Farm camps 2


I am writing to you from the remembered past of the 1940s, partly to meet the questions posed by Hedley Whiteley’s mention [in the previous newsletter] of the School Farm Camps during and after the war and partly to signify that I am still around. To put you more clearly in the picture before I continue I was at the School from 1939 to 1946 and was present at the passing of power from D.J.D. Smith to W.R. Swale. Hedley Whiteley and I were both at the Moulton farm camp, though I have to admit that I cannot recall him, nor he, probably me. But I agree with him that it was an extraordinary experience for us and I remember that potato picking gave me my first known experience of the agonies of backache.

Hedley mentions a later farm camp at Kington, Herefordshire, though he does not put a date to it. I attended a farm camp in Herefordshire at Eardisley under the leadership still of D.J.D. Smith. He left Heath at Easter 1946, a moment I remember with some detail since, as senior prefect at the time, I had the duty of collecting money for his leaving present and making a presentation to him at his last appearance at morning assembly. (The present was four Beethoven symphonies on records. You can imagine the number of 78 rpm records and the weight of the parcel!)

To return however to the farm camp. In a diary kept at the time I note that the camp was from August 15th to 30th 1945. On VJ Day, Raymond Hanson, Geoff Ellis and myself went on as an advance party, bearing three large boxes entrusted to us by D.J.D. Smith, to be picked up by him on his arrival later. We left the train at Hereford and were horrified to find that the three boxes were missing. As I put it in the diary, ‘The train went out 10 minutes late, owing to our desperate search, leaving us forlorn and apprehensive at the thought of the forthcoming interview with D.J.D. Smith on the platform at Hereford!’ All was well in the end, for the cases arrived on the next train.

I describe Eardisley as

a beautiful little village consisting of half-timbered whitewashed houses along the road, two pubs, “The Tram” and “The New Inn,” a lovely Church set back from the road in the trees, a general store run by Mr Triffet and a baker’s shop owned by Mr Powey. Our premises were the Village Hall and a large field which we shared with a herd of bullocks. We set to work organising things and built a variety of wooden structures, put up tents, getting everything ready for the arrival the next day of the main party, headed by Mr ‘Chuss’ Place.

There follows a description of the activities of the week, including a Carnival which we attended in force and received free ice-cream, lemonade and cakes, followed by a bonfire, dancing in the square, music and a firework display.

On the Saturday night we gave a concert in the Village Hall to the villagers who had received us so well. There were numerous items including a ‘ballet of the corn sheaves,’ the grotesque quality of which can be imagined and a final chorus of apposite verses, sung to the tune of Riding down from Bangor. Below are a few of the many verses.

We give a hearty welcome
To all our Eardisley friends.
We hope to know you better
Before our stay here ends.
We’re going to introduce you
To our good companee
A handsome set of fellows
As we hope you will agree.

Our Headmaster's here with us;
He's looking fit and well.
No wonder when he’s got a wife
Whose cooking is just it.
Mr Place is ever ready,
He emulates the ants
But need he always go to Church
Dressed in his rugger pants.

They live in Mireside Manor,
A group of charming boys:
Soapy Lovelace, handsome Fielding,
Lucraft B and a lot of noise.
We’ve staunch cooking helpers:
Willie Walker and young Swift.
They’d be really helpful workers
If we could but make them shift.

We've worked like blinkin’ Trojans;
We're really a tough crowd.
We’ve stoked and picked and thistled,
Nettle scarred but still uncowed.
With two tough hefty He-men,
Hanson R and Ellis G.
They cultivate their whiskers
Till their beards ’re a joy to see.

Boocock and young Swanny
Don't make a lot of fuss;
But they get a pile of fanmail,
Enough to fill a bus.
We’re afraid our little Derek
Has fallen into sin.
For he’s let the Farmer’s daughter
Look in his little tin!

We've got a new arrival;
His name is Kenneth Stead.
He would be much more welcome
If he didn't smoke in bed.
But now our tale is ended.
We hope you liked our song;
We thank you for your welcome;
We’ll be here again ’ere long

The song and the sketches were much appreciated and the concert was the talk of the village the following day.

Our farewell performance for the villagers was on the night before our departure back to normality. Again I quote verbatim from the diary.

On the last night we held a procession through the village. We had towels draped over our heads and at the front were four boys carrying a “corpse” made of straw and covered in a white shroud. The Head led the way bearing a jam jar with a lighted candle. We sang songs as we walked and the “wake” stopped at the “Tram” where a slightly tipsy farmer stepped out and gave a vote of thanks, praising us to the skies. He then rendered a solo version of The Farmer’s Boy while we all joined in the choruses. When he asked a comrade to second the vote of thanks, in response, that worthy said hear, hear!

At that point my account ended, and so did the Farm Camp of 1945 at Eardisley, Herefordshire.

Best Regards

Gordon Boocock [Heath 1939–1946]

First appeared in Newsletter dated