Malhamdale Local History Group
The Wartime Memories of
Edith lived with her grandparents at Rookery Farm, Winterburn in the early years of the war but the family got the tenancy of a larger property, Hanlith Hall Farm and were due to take over on March 1st 1941. Taking over the new farm proved to be quite an ordeal. As petrol was rationed to eight gallons per month, there was no transport available to move the flock of 250 ewes from Winterburn to Hanlith, so the family decided they would be walked to their new home.
The flock was gathered and Edith was to lead with two or three pet sheep, encouraging them with a few nibbles of corn cake. The first obstacle was Winterburn Beck, a fast flowing overflow stream from the reservoir. The sheep all piled up on the bank and the first efforts to get the pet sheep across failed as they turned back as the water got deeper. Edith went back and forth enticing them with corn until eventually two sheep braved the crossing and the others followed.
By this time Edith was soaked but there was another four miles to go over Cowper Cote land and on to Calton Moor. The ewes were tiring as they were heavy with lamb, but with lots of stops and starts and the odd nibble of corn, they arrived at High Banks Pasture, only to find the gate was barbed wired over, so a gap had to be made in the wire to allow the sheep through. Even then the drama was not over as the field contained several young horses which galloped around terrifying the sheep and scattering them in all directions. However order was eventually restored and everyone settled down into their new home.
At the time of the move to Hanlith it was obvious that the war was not going to be over quickly. The local young men were being called up into the forces and then it was the turn of the girls, friends of Edith’s, Florence Foster, Mary Yeadon and Mary Broughton, all went away. Then came the dreaded day when it was Edith’s turn. She sought the help of Mr Illingworth and appeared before a tribunal in Skipton to argue the case for staying at home and working on the farm, where her help was desperately needed. She won the case and was allowed to stay.
The War Agricultural Committee had been established with the need for Britain to become more self-sufficient in the area of food production, so large areas of Craven which had been pasture, now had to be cultivated to produce oats, potatoes, swedes etc. After assessment by officials, Hanlith Hall Farm was given instructions as to what had to be grown. Aynhams Pasture on the hill top behind Skellands had to be given over to oats, and Low Elthouse Meadows had to be clover and peas. Clover and peas were quick crops and could be grown two or three times a year for animal feed. High Elthouse had to be swedes for feed for milk cows and sheep. When it came to harvesting the swedes, they had to be pulled up, the tops and tails cut off and thrown into a cart to be taken to the stock in the various fields. The tops were taken to the barn and chopped as fodder. Nothing was wasted!
When the oats were harvested this was a difficult job. The oats grew very tall because of the Dales climate and were mixed with thistles and nettles. The binder made the crop into bundles or sheaves which were made into stooks, eight bundles to a stook facing into the wind to dry. This was done by hand and the thistles and nettles made it a very painful job and the bundles were difficult to stand because the oats were so tall. Edith managed to get hold of a pair of driving gloves which protected her hands and made the job a little easier. Some of the straw was chopped and mixed with oats to feed to the horses in nosebags. It was called ‘choppie’. At this time the farm had three horses and a small tractor.
These jobs were all labour intensive and Edith recalls she seemed to be working ‘day and night’. Eventually, however, prisoners of war were used as extra labour on the farms, firstly the Italians and later Germans from the camp at the Bailey in Skipton.
Things were rapidly changing in the Dale. Food was getting scarce and rationed, with supplies of such things as dried eggs and milk powder coming to Fred Green’s at Gargrave by canal. The Home Guard had been formed and the men not in the forces had to join and do the training on the field in front of Hanlith Hall. Mrs Procter from Holgate Head started a knitting circle to make gloves, scarves and balaclavas to send to the Front. Social evenings such as whist drives and dances were held to raise money for food parcels to be sent to the troops. These parcels were organised by the Procters and Rev Chick who was quite a character in the Dale. Edith remembers that he travelled around the Parish on a bike or a motorbike but he always wore his black cassock which billowed out around him making him look like ‘Batman’. But it was an accident waiting to happen, and sure enough one day the cassock got caught in the wheels of the bike and Rev Chick went a cropper!
Evacuees came to the area and were billeted with local families. Some stayed but others could not settle so far from home and returned to the cities, despite the dangers. Two were billeted with Edith’s family at Hanlith.
But in spite of all the problems with shortages and changes to life, Edith recalls that there was a real community spirit with everyone working together.
Life was not without its exciting moments either. One day when she was returning to the house on a path which ran along the hillside, she became aware of a black shape which turned out to be a small German plane circling the valley, so close she could see the face of the pilot. It went off back down the Aire valley and was said to have dropped a wreath at Morton, outside Keighley. The plane was eventually intercepted and the pilot taken as a prisoner of war.
As the war dragged on there were nightly bombing raids on Liverpool. The German planes came over the dale between 11pm and midnight and used the tarn as a marker on their way to the city. The Messerschmitt were followed by our spitfires attempting to intercept them. One night a German bomber was successfully intercepted and jettisoned its load of twelve bombs in a straight line on Black Hill on Malham Moor. The military later came to detonate them. This was no doubt a terrifying experience, not least for the Home Guard who were stationed on Kirkby Fell.
From the high points in the Dale, it was possible to see the barrage balloons of Liverpool, and when the bombing raids were successful, the sky glowed red with the fires from the city. Edith remembered how they used to feel so sorry for the people made homeless by these raids. The war certainly seemed to be getting closer and fear of invasion grew. People became much more prone to panic and were on the look out for strangers.
By this time Edith had married and moved to Capon Hall or Capna. She had met Robert at a Home Guard dance at Kirkby Malham and they were married in Kirkby Church by the Rev Chick. Organising a wedding in war time was not easy with everything being on coupons. Edith’s dress was made by her sister-in-law from a remnant of pink crepe. Mrs Illingworth had decorated the church with daffodils and they spent a honeymoon in Blackpool, which was full of RAF personnel.
Farming life continued with the endless round of hard work, eventually with the help of two German POWs who lived in at Capna. After the war, many of these prisoners stayed in touch with the families, some even choosing to stay in the area rather than being repatriated.
Finally the war was over with Malham seeing jubilant celebrations for VE and VJ Days. It had certainly been six long years in the life of the Dale.
Read the Wartime memories of other Malhamdale residents:
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