Three Fakenham Sisters – Iris & Diane (2007)

Location : Fakenham, Norfolk

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Diane and Iris – older and younger sisters of Hazel.

Iris & her first jobs

I left school at fourteen and went to work in a shop for seven and six pence a week which today would be thirty five pence. I had to give my mother a third of that for my keep and I had the rest for myself. Clothes were all rationed. You could only have a coat and a pair of shoes on one lot for the winter and a summer dress and whatever on your summer ones, then your year’s coupons would be gone. There was no fashion then the same as there is today. You just had two outfits. You could get a pair of leather soled shoes. You could also get a pair of shoes with wooden soles and they had a hinge across so you could bend your foot and they weren’t on coupons, we used to have a pair of those to eke the other ones out.

In the 1947 winter I remember going out in the snow in twelve foot snow drifts and everything got stuck We had to go cabbage cutting and there was this field with just lumps in and you had to cut the lump and hope there was a cabbage under it. And they made a fortune because there wouldn’t be many other vegetables available so when they did manage to get some out, of course they were like gold dust. Then with the weather being bad we used to get sacks and have a sack tied round us, fold it to make like a corner and you’d have the corner down your back to keep the weather off you There was no waterproof clothing. There was rubber boots. That’s about all there was. But you had to give your coupons up for them.

I left that and I went on a milk round and that was all rationed. My milk was rationed in the containers that I had and I’d have to give the exact half pint or pint or I wouldn’t have enough left for the last person. There was a twenty gallon drum or a churn in the back of the van. When I first went there it was a horse-drawn cart. And then they graduated to a van and you were able to hand fill bottles, and put the cardboard tops on.

Diane

Before they had these silver foil tops you had a disc of card board and there was a little perforated round bit in the middle and you had to poke it with your finger so that you could get your straw in. That was the school milk. You used to get a third of a pint.

Iris

I went from the milk float when I was eighteen and I went to a dress shop at Holt. I didn’t like that very much so I didn’t stay there long so I came back onto the farm. I was about two years on the milk float. And then I got a job on the farm feeding cattle, going out in the fields kale cutting and the mangolds and the hay. Mangolds are similar to swedes but bigger and they taste sweet . They’re between a sugar beet and a swede. They come in different colours, pink and orange. We used to have to put them in a grinder and have a pitch fork, that was just a fork with two tines on, and you put that in and you turned the handle and that would all come out shredded like chips And you’d mix that with chaff and pulp and bone meal and that sort of thing for the nutrients and that was for the cattle. There used to be the beef cattle out in the fields and the nurse cows and every time the cow had a calf, she had four teats but she’d only have one calf, maybe two and they used to buy in two cows from the dairy herds where they didn’t want the cows suckling the calves and so that poor cow had to suckle four calves and they just had one teat each.

I went from there onto pig feeding. That was all little pigs everywhere. And they used to run the pigs in the bullock yards where the cattle were and then any food that the cattle dropped out of their mouths the pigs used to come along and eat so there was nothing wasted. The piglets were really sweet with little tiny feet but it was awful really because I used to go in there with my horse and this tumbril with the feed on the back and she’d go plodding along and you’d go through one bullock yard and she’d go up to the gate and I’d have to open the gate for her to go through and these little pigs would all be under the straw and she’d be trampling on them as she went through, poor little things. And how they used to squeak out, but none were killed.

A tumbril is a little square cart with two wheels and that had a tipping mechanism and you’d pull an iron bar and that would tip the load off at the back. The wagons they were the bigger ones and they’d put ladders (like racks) at the back to make a bigger load and you could get twice as much on.

Diane

You’d get your oblong wagon and you had like a frame work and if you had your cart which is that long, your load could then be out there because that would be extended on there racks.

Iris & the prisoners of war

There were no men, all the men were at war. There were just the old people who were too old to fight, who’d done their stint in the last war; & the young boys, they were called up at seventeen. So instead of me getting called up I went on the land. I wouldn’t join the Land Army because I didn’t want to go away from home. If I had have joined the Land Army they could have sent me anywhere. But I had a lot of friends who were in the Land Army.

They used to have the Italian prisoners of war and the Germans doing all the work, draining and ditching and hedging to keep the water flowing and stop the meadows from flooding The rivers and becks and ditches used to have to be kept clear otherwise the cattle wouldn’t have their feed.

Audrey, the girl I used to work with, Ivan, he used to have a very special romance with her. He used to leave her a little piece of hemlock or hogweed which he cut and make her a vase and pick wild violets and leave her a little love token in the turnip shed. Ivan was German. And my late husband’s father used to drive the prisoners of war. They used to be at Pudding Norton in Nissen huts. There was a proper camp there. My father-in-law used to drive them about.

And the funniest thing that happened, the last day Audrey saw Ivan, the lorry conveniently broke down outside her gate. She lived with her grandma and she was out in the garden picking raspberries or black currants and so they were able to say goodbye. In the end she married a German prisoner of war. And actually he’s still alive and he still comes to see me. Frank, who married Audrey, I think he was 92 on 1st November. He wouldn’t go back to Germany. He found a good slot and he used to work in a shop down at Wells and he started to drive taxis and found he had a better life here. Didn’t he have his own shop at Holt?

Diane

That was the Frank Mayer shop at Holt. He just changed the spelling of his name and put an ‘a’ instead of an ‘e’ for the second letter. He still has a slight accent.

Iris & her sisters during the war

After that I did whatever man’s job there was to do. Harvesting. You just had to go and do whatever was there because there were no men to do it. I worked on the water cart like Hazel. (her younger sister) That was just a way of life, you just got on and did things.

Diane

Hazel was really tiny. She was only Size 8 when she was thirteen or fourteen.

Iris

I remember when she was little, the road man, he who used to come round and mend the pot holes and have the wheel barrow with the tar and that. He used to say ‘Come on Little Britches’ and he’d stand her up on the tar barrel and make her sing for a halfpenny. And she’d sing. She still can sing well now. She was a tiny little thing to look at.

Diane

Because she was so small everything came hard to her, didn’t it? But she was a little devil though.

Iris

During the war there used to be a shop in a little wooden hut. I went there when I was about fourteen to help out. The Canadian soldiers who came from Stamford Vale area were all training for D Day all around Saxlingham. There were all these great big tanks and lorrys and motor bikes and despatch riders. Nobody knew what was going on. They were all camped all over the farm. That was all very ‘hush hush’. There used to be one of them in particular, he was a despatch rider, they go ahead, and he was in front of everybody else and he’d come into the shop to see if he could buy some sweets or cigarettes or anything. That was his excuse. But he was after me. I did have a friendship with him and I had a few letters and then they all stopped and I think he got killed. Had he been alive he would have contacted me. There’s just a big question mark over that one.

Diane (younger sister)

I remember when they were over there I was very excited. Because one of them gave me a sixpence, which was a fortune. And another one, or it might have been the same man, Ernie, Ernie Fulerstone, he gave me a half pound slab of dark chocolate. I never remember eating much more than two squares of it, though. I don’t know what happened to that, I’m sure.

Iris

The shop was a little wooden hut like a chicken hut in the garden and the man who had it lives over at Melton Constable and he used to bring over rations. You’d get a little bit of cheese, about 2 ounces, 2 ounces of sugar, 2 ounces of bacon, flour. I’d work there all the week and my week’s takings wouldn’t be £20 and that would include selling cigarettes and tobacco. There wasn’t the money. And those who had the money couldn’t buy anything because things were rationed and there was nothing there. There was a shed out the back that had paraffin in and you used to have to go and get this paraffin for the oil lamps because there was no electricity then. That was all oil lamps and oil stoves for cooking and that sort of thing.

Diane

There was nowhere to go for a wee up there.

Iris

If I wanted to go out for the night I had to take a kettle of water upstairs and wash in my bedroom. There were no bathrooms and no flush toilets, just a pot under the bed.

I was washing at the kitchen sink one day and the door was there and there a mirror over the fire place and one over the sink. The sink was in a recess and there was me having a strip thinking I was all right, and there was a taxi driver come to the door and he looked in the mirror and he saw me and he stood there ages.

Diane

We were taught to be very modest in those days. But he seemed to be hanging on a long time and Iris couldn’t understand why he was taking so long.

Iris

He was the local taxi driver so I had to face him. He was quite good looking and all that.

Diane

He had this rather cheerful smile on his face!

Iris

Everything was rationed. You couldn’t get soap or perfume or talcum powder. You’d be lucky if you got baby powder, which is what we used to have. No shampoo. You just washed your hair with soap.

Diane

I think I remember a powder shampoo

Iris

We used to give ourselves home perms, but that was after the war.

And wedding cakes, they were all rationed. If you went to a wedding and you’d see three tiers the bottom two would be icing on cardboard and the top tier would be a sponge with the icing all over.

Diane

When we look back at what we had and what we did, how we had to manage, it’s like the Third World. In fact it was worse in some respects. I’ve bought some money to show you. ( Hands round some coins including those from the time of George III )

PAUSE IN RECORDING TO SHOW ROUND COINS BEFORE CONTINUING

Iris

We used to go to the Stiffkey Camp for dances. There were three or four of us. That was in the black-out and we weren’t allowed to have our lights shining on the full torch, we had put cardboard over and have just a little slit to show the light and there used to be a piece over it so it didn’t show up to the planes. We used to bike to Stiffkey dances which was about six miles, I suppose. They used to go from Saxlingham and Field Dalling, Binham, Cockthorpe and Stiffkey. I met a boy there and we had quite a nice little romance and on my sixteenth birthday he bought me this cross on a chain And he was called up to go into the Merchant Navy. He came home on leave and I thought, I’m going to see him tonight, and he was as drunk as a fiddler’s monkey so that ended that. That was Vick. And I was talking to someone on the bus coming from King’s Lynn, just the other day, and I found out that he went to Australia and married a land army girl. So at least I know where he is and what happened to him after all that while. That’s sixty years ago, more than that, because I was sixteen and I’m seventy nine now.

Diane

When she was waiting he came to see her at the farmhouse and he was waiting near the gate. The boys wouldn’t come down to the front door because they were afraid of my father. So she said to me, ‘Go and tell Vick I’ll only be a few minutes’ and I said ‘How will I know which one is Vick?’ and she told me that I’d know it was Vick because he had a spot on his face. He had a mole on his face somewhere. So I went up and told him and said ‘I know you’re Vick because you’ve got a spot on your face.’

Iris

I was going our with Ernie Forbersley and he used to write to me and after his letters stopped I moved on and had another romance and I thought, I’m going to burn all those letters. Because Hazel would have everything. She used to have her nose in everything. I couldn’t have anything without her getting her mitts on it. We had an old bed with a counterpane over it to protect the mattress and I made a hole in that and I used to have that as a hidey hole. And after this romance finished I thought I’d burn those letters. And we had a wash house with a coal copper.

Diane

The wash house was a lean-to, against the house and where the roof came up there was a chimney that went down to the copper.

Iris

The copper was like a big bucket in a brick surround and you lit a fire under it to heat the water to boil your washing. And when it was bath time we had to heat the water like that to have a bath.

Well, I thought I’d burn all the letters in there. And they wouldn’t burn and I kept trying to get it to go. Then I found out, there was Hazel on the roof with a jug of water pouring it down the chimney to put it out because she hadn’t read the letters yet!

Diane

She rushed upstairs with a brush in her hand. She was going to beat her to death. Hazel jumped off the lean-to roof onto the wall. Iris was upstairs so Hazel nipped in the wash house and grabbed a handful of letters and went off round the farm.

Iris

She doesn’t remember that bit. But I had a bottle of perfume once, Californian Poppy. That was so scarce. I’ve always remembered. And Hazel had to work with the horse and he had a greasy foot and he stank to high heaven. And Hazel used to pinch my perfume to use at work for that old smelly horse. So I’d got nothing when I went out.

Diane

You had an awful row about something once, I remember. You chased her to the top of the stairs and she jumped.

Iris

That was when she’d taken my perfume. Three jumps and she was fourteen stairs down. One for the top, one for the middle and one for the bottom. She had a brush in her hand again. She had wings on her heels. And we had an old bicycle when we lived at Themelthorpe and we used to try to ride it. That was left in the shed when we went there. That hadn’t got any inner tubes so we stuffed the tyre with hay and we’d push it up to this railway bridge and someone would get on it and you’d give them a shove so they’d ride down, either ride or fall off. Well Hazel got fed up with that. And of course there was the railway bridge and there was the drop down to the Foulsham – Reepham line and Hazel used to get on this pillar and she’d run to the other pillar with that drop down onto the railway line.

And we used to go along there and collect wild strawberries and one day I found a snake skin. The snake had wriggled out of the skin and left it all in the vegetation. I was only about eight years old. I sat at the tea table that night and I say ‘Dad, I’ve seen a snake skin.’ and he say ‘You’ve seen something I’ve never seen’ He said ‘In all my years I’ve never seen anything like that.’ and he said ‘After you’ve had your tea you must take me and show me.’ Well, we marched across this meadow. He say ‘I think you’re telling me a lie.’ and I said ‘I’m not.’ but I couldn’t find it. Anyway I did find it. ‘Girl,’ he say, ‘you’ve seen something in your eight years that I’ve never seen in my life.’ And he was as pleased as could be.

Iris

Then there were the land army girls. I’ve still got a very good friend on Yorkshire who I met in the land army. She was married the same day as I was. She married a local boy.

Diane

The farm where we worked, my father was foreman there so it wasn’t ours. We thought it was ours. We lived there after all. There’s quite a lot of story attached just to that really. I’ve got all the newspaper cuttings of the happenings of the owners. But they don’t own it now, they sold it. We are hoping to go to the farm, I think the old barn is still standing. There have been a lot of alterations. A barn was an oblong building with a big set of doors on the side and a big set of doors on the opposite site. Because in the days when they were built they would thresh the corn by hand. You’d have a flayer, which is two pieces of stick joined by a piece of leather. They’d whack it and then they’d throw it up in the air and the wind blowing through would take the chaff off. It wasn’t used any more nowadays. Most barns are very old. This barn had a little door. And the corn in those days used to be stored in sacks. During the war one of the men, we don’t know, Iris thought it was Tucker, the wall had been plastered because the bricks were crumbling, and someone drew a picture of a land girl in her round hat and breeches with a pitch fork and her boots.

Iris

I think that was Tucker Neal.

Diane

I think that was Hobo. And the funny thing is Hazel can’t remember it. But Hobo

married Mabel and she was in the land army

Iris

I can remember initials being carved in there.

Diane

There weren’t initials, there was that pencil drawing and three names beside it. And I think it was Mabel, Hazel and Audrey. They put Hazel in although she wasn’t in the land army. So we’re going to try and see when we got that way if it’s still there and if we can take a photo of it. I know it was there not that many years ago.

Iris

There used to be a slope where they used to take the trailers up and the carts down to wheel the corn out of that barn onto the trailers.

Diane

It was a wedge like a piece of cheese cut out so that the level of the trailer was on the same height as the ground.

Iris

Hazel went to Fakenham and she saw this bike. That was first thing after the War. It was a tricycle for a child with a big front wheel and two little wheels at the back. We’d got a younger brother. I was about fifteen or sixteen when mother had him. He was always out in the mud and if he could get in any oil he was happy. He used to have a red cap so we used to call him The Bisto Kid. He used to ride this bike round the farm and he went riding round there one day and he rode his bike down into that chute. The water and the mud collected in there and he was like a drowned rat. There used to be a sheep dip there as well every summer.

Diane, looking after the animals

The sheep dip was like a deep trough. One end was very deep and one was shallower and it had little steps so the sheep could come out. The sheep had to be dipped because of these horrible flies. They have to have a disinfectant bath. In fact I don’t think they allow it now because I think it was really quite toxic. But no one took any notice in those days and as far as I know no one died.

Iris

They did the cattle with warble fly treatment as well. That was nasty as well.

Diane

They used to round up all the sheep into a lump and you’d channel them off with hurdles, those things like gates with wheels on, so that only one could get down, and then you’d grab it, or the men would, and drop it in the dip. And the shepherd would give it a poke with his crook to make sure the head went under. And they came out bright yellow and complaining bitterly. It would take all day and go on for two or three days. We had quite a lot of sheep.

Iris

They had to run the sheep there because it was the only means of fertilizing the poor ground. The soil was such poor quality they had to run the sheep on it to get next year’s crop. The sheep were white faced. They might have been Cheviots but I’m not sure. The shepherd used to shear them and Hazel’s husband used to help. They used to have the shepherd’s hut on the field and they used to have a portable Lister engine and they would crank that up and there used to be a belt on that would drive something else and that would generate the electricity and then he would have his shears plugged into that somewhere and that would be how they’d shear the sheep.

Diane

The shepherd in lambing time would live in the hut, like a chicken hut on wheels.

Iris

He’d live there all the winter and his dog would be in there with him. The bed was like a wooden shelf and there was a little coal stove up the corner. And any little lamb that was poorly or had lost its mother and he had to bottle feed he had to have them in there as well, and his dogs.

Diane

The stove was round and tall and the top got hot for you to put your kettle on and you’d stoke it up from the bottom. And they were made of cast iron. I assume they would have had to have taken some coal down because wood would have burned away too quickly.

Making do

I often think to myself how smelly everyone must have been. We had clean clothes on once a week.

Iris

We had a bath on Friday night and we were given clean clothes then and that was yours until next week. When we had periods mother used to cut up old sheets and make squares and we had to have a piece of elastic round and a couple of pins and you’d have that on all day then put them in a white enamel bucket of water with a lid on and they had to be hid up down the wash house so the boys or men didn’t see them You had to put salt in it. That used to be terrible. But I was getting seven shillings and six pence a week and a packet of sanitary towels cost half a crown.( two shillings & sixpence) We couldn’t afford to do that.

Diane

That was the way everyone was. We must have all been smelly and quite a lot of clothes were never washed. Jackets if you washed them just shrank.

Iris

Sometimes if you had a good quality coat, like a wool coat, and the nap had all worn off. They would unpick it and turn it inside out and make another one. The buttons would be on the wrong side

Diane

When I was first married I went to Cyprus with my husband who was in the Air Force. I had a coat which was Melton cloth which has that fluffy finish and this Cypriot girl turned it for me so it looked as good as new and the buttons she moved over and covered the hole with the actual button and she made new button holes so that it didn’t look odd.

Iris

The most enjoyable part about working on the farm was looking after the baby animals, little pigs and that. Every now and again you’d see a new born foal. They used to have brood mares and we had foals every year.

And I remember one year we all went to the sea side. It was a special occasion with the Sunday School. The chapel put a bus on to take us from Themelthorpe to Cromer. We had our bathing costumes and a towel. We were pleased, except Hazel who ran into the sea with all her clothes on because she couldn’t wait. She was lucky because mother had to go and buy her some more new dry clothes so she came out best again. And when we got home mother got all the wet things out the bag and hung them over the railings opposite the back door, over the meadow. And there were the foals running around with our swimming gear on. They were having a lovely time.

Mother was blind. It was just a way of life and you just had to get on and do what you had to do. You didn’t complain because it paid you not to. I remember howling once and father didn’t know what I was howling about so he gave me something to howl for.

Diane

Times were hard. There were some unpleasant jobs on the farm, having to muck out all the stalls and the yards and spread it on the fields And there were silage carting which stinks worse than muck. And when you went hay carting there was an awful old knife that you used to cut down the hay stack. The worst thing was you’d get so dirty and not be able to have a bath. Everyone would tie their hair up because if you got it dirty it was a real chore to wash it and get it dry. And there were such dreadful rows about dinky curlers, I remember.

Iris

I used to buy the hair curlers and everyone else would take them. They were like two metal blades that clipped together and you’d wind your hair round them and another piece went over. We used to put hundreds of them in. I marked all mine with red nail varnish.

Entertainment

In the evenings we’d play board games and cards and mother had an accordion. Hazel sat one side and I’d sit the other and she used to pull and I’d play the notes and then we’d turn it round and I’d pull and she’d play the notes. That was too big for us. And before the war father used to take his accordion and go into Bintree Oak and he’d sit on a chair by the fire and play all night. And all the Air Force people from Foulsham Aerodrome and the Irish navvies who came to built it, they were all there and the more he played the more they bought him drinks. And of course the more he drank the more he played. And mother used to play too and she played the harmonium. We had a Christmas party once and someone fell through the floor in the front room and to save anyone getting hurt they put the harmonium over this wooden floor ( that was dry rot and you couldn’t get things repaired) And then there was a mouse that the cat brought in gnawed a hole in the bellows.

And father used to have a pig up the garden that he shared with a neighbour. And they used to save all the peelings and bits and cook them up and feed it. When meat was rationed half a pig each was wonderful. Mother was there salting and preserving it. The neighbour took his up the pub and sold it. That was easy money. He’d got so used to having his rations he wouldn’t eat his pork. We tried to make some sausages once but all we got were sausage skins full of wind. There’s quite an art in making sausages.

(Working on the farm could take it’s toll in the long term)

Iris

I have suffered a slipped disc and had two artificial knees.

Diane

You did wear yourself out. Any older person who has worked on a farm would say to you ‘You want to be careful. You’ll get into your bones what you’ll never get out.’ You do get arthritis. I didn’t work on the land as long as my sisters. I diversified.

Iris

After I was married I used to go out on a work van and go potato picking. There used to be rows of us across the field and you’d have your stretch to do. They were great big boxes, like that desk only much higher, You’d fill one of them and that would only be about 50 pence and you’d kill yourself to do it.

Diane

One woman who used to work with us was determined no one was going to earn more than her, we were doing piece work where you did that piece of work and were paid for that piece, She worked and worked and she stood there and she was trying to light a cigarette and she was shaking because she couldn’t make the two meet.

Iris

Five minutes before the end of time she’d always start another box, knowing she was holding the van up and we’d all go and help her to do it. She’s in a wheel chair now.

Diane

Iris used to go out dancing and there were always these dreadful rows because she wasn’t really very old and she went out one night and she came in having taking her posh silk stocking off because they were worth a fortune and hard to come by And the old farm house we lived in was very damp. And Iris came sneaking through in her bare feet and she got to the bottom of the stairs and she got a lizard stuck between her toes.

Iris

In this old farm house it was all red and black and cream tiles in the hallway.

Diane

I guess she made quite a racket. I remember her coming home from the dance once and at that time it was a wooden floor and all lino and this girl had given me a necklace for Christmas and I remember walking through there trying not to wake anyone up and the necklace had broken and these beads were bouncing all over the floor and it sounded like a machine gun going off.

Iris

I had a wonderful teenage life, There was laughter and there was tears but I think I’d do it all over again.

Diane

Especially as we were lucky enough not to lose anyone in the family because we were all working on the farm.

Iris

The only threat was if you got into trouble you’d go into a home. That was if you had a baby before you were married. There was no birth control of anything like that and you just had to keep yourself to yourself.

Diane

We three worked together after we got married and I came back to this country, because I was in Cyprus.

Iris

We used to work on some special strawberry plants grown for Cambridge Research Centre. And they used to be in gauze huts to stop anything going in. And we had to pack them up and you mustn’t get one runner off one plant into another one. They had to be kept separate all the while. And we had to pack them up and send them back to Cambridge. That was in the 1950s into the 1960s. We did that job for a long time. And we were happy. We hadn’t got much but we were happy.

We’d be standing there not able to walk because our legs were crossed and our eyes were streaming and we’d just be laughing ourselves silly.

We did have fun and we’re as close today as we were then.

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