The Early Years

Joe was a Shropshire lad, having been born and brought-up in Leebotwood, a small village 4 miles north of Church Stretton, which straddles Watling Street, now the A49. The small village was once known for its brick and tile makers, and a woollen dye mill. The village also had a railway station on the nearby Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway, in Station Road.

Joe's father (far left) and young Joe with the horse. Courtesy of Joe Davies.

Joe, who was born in 1922, grew-up on his parents’ small holding, and after leaving school at the age of 14, began his career working for a local haulage firm in the village.

He wanted to travel, and this gave him the opportunity to do so. He had been driving a van round the hen houses on his parent’s farm since the age of 10 or 11. At that time there were more horses and carts than lorries, so for the first two years he drove the horses and carts.

Joe, an aunt, his parents, and their delivery van, on the farm at Leebotwood.  Courtesy of Joe Davies.

The firm had a contract with the local council in Church Stretton, and so for a time Joe was involved in road maintenance. The road from Church Stretton to Little Stretton went past the long-gone gas works on the outskirts of Church Stretton, where there was a nasty bend. The contract involved widening the road from World’s End to Little Stretton, and improving the bend in the process. There were horses and carts, a horse-drawn tar boiler, and a steam road roller, for which they had to bring water in water carts.

At the age of 16 Joe began to fulfil his first ambition, to work on the lorries, and travel. In 1938 he became a second man on a lorry, called a lorry boy, and began travelling both near and far. The firm had contracts in Liverpool, Manchester, Ellesmere Port, Avonmouth, and Cardiff. In those days there was a 20mph. speed limit and so it took four hours to get from the Birkenhead tunnel, to the mill at Craven Arms.

Joe started his driving career in 1939 on his 17th birthday, which coincided with the beginning of World War 2. On the 1st of September, the Ministry commandeered the firm’s best two lorries, and so Joe’s boss had to scout around for replacements.

In August 1940 the Luftwaffe began bombing Liverpool. During the first three months up to 300 aircraft at a time bombed the city in raids lasting up to ten hours. There were large numbers of fatalities and much destruction. While this was happening, Joe travelled frequently to Liverpool. He would leave the garage at 6 o’clock in the morning, in order to be there for 9 o’clock. The journeys were terrible, he wouldn’t know what to expect on arrival. Often areas would still be on fire after the previous night’s bombing. The air raids on Liverpool continued until January 1942 by which time over 6,500 homes in Liverpool had been completely destroyed, and 190,000 damaged.

In 1942 Joe joined the Royal Army Service Corps (R.A.S.C.) along with many of his fellow lorry drivers. He saw service in France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. On his return from Germany he was asked if he wanted to volunteer for the airborne forces, and joined the 779 Company, where he was involved with gliders. He took part in the D-Day landings in 1944, and the subsequent liberation of France. For his part in the war effort he has received the French Legion d'Honneur medal.

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