The recent spectacular moon rise brought to mind the old Wiltshire legend about the Moonrakers.
In the sixteenth century, Wiltshire was the headquarters for Dutch and Flemish wool merchants. The traders missed their favourite tipple Holland Gin and a healthy trade in smuggling developed.
Barrels of spirit were landed in quiet coves on the Hampshire coast and at night they were transported inland. During the day the barrels were concealed in church crypts and village ponds where they were hidden in green weeds.
The legend tells that one cold night two Wiltshire smugglers nearly got caught by the excise men.
The two men were busily raking their barrels out of the village pond and didn’t hear horses approaching. When the excise men suddenly came upon them and asked what they were doing, the men cashed in on the reputation of Wiltshire men for being foolish “yokels”.
It was a brightly moon lit night and the two men said they were trying to rake in the cheese to feed their families.
The excise men went on their way laughing at these ignorant country folk, but who had the last laugh?
Devizes is one of the towns where the legend is centered.
My parents eventually returned to England, a decision that was placed firmly on my head, simply because I had made the mistake of telling them that I would help them, if it was what they wished to do.
Before long, I found myself in England searching for a house that would be suitable and within the limited budget to which my dad was willing to commit. Perhaps he expected me to fail. I wasn’t at all convinced it was what my parents wanted, but they never could communicate.
Having located a house and managed to get a commitment from Mum and Dad, I next had to find a local solicitor to set things in motion. My parents were then in Florida and I in New York, so all of this was slightly complicated, particularly when my father began to drag his feet.
In frustration I eventually had to tell Dad that if he let the deal fall through,I would not be going back to England to look for another house. It took every ounce of courage for me to stand up to him, but I was all out of patience and every other compassionate emotion by then!
My mother came from a tiny village called Urchfont which is near Devizes. The house where she lived until the end of her life was a short walk from St James church, in this picture.
When Mum died I found myself once more making decisions that I didn’t think were mine to take. My father was a died-in-the-wool atheist, but there had to be a funeral and he seemed to think this meant some kind of Christian service. The pastor from St James came around to the house to talk to us. My brother was there by then too, but he is also an atheist.
The Smith men both being embarrassingly silent, I felt obliged to speak. Not a Christian myself, I was at least educated by nuns! I fell back on my favourite prayer of St Francis for the service and mentioned a few words I thought my mother would have liked to hear. It was extremely uncomfortable, but the pastor was a nice man and seemed to understand.
Then we were asked where we would like my mother’s ashes buried. Dad still not speaking, I suggested that old church yard, by the pretty little lake of “moonraker” fame. At least the grave would be nearby, should anyone wish to visit.
My father made no protest or comment about my decisions but a few weeks later he wrote to my aunt Kay, saying he didn’t think my mother would have wanted her remains to buried there. When Kay told me this I was upset and furious, but that was my dad.
As it turned out, Dad moved from Devizes soon after my mother’s death and I don’t think anyone has ever been to visit the grave, nor ever will. Sort of sad, I suppose, but I have always carried my mother in my heart.