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“My Orford” - Post War Orford

At the end of the war, the prisoners-of-war were repatriated and demobbed, as were other servicemen over a period of time, they had all seen and done things which made them different persons to the ones they were before being called up into the services. All gained from the experience in some way or another, they had been beyond the narrow confines of the village and become more worldly.

Those first few years after the war ended were very austere, rationing continued, clothing coupons were still needed for certain items of clothing, not having enough coupons for a new suit I was married in the suit I had been given when demobbed from the RAF.

Upon my release from the RAF on 8th April 1946 I obtained a job on the farms at Gedgrave and Sudbourne Hall which were part of Sir Peter Greenwells estate. Sir Peter had by this time been repatriated from the prisoner-of-war camp.

On June 1st 1946 I married my wife Gwendoline and lived with her parents until we found a house to rent. Farm workers wages were not great and overtime and piecework were always welcome to help save for the furniture we would eventually need.

Piecework was obtained when hoeing sugar beet in the spring and pulling sugar beet in the autumn. The price being the weekly wage per acre. By working hard it was possible to hoe and pull in excess of an acre per week thus earning extra money, some of which was kept in reserve as we had to lose any wet time. I have no record of the price per acre in 1946 but in 1949 it was £5-0-0 per acre. One of the fields which was a ploughed up marsh had a yield of 21 tons per acre. The yield per acre was important to us as Sir Peter paid us a bonus of 2/6 per ton on all tonnage over 10 tons per acre both for hoeing and pulling. It was these bonuses which made Sir Peter a good employer, in addition to the sugar beet bonus we were also given a yearly bonus based on a percentage of our yearly wages and when I later worked in the corn drier I got a grain handling bonus.

The winter of 1946/47 was very severe and I worked with the shepherd, Arthur Sutton, during the lambing season in January and February 1947. The lambing yard, made of straw bales, formed a square and around the inside walls of the square were individual pens. When the sheep gave birth, the ewe and offspring were moved into a pen away from the rest of the flock. Outside the yard was the shepherds hut, a wooden structure on wheels with steps leading up to the door, a fire provided warmth and at least one of us were in attendance day and night as the ewes gave birth.

Sometimes an ewe would die or reject its offspring, when this happened the lamb or lambs if it was a multiple birth would be taken into the hut and kept alive by being fed warm milk from a feeding bottle.

With the heavy snowfalls and sub zero temperatures it was a struggle at times to reach the lambing yard, some lambs died and as the weeks went by some of the sheep and lambs were moved into yards at the farm in the need for fresh ground to combat the common sheep disease of foot rot.

When it was thought that the weather was improving, a disused gun site was enclosed with sheep netting and tarpaulins fixed to the netting to form a wind break. The sheep and lambs were then turned into this area. As we left for home Arthur said "May the Lord be kind to you". That night the bad weather returned with a vengeance, a terrible blizzard with freezing temperatures and when we arrived the next morning it was to find more than half the lambs and some of the weaker ewes dead. It is difficult to describe our feelings after nurturing the lambs for so long under extremely difficult conditions and then losing so many overnight, it was so very disappointing.

Farming at this time was still labour intensive, about ten of us were cycling to Gedgrave from the village and there was a further seven or eight who lived in the tied cottages. Some horses were still being used although the use of the tractor was increasing.

The corn was cut with a binder which cut and tied the corn into bundles called sheaves. We would then pick up the sheaves, tuck one under each arm and stand them up with the bottoms about a foot apart and the ears leaning together. Eight or ten pairs were stood together to form a stook, known locally as a shock. The air could then flow through the stook to dry the straw before it was taken on trailers to the stack yard.

In the stack yard the sheaves were built into stacks, the stacking was a skilled job and was traditionally carried out by the head horseman, there was keen competition between the various horsemen as to who had the best stacks. Ideally the stack was made to be slightly larger at the eaves than the bottom and then made smaller from the eaves to the top to form a sloping roof. When the roof was thatched the rain water would then drip from the eaves to the ground without running into the stack. The stacks would stand until winter before being threshed during a slack time in the farming calendar.

Threshing was one of the more unpleasant jobs on the farm, it entailed dirt, dust, rats, noise and cold. The threshing machine, or drum, would be placed between two stacks, after the thatch was removed the sheaves were fed into the top of the drum where the corn was beaten and separated to emerge down chutes into sacks, the straw emerged at the opposite end and was carried by an elevator to form a straw stack, the chaff emerged through another chute into sacks and other residue was discharged underneath the drum, a long wooden rake being used to keep the residue clear.

There was always a terrific noise from the threshing machine and the tractor which was driving it, dust and dirt irritated the eyes and collected around the mouth and nose. We had no masks or goggles. The worst thing about the operation was the rats, as the corn stack got lower and lower so the rats would retreat lower and lower until the stack bottom, made of bracken or similar material to keep the sheaves off the ground, was reached. Sometimes there were so many rats the bottom would be heaving with them. Pitch forks were used to pierce the stack bottom in an effort to impale the rats and rats which ran out were killed near the wire-netting surrounding the stack which was required by law. We always tied our trouser leg bottoms with string to prevent them running up our legs.

Farming methods started to change fairly quickly during the early post war years, acres of marshland, previously used for grazing and hay making, were ploughed up using crawler tractors to pull the plough through the heavy soil. Winter wheat was sown in the autumn and produced very good crops on the fertile soil. Sugar beet and potatoes were also successfully grown. Rain water gathered in the low areas and small gully’s were dug from these areas to the drainage ditch. Farming on this type of land was completely different to the methods used on the upper lighter land.

Combine harvesters were, in my opinion, one of the greatest advances in farming techniques. One machine went into a field and cut and threshed the corn in one operation with the straw being picked up and baled by another machine. Operations which are taken for granted today but then it meant that no longer did the farm worker have the obnoxious job of threshing in the winter cold.

Sugar beet seed which had been sown in clusters resulting in the plants having to be singled by hoeing was now sown as single seed but still needed hand hoeing. Later, sugar beet drills were invented to sow the seed at spaced intervals thus dispensing with the need to single the plants by hand hoeing.

Sugar beet were pulled by hand using an implement called a Topper. This consisted of a ten inch long sharp blade with a hook at one end and a handle at the other. The hook was used to pull the beet out of the ground and then the top, containing the leaves was cut off by the blade. Hard backbreaking work but a means of earning extra money on piece work.

Then along came another advance in farm mechanisation, the sugar beet harvester. These machines topped and pulled the beet, the tops being put in a row on the ground and the beet going up an elevator and dropping into a trailer being driven alongside.

With the increase in mechanisation advances were also being made on the chemical side of farming. As new artificial fertilisers were developed to suit individual crops , the farm became less dependant on livestock to produce the organic manure which had been used hitherto. Straw which had been used to produce this manure was burnt for a number of years until being stopped for a number of reasons including the damage being caused to the atmosphere and the damage caused when the burning operation got out of hand.

Then came the chemical sprays, selective weed killers which would kill the weeds but leave the plants. Over the years, with the increase in chemical farming, I believe came the increase in the disease of cancer. I am aware that it is said that there is no connection but I remain unconvinced.

Around 1950 the cattle disease, foot and mouth struck at Chantry Farm, owned by Mr Sam Cordle. Precautions were immediately put into effect to stop the spread of the disease as required by law. The entrances to the farm were strewn with straw which was soaked with disinfectant. Anyone entering and leaving the premises were required to wash their boots in a tub of disinfectant placed at the gate for this purpose. The local policeman was present to ensure these measures were carried out.

All the affected cattle were killed and placed in a huge pit which was dug for the purpose, the carcasses were then covered with quicklime and the pit filled in.

Cattle which were not infected but had been in contact with someone from the farm, this meant the cattle which were grazing on the island and the cattle at Randalls Barn, were all taken to Randalls Barn where a team of butchers slaughtered them, skinned and cut them up. They were then taken away for human consumption.

This operation took place over the Easter week-end and was very upsetting for passers-by and others who could not resist watching these young cattle being treated in this way.

Within a short space of time disaster struck Chantry Farm again when an employee was moving a metal ladder near a straw stack, the ladder touched an overhead electric cable and the resulting short circuit set fire to the stack which quickly spread to a Dutch Barn fall of hay. The employee moving the ladder was very lucky and escaped injury.

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