Working Lives

The Lean Years (1920s-1940s)

Location: Norfolk

Don talks about the lean years during the 1920s and his jobs as a boy on the land, until he volunteered for the army when war broke out.

I was 8 years old when I first had to help my father driving cattle by road from Bawburgh some 5 miles to Norwich Market. This was a weekly occurrence driving sheep or cattle, sometimes we had them mixed. I didn’t receive any wages for this.

Othertimes I helped my father with poaching, we had a large family and during the 1920’s things were very bad. We had to survive and this was the only way to get food to feed the family. What made things very difficult was the structure of the agricultural wage which didn’t pay for any wet time or sickness, therefore during a spell of inclement weather I have known my father to come home with only a few shillings for his weekly wage to feed us.

When I was 10 years old we had to get out of our tied cottage owing to my father having a dispute with the farmer over piece work. We had no where to go and the bailiff was called in by the farmer and our home was taken from the house and placed on the road. The police where there to see that the job was carried out. Fortunately temporary accommodation was found with two sympathetic sisters who took us in. Thankfully much later we were found a council house.

My first paid job was doing a day’s threshing when I was 14 just before I left school. The farmer said you have worked like a man I will pay you like man and paid me seven shillings and sixpence, which I took home to my mother.

When I left school I worked on the farm helping the shepherd, for this I was paid ten shillings and sixpence for five and a half days work, 7.00a.m., to 4.00 p.m. Mother had the ten shillings and I had the sixpence! I left when I was 15 to work on a poultry farm, working the same hours for twelve shillings and sixpence. I left this job when I was 16 to work on the farm doing general farm work. Working with the horses, horse hoeing, cultivating etc. I worked there until the war broke out when I volunteered for the army. Where again my pay was ten shillings and sixpence. I was in the Household Cavalry again working with horses. We became mechanised and I drove an armoured car and passed my mechanics test allowing me another a very small increase in my pay. After an accident in 1942 I was discharged by the army and could not work for a long time.

Don (b. 1920) talking to WISEArchive in 2007 at Stoke Holy Cross.

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