about the conversion of Palestine into a Jewish State). He was to return to Egypt — to which he had taken a great liking — on a later occasion with his second wife Jean.

Demobilised in 1945 Sherwood worked for nine months as a porter at Folkestone Docks but not liking civilian life he rejoined his original Regiment the Royal Sussex and was posted to Shorncliff Barracks as a Sergeant Instructor. In this capacity he was seconded to the East Kent Regiment (The Buffs). It was as Sergeant of the Guard at Shorncliff that he made the acquaintance in somewhat unpropitious circumstances of his second wife and they were soon married. Jean Sherwood, from Yorkshire, interrupted her training as a Nurse to join the A.T.S. and it was owing to a slight disagreement with the authorities about the time of her return from leave that she found herself in Percy’s care. He soon put matters on a permanent basis and they were married in 1949 and in 1950 returned to Egypt with the 1st Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment. Here their eldest daughter Marina was born. In 1954 Percy accepted a transfer into the Pay Corps, perhaps with eyes on Civvy Street prospects. He was posted to Edinburgh Pay Office but did not much enjoy life as a “desk­ wallah” and in 1955 he transferred to the Cameron Highlanders as a Machine Gun Instructor. The next four years, as a Sergeant, took him from Inverness to Aden and back to Dover and in 1959 he received the happy and unusual appointment as Company Sergeant Major Instructor to the T.A. range at Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. He spent nearly six years in this idyllic job, very much his own master, and gradually becoming, with his wife, accepted as out and out Highlanders. His children went to school in the Hebrides and when he came out of the Army once more in 1965 he took a job in North Uist as Under Manager of the Loch Maddy Hotel. Here is a picture of Percy Sherwood 3Company Sergeant Major Sherwood, Cameron Highlanders, almost lost in the “Celtic fringe” and as far away from Rye as it is possible to get without actually leaving the British Isles.

But Sherwood had had long enough in the country of the little people” and in 1967 he returned nearer home and took a job on the Stonor Estate at Henley as chauffeur/handyman to Lord Camoys. Meantime his wife was nursing at Townlands”Hospital, Henley-on-Thames, and Percy remembers this as a very happy period, to be interrupted only when he heard from his mother in Rye that the post of Town Sergeant would soon be coming vacant on the retirement of Mr. Fred Parris.  Percy thought he had all the qualifications for the job. A Ryer, he had always hoped and intended to return to Rye to end his days. A Warrant Officer with a good record, and, inevitably, a voice suitable to fit the role of Town Crier. Rye Council thought so too and in 1970 the Sherwoods moved into Town Hall Cottage and Percy took on his present duties as Sergeant-at-Mace, Mayor’s Sergeant, Town Hall Keeper, Town Crier, Showman, Public Relations Officer, and a living active part of Rye’s ancient and continuing history.

The Sherwood’s have settled back into Rye as if they had never left thirty years ago. Mrs. Sherwood is a Nursing Auxiliary at Rye Hospital, youngest son Philip sings in St. Mary’s Choir, elder son Peter hopes shortly to join Sussex Constabulary. Last year “Perce” showed 3,000 children over the Town Hall and its treasures, not to mention the hundreds of adults. His duties defy regular hours but he finds time for his favourite hobbies of fishing and shooting (he hopes to revive a Rifle Club in Rye), for St. John’s Ambulance, for swimming and camping. He is also a Special Constable. When we interviewed him he was husbanding his voice for the forthcoming News of the World National Town Criers’ Championship at Hastings the following day which we notice in our Around the Town section. This will be the third contest that Percy has taken part in and the competition is truly formidable. Twenty-three Town Criers will be taking part from all over the country and are judged not merely by who makes the loudest noise, but on appearance, and clarity of diction. Long may Percy and Jean Sherwood continue to uphold the traditions of Rye at home and away.

Rye’s Own September 1973

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