None of us lads had ever been to a circus. We knew about the high-wire acts, the clowns and the performing wild animals, so when Bertram Mill’s Circus made camp at Nacton Airport, we boys were very inquisitive. To gain interest and to sell more tickets, the circus acts would parade through the town it was visiting to the Big Top. Thus, one Saturday morning, a long procession of acts and animals trooped from Nacton Airport to Alderman Road via Landseer Road. Well, that was the intention. The elephants, a dozen or so of Indian origin, were ambling along, each holding the tail of the one in front. I don’t know what spooked the lead ‘heffalump’ but, as the line reached the junction with Lindbergh Road, this animal draped in a red cloak, suddenly veered to the right and began increasing the pace of its stumbling followed closely by the other grey ‘lumps’. Soon the elephants were abreast and moving with some speed, trumpeting wildly. A couple veered further right into Campbell Road and another went up Hilton Crescent, and the rest carried on towards the railway line at the end of our road.
My Dad was sitting at the dining room table, which had been carefully covered by Friday’s Daily Herald, awaiting his lunch. He was sharpening his penknife. My father always used his penknife to extract every piece of meat from his pig’s trotter. Loved pigs’ trotters, did my Dad and pork jelly too! Ugh! He happened to glance up and saw to his surprise a huge elephant seemingly squinting at him through the front window. He called out to Mum. “Bella, there is an elephant looking at me through the window.” “Yes, dear,” said Mum, “is it a pink one?” When Mum came in with the pigs’ trotters, boiled potatoes, home-grown peas, carrots and swedes, she too saw this elephant. “What on earth is it doing in our front garden?” she exclaimed. “Shoo it away.”
By the time my father had donned his waistcoat, complete with watch and chain (a thank-you from the nation for being in the First World War), placing his trilby hat jauntily on his head, a man from the circus, also in a waistcoat but a red one and wearing a black top hat, was in our garden trying to encourage this large elephant back onto the road. “For God’s sake, Muriel, move”, was the command. Eventually, Muriel did move herself and the herd, if that is the correct expression for a line of circus elephants, gradually reformed. The Circus owner subsequently showered us with free tickets for the show in an effort to placate us, which my Dad later sold on to his workmates. My Dad also complained to the Council that a herd of elephants had ruined his well-kept front garden, although I was convinced that it was nothing more than a part of the former heathland on which the estate had been built. However, as compensation, four council workmen turned up and kindly dug over our front garden, asking my Father what he would like to be planted in it. This he gratefully accepted, and the space was filled with potatoes. My Dad was really chuffed about this, and then he got me to push our wheelbarrow the length of the road collecting up the droppings left behind by the animals, so there was enough for our rhubarb patch as well.
PC Jack Roper missed all of this excitement with the elephants as he and his family were on holiday at Clacton on Sea. However, when he did return two days later he saw, as he cycled down our road, Council workmen digging up our front garden. He also saw me. He stopped, and before I could dodge around to our back garden, he grabbed me. A nice kind copper was our local bobby. “What’s going on here, lad?” he bellowed. Luckily, Brains was standing beside me and, as usual, he addressed Mr Roper. “PC Roper, Sir,” said Brains, “whilst you and your family were enjoying the romantic delights of Clacton on Sea, which, I believe, is in Essex Sir we, in this thoroughfare, were nearly trampled to death by a herd of marauding elephants which ruined Mr Snook’s front garden. And that is why the Council workmen are here, Sir, putting it back into its glorious past state.” Why PC Roper did not believe our learned one’s explanation, I will never know. “Liars”, yelled PC Roper as Brains and I bolted around the corner of our pebble-dashed residence.
PC Roper cycled off, still muttering that the local kids in his area were liars, thieves and hooligans. Of course, this circus event was reported in the local newspaper. A bus driver from the bus depot in Cobham Road gave his account of driving his No 4 trolleybus from the depot to Lindbergh Road where he was confronted by a charging herd of elephants, the lead one being a huge male who was trumpeting like mad with its enormous tusks pointing towards his bus. Its small eyes were glowing red, and it was wearing a large red jacket. The reporter also interviewed my father and, although my Dad had only noticed a single elephant staring at him from our front garden, he also confirmed that the charging herd was like a scene from Tarzan the Ape Man. (Actually, I think that in the original film Johnny Weissmuller, a former Olympic swimming champion, and Maureen O’Hara as Jane were riding Indian elephants which had large cardboard ears stuck on them to replicate the African variety). Of course, my father said that, unlike the bus driver, he was unafraid as he had been in the First World War and elephants were nothing compared to “the Hun”. My father also added that many of our neighbours had been scared by this incident, and where were the police when they needed them? That went down well with the Lindbergh Road residents, but not so well with the local police. There was no commendation for poor old Jack.
Harry thought that we ought to teach PC Roper a lesson so several large lumps of elephant poo were rescued from my father’s rhubarb patch and one evening were delicately deposited into PC Roper’s saddle bag, the space in which he kept his spanners and puncture outfit. PC Roper did not get a puncture until a month or so later. We all wondered what he thought when he opened his saddlebag. Fancy him not believing our story!