Life at this time was a pretty routine, we played the normal games, went to school, Sunday school, etc. My lasting memory of school were the maps that covered the walls showing all the wartime boundaries and battles, these were kept up to date by the teachers. We read lots of books, my favourite authors were Arthur Ransome with his “Swallows and Amazon” series and W.E.Johns “Biggles” adventure books. The paper man delivered story comic books, “Adventure”, “Rover” and “Hotspur” which we read from cover to cover. We also listened every day to the children’s radio broadcasts on BBC.
We always seemed to have access to the local farms, we could just wander in and look around at the animals and equipment. My favourite was Parkers, next to the manor house. They would give us forks and let us help mucking out the byres and stables, putting down fresh straw for bedding. The muck was thrown onto a pile in the central courtyard, at seeding time the manure was forked into carts and then spread over the soil. In the potato fields, the manure was forked into the furrows at the time of planting. This work was all done by hand from horse drawn carts and ploughs. The byres and barns formed two sides of the quadrangle and were built from stone. They had an upper floor filled with hay and feed grains. There was a mill for crushing the feed grains. The feed was supplied to the stalls below using chutes.
Jim Ryder had a hardware store next to the Black Bull and every week he made a trip around the outlying farms to deliver orders and paraffin to the farmers. He loved company on these daylong trips and would take me along in the summer. Billy, Harry and Jim had all done this in their time. I would be at the store at seven in the morning and help load the cart, he never used the reins to give the horse instructions, it knew the route, where to stop or turn. Most of the outlying farms did not have electricity and used paraffin for lamps.
Autumn was harvest time and the local schools closed for “Potato Picking Week”. Because of the war, adults were not available to help with the harvest and school children were hired to pick potatoes. Although the rate varied, we got paid about sixpence per hour. We would leave home early in the morning and trudge across the fields to a farm carrying out own bucket and lunch. We would gather outside the farmhouse door and the farmer would select as many as he required for the day. Those not picked would try another farm.
The potato hills were in rows stretching the full length of the field. The farmer would stride off a pitch for each of the workers, leaving an empty sack at the end to mark the boundary. They used a two-horse team (or sometimes a tractor) to draw a “scatterer” along each hill. This machine had a blade which lifted the hill and rotating tines that scattered the soil and potatoes in a narrow swath. Our job was to pick up the potatoes making sure that we did not leave any by kicking over the loosened soil with or boots. Each pitch would yield several buckets of potatoes, as the buckets were filled, we carried them to the end of the pitch and filled the sack. The pitch length was such that as you finished, the farmer was just behind you opening up the next hill.
This was hard backbreaking work which we did for eight hours each day. We did get a one hour break for lunch. My favourite farm was “Tinklers” at Trimdon House Farm. They were one of the best farmers to work for. They were friendly made hot cocoa for breaks and lunch. They also let you go into the orchard and help yourself to an apple. Each day at the end of the shift you were allowed to fill your bucket with potatoes and take it home. Carrying this full bucket home over the fields at the end of a hard shift was like punishment. However it was wartime and the potatoes were much appreciated at home.
The farmers stored the harvested potatoes in “Pies”, the filled sacks were loaded onto a cart and taken to a prepared area for winter storage. The prepared area was a long strip of ground about ten feet wide, which had been cleared and covered with a bed of straw. The sacks were emptied onto this bed of straw to make a continuous mound. The mound was then covered with a thick layer of straw and topped off and sealed with clay making the “Pie”. Straw provided insulation and clay the weather protection. Throughout the winter and spring, the farmer could open up the end of the “Pie” and take out sufficient potatoes for their customers.
Harvest time was threshing time, steam traction engines would haul the threshing machines around the farms and all hands got to the task. The sheaves were hand forked onto the threshing machine, the grain collected in large sacks and the straw bound and stacked for animal bedding. They would set up a fine mesh chicken wire fence around the base of the stacks to trap rats and mice that had made their home in the stacks. The children were given strong sticks to chase and kill this vermin, which tried to run when the stack was near its bottom. While I did try, I found it difficult to kill anything.
Another thing we did as a family was to go out and pick blackberries and rose hips. The hedgerows around Trimdon were covered with blackberry vines and wild rose bushes. We would each carry a large basket lined with newspaper and fill them with wild blackberries. We would eat quite a few as we picked but mother made them into delicious pies and jam. Of course our fingers were stained purple from the juices. We were always very careful to pick off the little white maggots before we ate or cooked them (if we saw them).
The rosehip collection was a government sponsored program organized through the schools. These have a high vitamin C content and were used to make a syrup to give to babies and young children. The other source of vitamin C for young children was imported concentrated orange juice, when it was available.
Fortunately we were a healthy family, other than Jim having rheumatic fever and Harry having an accident in the quarry, we did not many visits to the doctor who was a bus ride away in the next village. Mother did use well known home remedies to treat minor ailments. Mustard plasters were for skin ailments and fevers, sugar and green soap mix to draw puss out of boils, sulphur and molasses for internal problems. I am sure there were others that I don’t remember.