Farming to factories. The Thetford Area

Location : Thetford

I was born in West Wretham, near Thetford. My home address was Hall’s Yard, West Wretham near Thetford. And I was the youngest of 5. How many, I had 2 brothers and 2 sisters. Me oldest brother was a gardener, he went away after he got married. Me two sisters were sent out to, work as domestics and me other brother worked on the farm. When I was old enough, that’s where I left school and had to go. But in actual fact in the first place I wanted to come to work at Thetford as a trainee with Alison Doran Coach Company, which were coach people but my Mother said that I was only gonna get 7 shillings a week. And that was not enough to keep me, so I had to go back and get work on the farm, which was 10 shillings a week at that time. But the difference weren’t much but that’s what she said.

What did you do on the farm?

Oh well, I worked doing all kinds of things really. When I first started work I was driving. We used to take, in the harvest field we used to have to … There was two of us we used to have to, one had a what they call a trace horse. And that was fixed to the cart, when it was loaded up with stuff and we used to have drive that away to where they were stacking it. And the other one took over with another horse and the same thing so there were two of us doing the same jobs. That was one thing we done in the harvest field.

Did you enjoy your work on the farm?

Well, I did I suppose at that time. But my mind weren’t there but I had to stay there!

After a few years on the farm, we’ll say about a couple of years, me Father got crippled up with Rheumatoid Arthritis and so he had to give up work. Me second brother went into the army. There was no holding him back! After that I had to stay and look after my Mum and Dad because there was no chance of anywhere else to live if I didn’t work on the farm, we had to live in the house and that was the answer to my working on the farm. That was prior to the war then obviously when the war broke out, me brother went in the army. I weren’t old enough at that time I was only 17.

The Home Guard and keeping the farm going during the war

What inspired you to work for the Home Guard in Thetford?

Well there was nothing else to do really. You see we had a landing field there with RAF people, personnel … I don’t know I think first off with the LDV which is Local Defence Volunteers. But I weren’t old enough to join that. But I joined the Home Guard when they started in the Home Guard and then …

When was that started up the Home Guard, was that right at the beginning of the war?

I would say that was before, 1942. That’s when I joined it but I don’t know when that actually started. After that finished with the LDV, then started in the Home Guard.

Then I did leave that farm, went to move, move down the other farm because the whole farm was split up into two or three different locations … to people what owned it, died and that was sold up in different lots.

Then I went to work down at the East end of Wretham. The man what was in charge of the farm there was an ex-army Major what bought that farm there. They came up in 1942 for my medical and he said: “I’m not gunna let you go … because we need you on the farm!” So he was the first person to get me out of going in the army.

Did you mind that or did you want to follow your brother?

I suppose so, but I had to go back to the Hall Yard Farm because the manager there said I, if I didn’t go back my Mum and Dad have to get out of the house. And there was nowhere for us to go, so I had to leave there and go back again and he done the same thing. But I told him straight I said: “I don’t want you throwing that back at me that I got you out of the army, I’d rather go in the army and do my bit. As I would you keep telling me if I don’t do this, you can get out!” At that time they was recruiting for the mines. At that time a I certainly didn’t want go down the mine, I said: “I’d rather go in the army.” In the end I stayed on the farm. So that was … lived then with me Mum and Dad. Me brother came back home, out of the army then I left there. I was courting at the time, I got married and I left home. That was some part of my home life …

The RAF, Americans and the Land Army

During the war, we had RAF people on the camp. And then that changed over to the Americans. And when we, the Home Guard we used to have to go, and watch on top of the hall because they had the old hall for their residence of all the officers and things. And we used to go on there, taking duties on there, at night. And when we came down in the morning we went in for breakfast, with the Americans. And they gave us, which I never seen before, bacon and egg and then they put treacle all on it! (Laughter). But that was, you’d be surprised it was very nice! That was one thing we had with the Americans. We didn’t have any Land Army girls as such. There was so many of the old, the original, village girls there which didn’t want to go over to anywhere else. So they worked on the farm with me. With the land girls there was, I think there was about eight of them. But they were all village girls that worked on the farm, so obviously there was no outside Land Army Girls came in you know. At that point in time I used to be driving the tractor. And we used to set potatoes, and cabbages, cauliflower plants, with a machine behind the tractor and I used to be the tractor driver. And we used to have perhaps three young ladies on the back doing the potatoes and three when we were setting the plants. Which was nice but when the Americans were there they didn’t want to know anything about the English boys. They wanted to know all about the Americans so, you know we had to do what we wanted to do without those.

But during that time being in the Home Guard … because there was always RAF people there with them, the Americans, we was allowed to go down to their camp on a Thursday night, I think it was about Thursday nights, and go to a dance in their canteen. Because we was Home Guards you know. Also they had a bus service that ran there from Wretham to Bury St. Edmunds. Saturday and Sunday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Tuesdays. So that was 4 nights a week and we were allowed to get on that coach to go, you know even though we were civilians. They let us do that. And that was how I met my wife.

Did they have the dances those nights as well?

No only one night.

We found our own way to the dance and back home again there was no transport for us. The coach transport was set on for them to go to Thetford here and then on to Bury St. Edmunds. And we was always allowed to use that. That was one thing we did.

Because you had the connection with the American forces, did you still notice the rationing as much or did you kind of benefit because like you were saying you had the eggs and the bacon and different things, you were able to have your breakfast with them.

Yeah that was the only time you had your breakfast you weren’t allowed to have anything else.

The other meals?

No there weren’t no other. Nothing else you could do that those you know other than that.

So you weren’t allowed to buy anything off the base or anything?

No, we weren’t allowed anything off the camp.

So you did notice the rationing as well then.

That’s right yeah. But going back to the early part of the war when they first opened the air field, there was Czechs and Poles that were there. And they had Wellington Bombers on the field. I can recall that one night one of the bombers as they was taking off crashed landed. Well it didn’t crash land, that crashed and the 500 bomb that was on it blew up! That was about 5 o’clock in the evening. There was one or two of us that rushed down there to see where, ‘cause we knew that weren’t far away where it had landed. And we tried to help the RAF to look around to see if we could find anybody that was come out of the plane, but they must have been blown to pieces. But the next day we weren’t allowed nowhere near where that crashed. So that was sort a funny but that was the way they were weren’t it? You weren’t allowed to go there ‘cause they’d got to find out why that crashed I suppose.

Going back to the Home Guard we used to come to Thetford here. Well we used to train at home on a Sunday morning and one evening during the week. But Sunday mornings majority the time.

What did your training cover, what did you have to do?

Well we were trained to do shooting, obviously rifle shooting and machine gun, in fact I was a Lewis Machine Gunner, that was my job in our platoon. And we used to come here to Thetford. They sent us transport to Thetford to the range. Different times on a Sunday morning, for rifle shooting. We used to go there and after we’d done that before we went home, they had a canteen that we could go to down Bridge Street. I could go there and have a drink or we went home. Or we could go in on a Saturday evening. They had a canteen up at on Bridge Street, we could go there we could use that.

What did you miss most with the rationing?

I suppose sugar ‘cause I used to take sugar at that time. But we managed because being on the farm we used to get extra ration of … I don’t know how many items. We’ll say sugar, cheese, veg and butter or something like that but I don’t know really. Can’t remember how many items we had but you could get that as an extra because you worked on the land. And that lasted ‘til sometime after the war finished because after I got married even in 1947 that was still working then. We still got those extra rations!

What did you do in your leisure time? I know you mentioned dancing …

Oh, in my leisure time that was, well. Going back to the coach we used to be able to come, well course we used to go in the pub and have a drink. But the trouble was there I weren’t old enough in the first part of the war – I weren’t old enough, well I weren’t supposed to be old enough to go into pubs. So the landlord at The Wretham Dog and Partridge he, we could go and sit round the back and have a glass of Shandy, and a packet of crisps but then we ‘ad to get out as soon as we’d finished. And that carried on too when we used to come into Thetford on a Saturday night. We could go over there to the Albion pub and he’d let us do the same there but we weren’t really allowed you know to be in the pub ‘til we was 18. But then course when we used to go in at 18 we used to have a drink. Of other stuff … We also used to have a coach, a shopping coach on Saturday afternoons. That came in at Thetford and went back to Wretham and Hockham, Great Hockham by 9 o’clock in the evening. So we used to come in on that in the afternoon and go to the pictures probably at Thetford. Then go home again at 9 o’clock on the bus.

Was this before the war or after?

No during the war. And then we used to get off at the pub and have a game of darts or a couple of drinks. Then I had to walk back to West Wretham which was about a couple of miles! But that was about half past 10 in the evening. I went home on my own! I left me mate half way on the journey and done the rest on my own. But we used to go to Bury Saint Edmunds on the coach quite a bit. And we could go to the pictures there you see. We didn’t come home from there ‘til 11 o’clock. Done that quite a bit. That was obviously during the war. But soon as the camp finished they stopped that late bus. And then I don’t think we had shopping bus after that.

What do you remember about Christmas during the war, Christmas and your Birthdays?

Oh me Birthday … Christmases weren’t nothing really I can’t … Weren’t much to be done about Christmas.

Oh please can you describe your card? You’d got a card you said you used to get from the Home Guard.

The Christmas card has just got a badge of the Royal Norfolk Regiment on the front. And opening it up, inside it’s got small message: “May the joys of Christmas all be yours and the New Year fulfil all hopes of happy days to come. From”. But there was no “from” written to any of the cards. And down the bottom of the card is number 3 Company 8th Battalion Norfolk Home Guards. … That’s printed.

Oh that’s lovely, thank you.

That’s all there is about that card.

What about your Birthdays?

No. We’d go to the pub I suppose. No there weren’t much to do those days. If there weren’t a dance here on a Saturday night or the pictures, we used to cycle into Thetford. And come to the pictures on a Saturday night. If we wanted … or any other night but there weren’t much else to do here. Only the pictures or go to the pub. Worse luck, you know.

How did you feel as a young man being in the Home Guard? Was you proud, did you enjoy it?

Yes. That got us out from, more or less that was a dead village you see. There weren’t nothing going on in the village only the pub. In the evenings, I don’t know how we used to make their own entertainment really. Other than going for a drink. You see. And Birthdays was just going, I suppose no different from going anywhere else, only going down the pub and having a drink. But you didn’t see nothing of the drinking like those days like you do today. Beer was only 4 pence a pint.

Did you have meetings when you were with the Home Guard?

Yes they had meetings as I say we used to come from Thetford here. We had our own meetings here. And when we had training. Then we used to come to Thetford here, to the Battalion, for meetings. But I couldn’t tell you anything about them now, really.

Did you have any scary moments that you can remember when you was on duty, when you was with the Home Guard? You were covering the evenings.

No I can’t recall anything that was.

You never had to use your gun?

No never had to use it before. We were never allowed to load the gun, unless we was obviously on the range. Never had anything to … there was never anything happened that, that we had to deal with. You know.

How many would be on duty with you?

There was only 2 or 4, 2 I think mostly.

What kind of area …?

At the area where we used to go when we went on the old hall. We had a lookout tower on there, where we used to stay in there all the time. So we didn’t do any walking or anything like that you know. No.

So you covered quite an area just from the tower.

Yeah, well as we could see quite an area there you see. But there was never anything where we went, to an individual thing that had to do something different to just, well watching, really. Watching to make sure nothing was dropped or anybody came down by air or any suspicious characters.

How long was your shift? So what sort of time did you …?

Oh we used to do all night. Well I say all night, you know from perhaps 10 o’clock … talk about 6 in the morning. That didn’t come only very, not many times you know. … That didn’t last that long I don’t think they carried that kind of thing on much.

Did you get a chance to have a sleep during the day ‘cause you said you’d have your breakfast with them in the canteen and then what was kind a your rest of the day?

The next day would be going to work you see.

Oh you go out on the farm.

Yeah, going back to work you see.

Yes so when did you get your sleep?

There was only … you didn’t go home. I suppose you did go home to sleep but I mean you was back at work again the next morning.

So you wouldn’t get many hours, much rest would you?

No no. no.

And that’s hard work on the farm as well, so you would … So once you’d finished in the Home Guard you carried working on the land did you until you retired?

Yes yes yes. No well no I, no I didn’t. When I was at home. What they called home back then, West Wretham. As I say I. When the war finished, my brother came out of the army. And after he come back, he came back and start work on the farm. Where I worked. And then after a time I started courting. And I got married and I left home then. And went to live at Barnham. And worked on the farm again at Elveden. For I don’t know how many years, few years.

Was it very different from …

No, much about the same kind of work. I did various jobs on the farm.

Was the pay better there or the same?

The pay, the basic pay was the same but there was more chance of extra money. On the farm at Elveden. I got married obviously you see I wanted somewhere to live. So I got the house at Barnham. I kept there at Elveden then for a period of time. I left there and went to Honington. At Honington aerodrome.

Building, driving and felling trees

What sort of things did you do there?

… Well, on the building sites. Yeah on the building sites there. Then a chap came and ask me if I’d, go and come and drive the lorry for him. Coalman – he was a coalman at that time in Barnham. Would I come and drive a lorry, he’d got a job for a small lorry. And so I went there. And had a few years there with him. I got left with, mainly doing the coal round and I got fed up with that. So I went into – my brother-in-law got me a job with some people what were felling trees at Elveden. There were felling, where is now .. what’s its name?

Oh Center Parcs.

Center Parcs, that’s right. There was Center Parcs there was, 365 acres of that wood. And they sold it off, 50 acre pieces, every year. And the people that I went with they were working for a man named C. He was a wood dealer, a wood merchant anyway. And these two men I went with wanted somebody to go with them. And so he got me this job and I went there and I was quite happy there. For about, three years I suppose there because I think in the end they didn’t get any more of the wood or something I forget now. But all that was finished. But then we had to do. Well we, I still kept with the firm for another year or two. But I ended up on my own. The chap what I was with he, well he came from a place called Hindolveston.

Oh where’s that?

That’s there in Norfolk.

Oh I haven’t heard of that.

There in Norfolk. Do you know where Great Witchingham, have you heard of Great Witchingham? It used to be a wildlife park.

I believe it still is. Something in that area. That’s where he lived and then he left off. You know I said he was going to pack up he didn’t want to keep coming ‘cause he came and he lodged in Elveden, all the time he was working there. So, I was left on my own and then in the end I had to finish, tree felling because some doctor advised me to leave, finish with the job. But I liked the job! That was hard work, was very hard work! Liked it but I had to give it up. Then I had numerous jobs, the Murco Garage. I worked at the garage at down on the bottom of Norwich Road. The garage what is now where Tesco. Well there used to be a garage there. I worked there. And then being a self employed person on the wood. I weren’t allowed any dole money, if I was out of work so. I went to work there. Hoping to stay there long enough to get some stamps on me card, to raise enough money to go on the dole if I was ever out of work. But anyway I didn’t care too much for the bloke what was there, so I didn’t last that long. We didn’t get on. That didn’t last that long. Then I went to, where did I go then back to. Recount before I went to Boots. I think that was before I went to Murco’s, then I went to Murco’s. Then I left there and went as a salesman.

Oh who was that with?

That was with somebody from Cambridge. Mill Road that’s where the shop was.

What did they sell?

They sold clothes and all that kind of thing. Had a round to do you know.

Oh what did you sell them to the houses, take them to the deliveries?

Yes go to different, go round the houses. And sell clothes and what have you. I didn’t like that too much after I’d had it a while I packed that in. Then I went back to Murco’s. Then Baxters. Travenol they, well they were Baxters when they came to Thetford. They came in 1965. After a little while of them being there, they was advertising for a gardener. So I went up and that and got an interview for the job. I didn’t get that job. But I was offered another one, when I was there, so I took that. Working in the warehouse and at that time they’d got a little off the workshops up in Munford Road. Had a workshop there. They were making kidney machines at that time. There and I had it. They offered me the job there, to go there and work. So which I did. The factory

Did you enjoy that?

Yes, yeah, and then they closed that down because they’d got a come back into the main factory here on Caxton Way. That closed that down so, I came down here and I worked in the warehouse there. Big factory. Then they, oh I don’t know. They moved all the stuff down out of those places. Then I had various, I done all the export packing at that time. Only me that done the export. And they used to move me about in the warehouse. Up that corner do something and then the next week they’d say I’d gotta go, we want you a move over there. They called me ‘arry at that time. I want you a move over there. Anyway they moved me out from there up into Stevenson Way. Same people obviously, same firm I worked there. Well then they moved me up to Fison Way. I had two different spots up there. They moved me into the last big place what they sold to Jeyes. And then that’s where I retired from. I spent 20 years. Just started on 21 years really I suppose. I started there on May, October 1968 and I retired on November 1988. So I just started on my 21 years. And that, I enjoyed being there.

What was the job you enjoyed the most out of all the places you worked?

Well I wouldn’t say I enjoyed being at Baxters but I had a lighter job than I had in tree felling obviously and I enjoyed that because it was a lighter job. I done a lot of hard work, but I done a lot of hour work. You know but I enjoyed the jobs I done.

What were the hours like when you was at Travenol?

Well we used to do… When I first started up at Munford Road the hours were from 8 o’clock in the morning ‘til quarter to 5 at night. Saturday mornings we used to get a few hours overtime. So the pay weren’t that high. But as we progressed obviously as they progressed, there was a little bit more overtime to be had in the warehouse or wherever. But we were on, but they started us on to a shift system but, I didn’t like that. I never did like shift. But that didn’t last long in the warehouse. So we was more a less always on day hours in there. And there was overtime to be had if you was a working man, wanting to work.

Did you have reasonable time for your lunch?

Yeah we had a 10 minute breaks, in the morning at 10 o’clock time I think, then one in the afternoon. Then about half an hour for lunch. They had their own canteen.

Would you say all the places you worked at, the working conditions were good? They treated you well?

I think, on the whole I suppose that was one of the best places out of the where I worked they treated you fairly well.

Did they train you up when you were at Travenol?

Well, to a certain amount, but not that much really I suppose. But I used to do it as I thought to do it and that always proved to be the way to do it. One of the best ways to do it, we’ll put it that way. Through the course of me working there they never found fault, terrible lot of with what I did and how I done it. That was mostly happy enough there, the way things were done. Always good account for it.

How did you used to get to work?

I had a car at that time. Well I didn’t at that time I had a van I suppose. Little van but I turned to a car after I got … But when I worked in the wood, going back to the wood. When I worked in the wood I had a bicycle. Used to have to bike to Elveden from Barnham. And the chaps what I was working with, they had a … They used to make some lovely chips off the trees. And I used to bag them up and put them on the back on me bike and take them hom’ and sell a bag, for pocket money. What I turned to pocket money. Used to lay it on the back of the bike, take it home. And Saturday mornings take it up the village to sell. Well, after I started that people asked me if they could have a bag of chips you see. Somebody else wanted a bag of chips so, I bought meself an old van. Put ‘em in. So I bought home 5 or 6 bags of chips, during the course of the week and I delivered them, up the village. But turned 6 pence a bag, somethun like that. And then as time progressed on the wood we had a chain saw. I used the chain saw all the time when I worked there.

When we came to some wood what was worth sawing up into bullets I used to do it. And I bagged that up and sell that on a Saturday morning. So I probably had 5 or 6 perhaps half a dozen more bags of wood to sell, on Saturday morning ‘cause they didn’t work Saturday mornings those times. Them days because the two fellows what I worked with they went home on a Friday night. ‘Cause that’s where they lived well one of them lived in Hindolveston I don’t know where the other one lived. Not far from where he lived I suppose. When they were gone home I used to load up me van an’, get rid of them chips on a Saturday morning. Which as I say all pocket money. Yeah but that was one of those things. But that was through me using the chain saw all the time I had to give up. But in those days, there were never muffs or anything like that like there is now on your ears you see. And so that’s how I got …

Well I went to London ‘cause my oldest brother when he was a gardener he worked for somebody in Whitehall, Whitechapel Hospital, as a consultant. He used to work for him at the gardening – he got me an appointment with him to see about ‘cause I’d lost the hearing in that ear. And used to get dizzy feelings. And so he got this appointment to see him and he said there weren’t much they could do about it. I’d got Ménière’s disease in that ear. And that was through you know using the chain saw.

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