Our family moved from Gold Hill to the High Street in a small terrace called ‘Sherburn Cottages’ right next to Walt Hutching carpenters shop and woodyard and opposite Bradley’s Farm. That year saw the beginning of apprenticeship to agriculture work. Haymaking, stocking corn sheaves and helping to build ricks. During the Christmas holidays I went threshing.
The travelling steam traction engine not only pulled the threshing machine around the country but also provided the power to operate it. My earlier efforts was putting fine wire mesh around the corn ricks and killing rats and mice which tried to escape from the bottom of the corn ricks as the ricks became lower and lower during the threshing.
That Christmas holiday saw me elevated from rat and mice killing, first to shutting off the thresher chutes as the bags filled with corn and next to shifting the bags to the weighing machine, topping up or taking away corn to make up the 112pound sacks before tying them, and finally lifting the sacks onto wagons which took them away. As it became urgent to finish the ricks before the weather changed, I found myself in sole charge of the chutes, grading the corn – four chutes, First grade, first grade, 2nd grade and last dregs* – inferior corn, plant seeds and anything else which vas left after the other grades were sifted out. The threshing machine operator, upon finding out I was an evacuee who had been doing the chutes and grading, weighing and loading, commended I would make a countryman yet and gave me a ten shilling note (50p).
* This was usually known as “tailings” and spread out on poultry runs for the chickens to scratch through, a non-rationed food supply. Pre-war this had been used for wild peasants feeding near woods etc.
Whilst living in Gold Hill, I had taken part in several ‘scrumping’ raids with other evacuees, mostly in Lille Oliver’s orchard. I gave this up after suffering bouts of stomach ache, not knowing the difference between cider apples, cooking apples or eating apples. However, I found one tree overhanging the road in what I believe was the Rectory orchard. This was opposite the Village Hall and Captain Dixon’s house. I picked up windfalls from this tree and really enjoyed them, and when I could not find any in the road probed the hedge. These apples were Worcester Pearmains and which I still try and find even today.
However, my forage had not gone unnoticed. Pulling myself out of the hedge one afternoon, I heard a voice, a loud voice, snapping out an order, “You, young man.” “Who? Me Guv.” There was this very big man, Captain Dixon, at his gate with his arm outstretched pointing at me. “Come over to me.” “Yes sir.” Cor! I had been caught red handed, and tried to hide my two apples behind me. He looked down at me from a great height, and gave a lovely grin. “My wife would like to know if you would like a basket of apples to take home. “Cor!” 1 was not being nicked. Smart reply, ‘Yes please Sir.”
Mrs. Dixon came to the gate with a basket of mixed apples and requested I return the basket next morning. The Dixon’s had an orchard running back from the road, along the back of the Co-op to the cottages behind it. Returning the basket the following morning, Mrs. Dixon informed me that whenever I wanted apples for my family, I need only call upon them.
The Dixon family was very friendly to me and later I had my first after school and Saturday morning job with them. Mrs. Dixon had a brother, a well-known opera singer, Jan Van de Gucht, who gave several recitals in St. Nicholas Church to packed pews. I did not go scrumping again as subsequently I found that most of the villagers would gladly let me pick up their windfalls if asked first.
This has brought back one other recollection, about scrumping. Farmer Tom Oliver had an orchard which ran along Ridgeway Lane and had been subjected to scrumpy raids. One afternoon Albie (Albert) Burns, one of the vacuees, had decided to climb a Victorian Plum tree and managed to get to the lower branches, when Tom Oliver came into the orchard and saw him. The rest of the scrumpy mob were waiting in the lane and yelled out a warning. Tom Oliver came dashing over and Albie climbed higher up the tree. Tom went round and round the tree calling Albie to come down. This went on for some time then Tom started to go back to the farm, whereupon the mob called Albie to come down.
As he started to do so, so Tom rushed back. Up the tree again and Tom going round and round. This went on for some little time. Finally Tom made his way back to the farm as it must have been milking time. Albie slid down, not before grabbing a few plums, and dashed for the hedge. As stated before, I never ever found any evacuee who had been whacked by an irate farmer. This was an example of the tolerance shown by most farmers to those drated ‘vacuees. Not only was Albie known to Tom Oliver as he lived in a cottage on the opposite side of the lane, but the Policeman, “Nobby” Clarke was not even informed.
PC ‘Nobby’ Clarke was one of those marvellous policemen who knew about anything which went on in the adult world, keep a tight rein on what was happening in the village and surrounding areas which he patrolled, apart from also doing duty in Sturminster. It was more than sufficient for him to call upon any miscreant or mischief maker and give a warning – it stopped misdemeanors dead.
As for the kids, if the word was out that ‘Clarkie’ wants to see you, you quivered in your boots. He had one sure way of dealing with serious drunken fights; he knocked them out cold with a right uppercut to the jaw and made their friends take them home.