I am a German citizen. I was a Prisoner of War at Camp 29 at Royston. During the latter part of my imprisonment, I worked and lived at Wendy, working for Mr. Sidney Bath.
I never returned to East Germany, where my family lived, and married a girl from Royston. We moved to Wendy where we lived at Church End until we were expecting our daughter.
We decided to try to find more suitable accommodation to bring up our child as the cottage we lived in was too small. The Farmers Weekly was advertising a job with a house in a place called East Hatley – which neither of us had ever heard of. I got on my bike and went off to see if I could get the job.
As I arrived at East Hatley I met an old gentleman who was walking very slowly down the road. I asked him if he could direct me to Manor Farm. He wanted to know what I wanted there. I told him I was going to see Mr. Richardson to see if I could get the job he was advertising. “I am Mr. Richardson,” he said.
He asked me lots of questions and took me to the farm to introduce me to his wife and to his son Fred and his wife Kit. We discussed the job and they showed me the cottage and offered me the job.
Both of us were very excited about our move to our new home, 8 East Hatley, a couple of weeks later.
The morning of our move came and Mr. Bill Thacker arrived with a tractor and trailer to move our belongings. He was a very friendly man and it didn’t take long to move us to East Hatley.
We soon settled in and gradually got to know people, at first the people with whom I worked and later, as we got around a bit, lots of others.
Our immediate neighbour was Mr. Sid Kitson and his wife Elsie. We learned later that Elsie was the daughter of Bill and Rose Thacker, who lived a bit further up the road. Next to them lived Cliff Whitby with his wife and children. These, then, were the people with whom I was to work.
Our work was varied as all farm work is, depending on the seasons. As we moved in the summer, we were soon engaged in the harvest. As described by Bill Richardson (see link below), there was a great difference between farming then and now.
Fred Richardson, Bill’s father, took me to a field and pressed a scythe in my hand to cut around the field for the binder to be able to get around for the first cut. I had never used a scythe in my life, but I soon learned how to mow. I also had to tie up the corn I had cut, by twisting some of the straw into long enough pieces to tie up the sheave.
It was hard work, and I went home very tired that evening.
The following day, we picked up the sheaves of wheat after they had been cut by the binder, as described by Bill Richardson, and set them into shocks to dry. We worked together as a team and our conversation never stopped while we worked. I started to enjoy the companionship.
The next job I remember was carting the dried sheaves off the field to a place where they would be put into stacks which we had to build. After the stack was built, it had to be thatched. Cliff Whitby did all the thatching in those days, while I prepared the bundles of straw on the ground for him to use.
Thatching was quite a skilful job – a well thatched stack was a beauty to look at. One could see lots of stacks all over the countryside in those days. Many farmers had a stack yard where there were four or more stacks in one place – this made it easier when it came to threshing, a job that could be very dusty.
In those days, combines were not heard of, or at least not practicable for a small farmer. The thresher was connected to a tractor by a driving belt. In our case, Sid Kitson would look after the tractor, a Fordson, and after the mechanics of the thresher.
The dry sheaves would be handed to another person who would hand them on to Bill Thacker, who would feed the thresher after cutting the string that had held them together. The corn would come out of a spout at the side, into bags. The straw went straight into a baler and would be transported to the back of the baler. I would usually pick up the bales and pack up a trailer for the bales to be transported to the farm or to be stacked.
Harvest over and autumn coming closer and winter not far away, we would now start the annual task of hedging and ditching. It kept all of us busy. We used to light big bonfires daily to dispose of the hedge cuttings. We also carted manure from the pigs that were kept on the farm.
The Richardsons had three tractors to my knowledge – a Fordson, usually driven by Sid Kitson, an Allis Chalmers, driven by Billy Richardson, and a Caterpillar, which was Bill Thacker’s vehicle. This was a task that occupied all of us. The driver would assist one of us in the yard to load the trailers from the dung heap and cart the dung to the field where it was unloaded into small heaps to be spread at a later date. It was a job that kept us warm on cold winter days.
In the winter of 1949 we were all busy in Buff Wood cutting a riding, which was a broad type of lane. My wife Edna, who was by that time coming to the end of her pregnancy, came out to see me on her bike to bring me some sandwiches and warm tea.
After the end of the lunch break, she would go ‘sticking’ – picking up pieces of wood suitable for the fire at home. She would leave a full bag of sticks at the side of Buff Wood and I would take it home after work.
They were very happy days. One day my axe slipped and the blade cut right into the instep of my right foot. I went to the farm to have it bandaged and old Mrs Richardson was most concerned that I had cut my wellington, as they were not cheap. Thankfully, my foot healed up, although I’ve been left with a permanent scar.
Our lives however were not all work. While we were not rich, we sometimes went to the local pub, ‘The George’ at Hatley St George, where we enjoyed pleasant company. The pub was run by Harry Kimpton and his wife Elsie.
They were very nice people. Having spent Christmas Day that year by ourselves, no baby yet, we went to ‘The George’ on Boxing Day. Everyone was asking when the baby was due, to which we replied “on Christmas Eve”. Edna was a picture of health. That night we really saw the spirit of a small community. We all sang all the old songs of those days.
I remember Mrs. Dunnet and Mrs. Baldwin, two lovely ladies who lived in the lodges of the Astor estate. There were also two Polish chaps, Edward Puoski and Stefan. Both of them worked for the Hon. J.J. Astor. Edward was a very good chef – I don’t remember what Stefan was doing. However it was all very jolly. Stefan was quite corpulent… it was rumoured that he wore a corset. We all had a really good sing song – a Christmas of long ago.
I came home from work on the 30th December to find Edna in labour. The Old Lady, as we called the old Mrs. Richardson, phoned for an ambulance and we were soon on our way to Cambridge to the Mill Road Maternity Hospital. Our daughter was born on the last day of that year.
When I was on my way home after the late bus from Cambridge, I picked up my bike at the bottom of Croydon Hill. It was cold and miserable and I was worried about Edna. Half way up the hill I was overtaken by a Jeep. It stopped, and Edward Puoski, a passenger in the Jeep, offered me a lift.
When I told him what was afoot, he took me straight to the Astor’s house and allowed me to use the phone two or three times to phone the hospital for news. By twelve o’clock they told me to ring back in the morning as nothing had happened yet.
Edward gave me something to eat and I went home on my bike. It was cold and lonely that night and sleep would not come. I rolled one fag after another. The following morning, I went to work early and the Old Lady phoned the hospital for me. We had a little daughter. There was never a happier worker cleaning out the pigs that morning. Life carried on and after getting our Elizabeth home, we felt a perfect little family.
Spring came and one morning Bill Thacker told me that we would have a well paid job coming up – soot sowing. We had to get up early, while it was windstill, to spread soot on a field that was to grow Brussels sprouts. What a messy job, but well paid. The worst part was the cleaning up afterwards. We had no bathroom in those days and the tin bath-tub in the shed at the bottom of the garden had to do.
1949 had come to an end and the farming cycle began again.
We left East Hatley after a couple more years to work on a number of farms. When I was standing on top of a stack one summer during a lull of work, I spotted something glittering in the far distance. I wondered what it was, to be informed by Sid Kitson that that was the roofs of the local Mental Hospital at Arlesey in Bedfordshire, known as Three Counties Hospital. Little did I know what significance that place would have in my life later.
While I was at East Hatley, I also remember trying to teach Billy Richardson, as we called him in those days, to swim. But where? The venue was a disaster. Best forgotten. I wonder if Bill remembers.
A couple of years later, when working near Buntingford, the local clergyman, told me about nurse training and about the hospital at Arlesey. I applied and started my nurse training in psychiatry at Three Counties Hospital and, after completion, trained as a General Nurse at the Lister Hospital at Hitchin.
I am retired now, having enjoyed a long career in nursing which terminated in Buckinghamshire, where I ended my career as a Divisional Nursing Officer in charge of the Psychiatric Nursing Service of that county.
We retired to Cornwall and after twelve years moved to Devon to be near our daughter and our grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Being an ambitious person I enrolled at Exeter University at the age of 68 and completed my BA in the Classics Department of that university.
A long journey from East Hatley – a place that will always be remembered with fondness.
In October 2013, Ernst-Wilhelm published Selected Poems – his selection of rhymes based on the experiences of his long life. It costs £10.00 and is available from good book shops – as well as Amazon.
He is donating 50% of any royalties to Hospicecare in Devon – for a hospice in Honiton.
First published on the original Hatley website, September 2013; with minor changes for this website, Oct 2018.