Kevin’s grandfather worked as a warrener in the battle area, his father at Lynford Hall which was used by American servicemen, and he himself for the Lands Branch in Forestry, looking after the grounds, forestry, rivers, churches, boundary fences and military camps of the area. After a brief interlude working in the Thermos factory, he returned to the land. He also had the interesting experience of working at the Roman Catholic Shrine at Little Walsingham.
This is my story I write by my memory and by what I believe to be true. It is meant for my grandchildren so they know who and what their granddad was. I hope to show them I have a content life though not a wealthy one, but indeed I have what not many can say, and that is a debt free life, a lovely wife and everything we have we own. I may not be in full health but I feel that I have all I need.
Childhood in the woods
I start my story at the point of how back far I can remember. So we will start at a little place called Colveston. As far as I can remember there was a row of cottages, there was an old man we called Old Mite. I don’t know his proper name, my mother and father came next, then uncle Fred and auntie Brenda. Finally there was the P’s. Down the lane was the farm owned by Mr R.
There was no electricity to the cottages, no running water and no roads; just a farm track. But life was good, the woods was our play ground, we had no television so we had to make our own amusement. That was not difficult to do as a piece of wood would be a gun, a telescope even a sword. That piece of wood was anything your imagination saw it as. When we lived there I had my brother Paul who was one year older than me and my sister Linda who was two years younger. Next door was cousins Victor, Michael and Jane and next door to them was Charlie P., so we always had someone to play with. Saying that, being children we never always agreed and the occasional fight broke out. I remember one occasion that Charlie threw some stones at us but as there was four of us to one he was outnumbered and took shelter in his father’s greenhouse but to his dismay stones go through glass. It was not only Charlie that was a target, but we used to fall out as well, I remember having a teddy and in an argument my brother snatched it from me and threw it in some bushes. In them bushes was a wasp nest and I got stung a few times getting my teddy back, since then wasps have not bothered me.
The highlight of the week would be when the Co-op bus came to us, which meant if we had been good we could choose a sweet. If mother needed anything else that would mean a trip to Mundford village. The milk and eggs we got straight from Mr Rolfe’s farm. Baths were tin ones and mother had to first get the water from the well (that served the four cottages) then heat the water on the fire, we were always dirty as you can imagine playing outside till dark. One of the things that we did was that we had an old pram and use it for a go-cart, there was a pit a little way down the lane and we would go from top to bottom in that old pram. Many a time did we get half way down and get tipped out but only to get on our feet and try again.
It was at this young age I found the pleasure of the country side, but it was not all good it was at this time I remember seeing for the first time cows with foot and mouth, they were frothing at the mouth and sounded so mournful as they were herded down the lane. I did not know it but they were being taken to their slaughter. While playing in the woods I saw my first fox I thought, what a cute animal. I soon found that cute turned to vicious when cornered, so it was that I learned to keep my distance of animals I do not know about. And it was at this time I remember seeing my first tramp, he was in a hay stack at the Mundford end of the track. He had made himself a little den out of the bales of hay to keep warm, I could not understand at that age why anyone would choose to live that way, now of course at a later age you realise that often it’s not through choice but something that they have been forced into. Right at the top of the track at the entrance on the main road is a house that was once a leper hospital. Then there was the sharp winter in 1963 it was so sharp that it froze the river over, not knowing the danger then we had great fun on the ice. Then there was the awful sight of birds and animals frozen to the ice I never have forgotten the large numbers that I found. When we lived in that cottage it was a great learning time I feel the kids of today miss out on because they have no need for such a thing as imagination and know the freedom of the woodland, not through their faults but through the faults of us! The parents of today, we try and give to our children what we never had as children ourselves but the end result is a generation of kids who take life for granted with no interest for the great outdoors and no interest in anything creative, once again parent over-protection and give whatever they want is to fault. I was bought up where mother had to play the father role as he worked away. If we so much as move when we were out to dinner or attempt to speak out of turn we were in deep trouble. The end result of this was respect for your parents and other people; you also appreciate what you had.
Now was the time I started school, we went to Mundford Primary School there was Mr H.s (headmaster), Mrs H. and Mrs C. We were picked up for school by taxi ran by the garage owner Mr O.; he had a Vauxhall Cresta. It’s funny how little things stick in your mind. He started at West Hall in Mundford, he had two pumps and a little shop where we could get Match box toy cars. I remember Mrs H.s taught us kids in their first year, we used to have a lesson where we had to listen to a radio. We were all sat on benches and if we so much as twitch we would get her thumb dug into the small of our backs and once a week we would be marched to the church for morning assembly. Then there was the time I won a big bar of chocolate for doing the twist in a dance competition.
My father got a job at Lynford Hall so we moved to the gatehouse, then at a later time into a flat above what used to be the stable block. This was a kid’s heaven there was woodland, lakes and the Hall itself with a caravan park for American servicemen. We had the freedom of it all except the main hall. The greatest improvement moving to the Hall was we had Electricity and an indoor loo – even running water so we had a proper bath with taps. It was at this point in time that I was a bit of a loner and still is to a certain degree; I would wander off to explore the woods but mother never worried as she knew I would return when I got hungry. In-between the hall and the gate house was a piece of woodland, it was full of golden pheasants what a lovely sight they are but alas they are gone now I believe the land owners and game keepers don’t like them because they chase off the common pheasant. The only place in my adult life have I seen them is in captivity. The hall gardens had several ornamental ponds. These was a great place to find newts, tadpoles, frogs and other pond life. The lakes was home for the local angling club so a few types of fresh water fish was found. I did try my hand at fishing once but the only fish I caught was a dead one so I gave that one up, but along the banks of the lake had giant hogweed, compared to me it was gigantic. At the bottom of the gardens where they met the lake was a small jetty where a canoe was moored; needless to say we had great fun with that. We even built a raft out of some oil drums lashed together and a wooden platform on top, great fun was had. Behind the caravan site the forestry commission planted a plantation of different types from all over; it is called the arboretum, I return there now and look at these trees and see them in their glory.
During the summer months was a time when every evening the Americans would have a BBQ on the go it would not be just a family affair the whole site plus residents of the hall was invited so it was like a real community event, it was the Americans that introduced peanut butter to me and I loved it and still do today, but I could not eat it the way the American kids ate it. They would run round with a jar and eat it with a spoon. My father and mother befriended some of the servicemen and families, they was always generous with their gifts, at that time they could get plenty on base where the English was struggling as wages were not very high. Mother had a friend who was married to an American but was French. Her name was Shoo Shoo, she had a son called Emile. Emile and I became friends; I wonder what became of him.
The Hall was on two levels. The lower level was where the workshops and store buildings was there was also some more flats and a strange room that was completely sealed with the door way bricked up, but being kids we found our way into it via some loose bricks. It had a strange atmosphere to that room. Whether it was because it was so large or because of the foisty smell I do not know, but it was a great place to hide if you did not want to be found. The lower level was reached by a stairwell on the corner of the stable block court yard; that was fine during daylight hours but I was terrified of it at night as there was no lighting to it, the other way was by a drive that ran behind the hall. On the right of the courtyard where we lived was a disused workshop so my brother and I was allowed to use it. Like most boys I was interested in aeroplanes and so took to making models; I would save my pocket money and buy a plastic model kit when I had enough. It was all frog models then. Now my brother being my brother decided he was bored one day and do a bit of target shooting with his air gun, he took my collection of model planes and strung them up in the bin area, that was an old disused room with no roof that separated the main hall from our courtyard, then he shot them to pieces I was not amused. It was in this workshop that I built a diorama for my model soldiers. I spent hours setting that up and playing with. In the next flat to us were some people, I cannot remember their name, but they had a little dog that was always barking at the window, so we used to stand outside singing How much is that doggy in the window, then run. One thing that sticks in my head and I still cannot explain is the time mother sent me across to the Hall where father was working the bar and on returning I was walking through the archway that separated the two courtyards a brick just missed my head. The next day when it was light my father inspected the arch for loose bricks only to find that there was no sign of loose masonry or missing bricks; very puzzling.
We used to have to walk to Mundford school as mother or father had no transport. it was about two miles to the school but we never took no notice of the distance as after all there was nothing but trees between the hall and the village, so the walk was also our playground. [section omitted]
This was the time we got our first television. Mother and father could not afford to buy one so they rented one, it had a meter fitted to it. I think you had to put a shilling into it to make it work. Down the road next to the battle area gates lived the G.’s and next door to them lived the W. families. They had no televisions, so mother used to come and watch Top of the Pops on Thursday nights. This pleased my sister as this was company for her as there was R.W. and R.G. it was like the big social event of the week.
Nearby was the river Wissey. We used to go swimming to a spot where it was pretty clear of weed. One time we were swimming there and playing around that I nearly drowned. I had stayed a bit too far across the river and got tangled in weed. The others thought I was messing about and was laughing at me but luckily they realised and came to my aid. That was another learning curve, always treat the water with respect.
Down in the lower courtyard separating the caravan site from the hall was a piece of woodland with a steep hill; here we made a cycle track that we could race round. As we did not own bicycles we had to go to the local landfill site and look for and build a bike out of the parts found. The result was that not only did we have fun making bikes but had great fun racing them round our track.
Living so close to the battle area we were always sneaking in a little way to see what we could find; the favourite thing was the parachutes that came from flares after they had been fired. Living above what used to be stables we were up a little way. One night mother said to me, ‘Put the cat out.’ So I did. I could not be bothered to go all the way down the stairs so I tied one of these parachutes to the cat’s tail and threw it out of the window. I can still see that cat running around in circles trying to get that parachute. Mother was not pleased, but she still laugh about it; even today she reminds me of that little caper. As I said earlier, Lynford Hall was a great place to explore. The Hall that stands today. It was built between 1857 and 1862 by William Burn for Stephens Lyne-Stephens.
Almost opposite the chapel, which is known by the name Our Lady and St Stephen, are the remains of what was the original hall. Why the hall was relocated or what had befell the original hall I do not know. That was an adventure ground for us, exploring the ruins of the former gardens and the tunnels and waterways that used to cross the driveway into a meadow which I believe to have been a cricket pitch and pavilion at one time. On the lake was an island covered in woodland, in the middle of the island was a Japanese style house. The only way across was by stepping stones as the bridge had long gone. At the bottom of the main drive to the hall was a big statue of fighting bulls. This was great fun to climb; just like the giant redwoods that lined the approach.
Usually mother would take us for a walk to my Nanny and Granddad’s. They lived at Buckenham Tofts at the old mill houses, at that time. Nanny did a lot of baking her own cakes, buns and pies, I used to look forward to that all week, Granddad was a keen gardener and took great pride in his garden and I found great delight in helping him in my own little way. Granddad worked as a warrener in the battle area. The stories that he used to tell me of his work and what he did was a big influence on me for later life. One story he told me was that he was glad to say that he was his own master as in the respect that provided that he was doing his job, he was left alone, then he boasted, ‘They could not find me anyhow unless I wanted to be found. They have been as close as five feet away from me calling,’ he said, ‘but me and my old dog were in a bush watching’. The only time they found dear old Granddad was when it was time for pay.
Then mother and father got a council house in Mundford village; Uncle Fred and Auntie Brenda lived there but moved out into a Forestry Commission house at West Tofts. Mundford was a pleasant village; it had two pubs, a post office, a village store owned by Billy E., a butcher, a hairdresser, the village hall (a tin hut in the village centre) and finally there was the garage which started life at East Hall. With two petrol pumps and a little shop, later on the owner Mr O. moved it to where Brown’s cars are situated. The two main employers for the village was the hamburger factory on the Cranwich Road and Longs duck farm at Ickborough. I believe it was about this was around the same time Granddad moved to the alms houses at Ickborough.
It was easier to go and see the old fella when we lived in Mundford because it was only like two miles and at this time I had a bicycle. I used to visit him every Sunday and sit and play cards or dominoes with him. I know he used to let me win. As Granddad was a warrener our meat was either rabbit or pheasant. Now I could not eat them, I had so much of it when I was young that I cannot fancy it any more. He was a smart dressed man with suit and his trilby hat. Everywhere he went he would cycle. I could not write about my Granddad without saying what a great and a man he was, to this day I remember him with
It was at Fir Close at Mundford we lived; so instead of having to get up really early for school we had a little extra time in bed as the school was just across the road and could not get away with any excuse for being late, so it was a case of trying the ‘I don’t feel well’ tactics. Sometimes that would work but not often as mother was well up on these tricks; she was always one step [ahead] of us kids. It is thanks to my mother that I am who I am today; if it were not for her guidance and her strict but fair ways who knows where I would be, because again mother had to be father as well.
I was not an angel, mind, as I found all sorts of mischief to get into. On one occasion the electricity board was setting the timers on the street lamps as they all had to be done one at a time. My friend N. and I followed them round and put the timers on so they would come on daylight hours, so they would come back and reset them, only for us to go round the following evening and change them back. But luck ran out – the village bobby caught me half way up a pole. He gave me a clip of the ear and told me he would be calling on my dad. This he did the next day and father gave my backside a tanning in front of the bobby. Justice had been served and that was the end of that matter.
Then we came up with a scheme to earn some money. We would sneak round the back of the [local pub] and pinch his bottles (back then you got about a penny every bottle returned); we would then take them into the pub and the landlord would pay us. I sometimes wonder if he ever realised what was going on […]When we got a bit older we got braver too, we used to march into the pub and ask for a bottle of beer, to the amusement of the drinkers inside. The landlord would shout ‘Clear off pesky kids!’ Then he whispered, ‘Come round the back’, and that’s how we got our beer and fags.
The Lands Branch. Looking after the grounds, forestry, rivers, churches, boundary fences and military camps
In 1971 at 15 years old I was employed by Lands Branch. Our job was to look after the grounds, forestry, rivers, churches, boundary fences and military camps.
My work was varied, so I was doing something different every week. It was a very interesting and happy time; not once can I remember waking up and dreading going to work. The staff of Lands Branch was mainly a lot older than myself, but none the less they were good to work with and great characters. My cousin M. l worked with me, and the pranks we used to pull must have been a nightmare for the rest of the blokes never knowing who was going to be the next victim. I remember one man who used to cycle everywhere to work, as most did them days because not many could afford cars. Every lunchtime he would take an old hessian sack and fill it for his fire; at the end of the working day he would tie his tools to his crossbar. Then he would tie the sack to his handle bars. What M.l and myself done was found a length of telephone wire and tied it just under his saddle and left him enough to get a good peddle up before he came to a sudden stop because the end was tied to a fencepost, if he caught us I think the old b. would have killed us.
One prank turned a bit naughty though. We was at Langford church and decided it would be good fun to lock everybody inside, not realising one of the men was claustrophobic. Never did we do that anymore.
It was not just us boys who played the pranks, though. The others had their fair share of fun at our expense. I remember one occasion that myself and another man was working near Buckingham Tofts, we were filling in an old cellar from one of the house ruins as this was a bit of a danger. As I walked around the woodland looking for old brick rubble and other debris that could be used to fill in the old cellar, I saw troops darting from tree to tree and never took any notice as we had troops about us every day. All of a sudden I felt a gun dig in my back and I was pushed to the ground with my arms behind me and a pair of squaddie boots digging in my back.
They was in training for Northern Ireland, apparently they were looking for I.R.A suspects and guess what? Yep, they were dressed in the same clothes that I was wearing, every time I went for my I.D. card the boot went in harder, so I said to the squaddies the man over there would verify who I was. Surprise, surprise he denied any knowledge of me! I was released later that day with full apologies. That’s enough about pranks I think I could fill a book just with them but all and every one took the pranks with a good heart. Lesson: Never give if you cannot receive.
The foreman of Lands Branch was a good sort. His name was Ted Westgate. He had a little Austin of England van and once a month he would take me and one or two more to Thompson village, where there was a meeting and talk of all matters to do with Forestry and countryside. So it was not just work but a nice social life as well. Ted involved me in everything from propagating the tree seed to the end product of tree felling. I was given the trust of rearing tree saplings in what used to be the walled garden of Buckingham Tofts Hall. If it were cold or wet we had a hut with a pot-belly fire to keep warm. When the sun was out it was a proper sun trap. The trees that we grew were mainly of soft wood varieties but we also grew hard woods such as beech and ash, Boxwood was grown for hedging.
Most work was carried out by hand as machines were not around for a lot of the work that we did. The entire tree planting was done by hand and looked a picture when we had finished a plantation. It did not matter how you looked at the rows of trees, they would be straight as a die. There would be two men to a row. One would make the hole, the other drop and heel-in the sapling. Then the new plantation would have to be fenced in; we got the straining posts and fencing stakes from the woodlands in the battle area. They were sent to be pickled at Brandon. Every post hole and every stake was dug and driven into the ground by hand, and then the rabbit wire and straining wire was put on. The wire was even strained by hand. Finally the bottom of the rabbit netting was turned outwards and sods of grass put on top to stop rabbits burrowing.
Next stage would be to keep the saplings clear from being choked by long grass and brambles. This was done with a man in each row armed with a slasher (a kind of long handled hook). You used the slasher to cut and leave the saplings clear of rubbish, giving them room to grow. One man in our gang was a bit haphazard with his slasher and as a result a lot of the trees suffered. On inspecting the rows, Ted said to the man, who was Reg, ‘Whatever are you doing, most of your trees are damaged.’ ‘Well,’ said Reg, ‘they’ll have got steel, gov’ner.’ What can you say to such a reply.
After the trees had grown for a few years we would then thin them out by removing two out of four to give the others room to grow again. Then the task came of removing the lower branches close to the trunk. This was known as brashing. I have been working in a young plantation when it has been pouring with rain, but we were bone dry, but it was very dark as there was very little light. It was quite possible to get lost as well because every row looked the same whether it is straight down to the side or even diagonal.
Then came the tree felling. There would be three to a gang of chain saws. The experienced man would fell the tree then the trainee saw (me) would dress out (cutting the branches of the trunk), then the third sawman would cut the tree into cord lengths. The branches and debris was then burnt; always a good time to put a potato wrapped in silver foil into the hot embers of the fire, or cut yourself a long forked twig as a toasting fork and have toasted sandwiches.
Another thing we were responsible for was the rivers and dykes that runs through the battle area and there is a good few. For this task there would be a gang of four; two on each bank, one to cut the weed and rubbish from the bank using a slasher or a scythe. The man who followed up would be using a chrome, pulling the weed and rubbish from the water allowing it to flow free. It was a job you had to use caution as it was not always solid under foot, many a wet foot was had. It was not only soft ground you looked out for though because there were wasps and hornets as well. One instance I can remember was on one river there was a steep bank so it took two of us to cut and clear the bank of reed and rubbish; the bloke who was on the top half of the bank swiped into some hornets feeding on the ground. That was the first time I had seen a hornet. They chased him; he went one way so I went the other. By the time he had got to the follow-up gang he was on his knees, so they had to rush him off to the camp doctor. He was fine after an injection, though, and was back at work the next day. Each gang had somebody who was licensed to use poison as a river bank was a favourite place for a wasp nest. I think everybody got stung at some point, it is not till you swipe into them that you realise that a nest is there. Another thing on the rivers would be gnats; we would all be given a bottle of oil of citronella, (insect repellent).
That was the bad side of working on the rivers, but the joys beat the bad times easily. How many times can somebody come home and say they saw a kingfisher or saw trout and how many people can say that they have seen a coypu in the wild? How many people have tasted the ice cold water from a fresh water spring on the hottest of days; also how many have had the freedom to pick fresh watercress. Indeed working on the rivers was a pleasure.
Bridge building was another task we had. If the army wanted a river or dyke crossing then we would do it. The bridges were a simple construction. All materials were got within the battle area: the main spars were of a hard wood which we would select and cut down, the planks would be cut with a rip saw that could be towed to the site. On top of the planks we put wire netting to give the bridge a non slip surface and finally the banks were shored up with sand bags.
Roadsides was another responsibility. We would walk the road sides and pick up and take away the rubbish; it may be an army training ground but it is also our countryside which people should respect. Leaving litter and discarded bottles is a danger to the wildlife of which there is abundance in the training area. There is birds found inside the area that you will not see outside. Bottles or any glass combined with the heat of the sun causes fires; not only that but broken glass, sharp tins and discarded wire cut, seriously hurt and even kill the animals that live there. My heart breaks when I see this. I recently drove through Thetford Forrest and was dismayed to see the forest being used as a dumping ground. Where is the thought or respect for our wildlife? This is another subject so we will leave it here.
There are four churches in the battle area: Langford, West Tofts, Stanford and Tottington. Our job with the churches was to keep the insides swept and clean, church yards cut and the perimeter fence kept in repair. My story really is at Tottington church. In 1971 while working at Tottington church I wrote my name on the church notice board in chalk; just outside the church yard was an unmarked grave of which I regularly tended when we were working at the church. I often wondered who it was and why they were buried outside the churchyard. This is the coincidence; I will come back and explain the link later.
Being young, I dreamed of great things that I wanted and so the call of money beckoned me. Being 1970, you could walk out of a job one day and into another the next day. So I got a job interview at Thermos in Thetford. At that time I had a motor cycle. On the day of the interview I was riding my motorcycle to Thermos when a wasp got into my helmet and stung me but I felt I had to carry on. By the time I had arrived I did not have a chance to say anything. I was ushered into the medical room my eye had swollen up and I could hardly see out of it. Nevertheless I got the job and started working permanent nights. My first job was as a cleaner. I found this boring but later on I was trained on a sealing machine. This was a machine that welded an inner glass bottle to an outer one; it was a big round machine and held about 30 bottles it was very hot and very noisy. As a new machinist I was put on as a relief. My job was to give every machine operator a break, but it only take one operator to be late back then it was my break gone. I worked a few nights without a break then I decided I would get my own back, I would smear oil on the bottles; so given them misshapen bottles and a loss of bonus my revenge was sweet. Working nights did not agree with me. Not only was I fed up with constant burnt fingers, which I still have scars today, I missed my social life and most of all I missed working outside so I said fair well to Thermos.
My next job was at R.A.F Lakenheath. Phantoms were based [there]. I worked at the golf course as a green keeper’s assistant. I was once again employed in something I found interesting and enjoyable. I worked with a man whose name was Stanley Brown. He was very good and patient in learning me the skill of the job. It was not a case of running a lawn mower over a piece of grass; there is so much more as I found. One advantage of working at the golf course, my father worked at the club house as a chef. He was on temporary loan from the officers’ club. I had many a cooked lunch while he was there. When he returned to the officers’ club I used to go there for lunch. Back to the job: S. showed me how to cut the greens leaving even stripes across the green and the finish by cutting two rounds of the rim of the green. It took a few goes of cutting the greens but S. was patient and encouraged me in every way. Lakenheath golf course is built on the edge of the airfield. It is only a nine-hole course and is on sandy heathland so very open it is. This time I was given the task of planting trees beside the fairways. A memorial to my time there. What a sight they are now. The bunkers, or sandtraps as they are called, We raked over twice a day again to a picture finish. As I said it was not all grass cutting and raking sandtraps, there was the skill of moving the hole and knowing where to place it on the green. Autumn time was used for the maintenance of the course, building new tees, placing temporary greens, maintenance of fairways and sandtraps. A great deal was learnt and I am very grateful to S. for the patience and knowledge he gave me, but the call of Stanford Battle Area was calling to me once more.
The ancestral pull of the Stanford Battle Area
There was something very strange and very powerful that kept pulling me back it is only now that I think I understand what it was. It was not the fact my grandfather was a warrener in the battle area or for the fact that the house where grandfather’s brother lived on Black Rabbit Warren, the ruins are all that remain, nor the fact that once you step across the barrier gates you step into a time that has stood still since the army took over in the 1940s. The houses and buildings are mostly gone but the land and feeling is there forever. The place that kept calling me was a little piece of ground the unmarked grave of someone I did not know but I wish I had. I return to this part of the story at a later time. Then came the time in 1979 the family moved to Fakenham.
I managed to get a transfer from West Tofts to R.A.F. Sculthorpe 67 Squadron which were Victor tankers and 97 Squadron which flew Canberra aircraft. My job was to assist the fitter on P.O.L.’s. This I found very boring: occasionally cutting cork gaskets or pumping water from fuel tanks in the ground, perhaps changing a light bulb, but the social life was good. The Air Force boys was good fun and the American servicemen was not too bad. Once a week there would be an inter-department darts match held at the Families Club; there would be us P.S.A. as we was then, the M.O.D police, the Air Force and Americans. The later you played the more likely you would be rather merry and I must say it happened to me a few times. Eventually the boredom got the better of me and I quit.
Back to the land
It was back to the land I went. I worked for Goodley farms. It was winter so I got a job on the sugar beet cleaner for the season. It was bitter cold work picking weed and stone off the belt before it went into the lorry. Between the lorry drivers and loader driver we had great fun and took no notice of the weather. At the end of the season I was pleased to be asked if I would like to stay on, which I gladly accepted. After doing some different types of farm work I was sadly made redundant but that was only temporary as it was time for the sugar beet again. I then got a job with Keith farms on their sugar beet cleaner for the season.
After the season was done I was on the move once more to the Roman Catholic Shrine in Lt Walsingham as a trainee cook. It meant living in because the pay was very low, but again I was not keen on being indoors and working when others were not. I must say, though, living in a community was good living and we all had a good and happy time. Both lay and clergy we were all the same. I think Father Birch and Sister Marina was my favourites. At the end of the pilgrim season I finished. But was asked to return the next season, only this time I went back as a painter and decorator. I explained that I had never hung wall paper before. Tom, head of maintenance gave me some books and said go to your room, read how it’s done and have a go. My first job was to put wood chip paper on a ceiling; after a bit of a struggle I completed it. Tom came back and said, ‘Very well, I have twenty rooms that need papering, walls and ceiling alike’, and that’s how I learnt the art of decorating.
Now it was at this time I met C., he was an elderly gent who lived in the house where we all lived. C. very rarely left his room but spent most of his time writing. C. was at one time right-hand man to Baden Powell in the Scout movement. He also was a photographer and writer to the Eastern Daily Press. He lived in Dow House on the High Street in Walsingham, and then in later years he gave the house to the Shrine in exchange for their care of him. I was asked to go to Dow House and clear the attic. While I was up there I found some old paper cuttings written by C. and have them today. I mention C. because he is part of the puzzle or coincidence, which becomes clear a bit further on [in the author’s book]. Like most things that job came to an end it was a shame, I enjoyed it. While working at Lt Walsingham I was asked to escort the statue of our Lady (the very heart of the Shrine being in that statue). The escort was all lay people and none of the clergy. We were accompanied by Father Birch and two of the Marist Sisters, all anxious to meet Pope John Paul. Not only was it an honour but it was also a privilege as I am a non-Catholic. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful time and again the people I met I will never forget.
The carrot wash
Again I took employment linked to the land, this time at a carrot wash at Hempton. The carrots would come in off the fields in a forty foot bulker, the bulker was backed up a ramp onto a boat-shaped hopper that would then feed the factory. The carrots were then fed through a chain of graders and belts that the ladies stood by and picked the bad and rubbish out of the good ones, which then dropped onto a belt to be bagged and tied ready for the London market that evening. That was a job that kept me fit, as I had to unload the bulkers by myself. The bulker trailers had a belt that ran at the bottom of the trailer, and when the carrots were wet and muddy I had to use a fork to get them on the belt; if they were frozen it was like chipping away at a brick wall. Summer time when they were nice and dry I would have two bulkers at once to unload. The one thing I cursed was when we had to do parsnips, they would tangle together and block everything up, so not only did I have to keep jumping in and out of the bulker but keep all the machinery from blocking up as well.
The carrot wash came to an end like most of life’s experiences which we can all look back and say, that was another piece of my life that I can learn from, and not with despair but glad to say that I did this.
Submitted by Kevin (b. 1956) in 2013.
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