We lived in the Walton house that was closest to the River Thames and Sunbury Island. The house was small and ancient; I was ten years old, my brother thirteen. It was the summer of 1940 and our home was a palace in a child’s Paradise.
The brother and I were making progress along the towpath to the island. We had a long stick, thick cotton, a bent pin. Dad was away in the Royal Navy and we were going to catch fish for lunch. We had two sisters and mum was always worrying about her bare kitchen shelves. We would solve that little problem, we were so confident we took a sack along.
The river was wide as the Amazon and the fish were left alone during 1940. The schools of perch and roach were all ours for the taking. The river didn’t smell back then, either. The sun was well up and we could see golden gravel in the shallows and in places, channels ran through weeds of shining green.
Just before the Weir Hotel, (closed}, a mob of German geese made it clear that they owned the towpath, so we abandoned the Island Plan and fished off a handy timber barge wharf. To explain that we weren’t cowards, just sensible, these were giant poultry with beaks like steam shovels and giant orange feet for stamping and wings like thrashing machines.
The wharf was made from huge black beams and was in a state of collapse. My brother climbed out. I put a worm on the pin and passed the rod over. He lowered the bait down next to a jumble of timber. I can’t say for sure how long he dangled the bait, long enough for me to beg “my go.”
He was saying “wait” which turned into a wild cry. The stick bent over and, say about one second, the cotton broke. He shouted words I had never heard before. That was our only pin.
Meanwhile the geese had moved closer and when we tried to leave we found ourselves surrounded. I may have cried. In a brief moment in time kid paradise had changed to kid hell.
My brother snapped the fishing rod in two and gave me the short thick bit. Use it like a sword.”
The flock was well organized. They closed in, hissing like snakes, their intent was clear, drive us into the river then swim around us and peck us to pieces.
We were saved by the RAF. A flight of Spitfires came roaring up the Thames (they might have been Hurricanes), low and fast. The geese scattered.
We dashed into the old elm trees that bordered the landward side of the towpath, came out on the other side, spotted a few Gypsy caravans parked on the edge of a gravel pit and turned back into the elms.
Now we had gypsies to worry about as well as geese.
We crept round a large tree trunk and a great white hissing devil seized my brother by the trousers in a horrible flat pincer beak.
I aimed a whack at its tail with my stick, stumbled and gave it a man sized clout on its neck. It let go of the trouser grip and beat its wings against the ground.
“Good shot Ray.”
He bird couldn’t raise its head and my brother beat it about the ears with his whippy stick.
“Try my stick Max.”
We gave it a thrashing, a real killer beating.
The dragon refused to die so we forced it into the sack half conscious. It kicked around in the sack all the way home.
The rest of the flock retreated to the river and floated around looking for a swan to pick on.
We made our way homewards, through the trees like triumphant Indians.
Over seventy years later I can still remember the smell of leaf mold under the elms and the excitement of goose battle. But I have no memory of ever eating the goose, even though my mother talked about how she plucked it, cooked it and the amount that I ate, many many times.
The painting “Suspicion” by Herbert William Weekes (digital image is courtesy of Wikipedia) suggests that agression in geese was evident long before the rise of the Nazi party!