Dr Barrie Juniper is one of life’s delights – an eccentric retired emeritus Oxford professor who just happens to be the world’s leading apple expert.
At 83, he’s about to start researching and writing the evolution of the black mulberry – a companion volume to his acclaimed tome The Story of the Apple.
“I just hope I’m around long enough to see it to fruition,” he chuckles.
But first he’s keen to highlight his family’s contribution to World War One efforts, as it’s almost 100 years to the day since his father set up a munitions factory off Broadway to manufacture shells for the front line.
He says: “Three generations of Junipers have lived and worked in Bedford. My grandfather Ted was a jobbing carter and coachman and my grandmother was a sempstress.
“My father, Edward ‘Archie’ Juniper, did well at Sir William Harpur School – we still have some of his prizes.”
When war broke out, Archie was already apprenticed to his first love, the then rapidly expanding motor engineering trade.
But the young patriot was turned down when he tried to enlist because of his ulcerated legs. However he was quickly snapped up by the government to run one of several little factories established near railway lines to make four different types of shells.
Barrie continues: “Archie was given immediate authority to requisition whatever machine tools were required and set to work to train the staff – former laundry maids, secretaries and shop girls – to provide munitions for the big guns made by Armstrong-Whitworth and Vickers.”
The women quickly mastered the machines, developed strong muscles and banked lots of money as they were paid piecemeal for what they made – unlike Archie, who had a fixed salary. Barrie believes it’s ordinary people, like his father and the women he employed, who were responsible for the war’s successful conclusion.
“This is not a brave tale about frightened young men scrambling up crude ladders and charging across the thick mud of Flanders’ fields,” he says. “This about a few men, and a majority of women, who made victory possible. They survived and their story has to be told.”