Malhamdale Local History Group
The Wartime Memories of
By the outbreak of war, John was already working on his father’s farm, Prior Hall at Malham. Like all other young men he had to present himself to be assessed for military service and was pronounced A1, but because he was already working on the farm, he was allowed to continue. However this state of affairs did not last for long before it was decided that Prior Hall was not large enough to qualify for two full time workers, so John went to work for a relative at Bordley. This left John’s father, already around 60, with the difficult task of running the farm single handed, but he recalls that his brother who worked for the Skipton Building Society, was allowed to be home one day a week in order to help his father with the heavy jobs. John remembers this as an act, typical of the co-operation that took place in war time.
But this state of affairs did not last for long, as his brother was duly called up for military service and John unfortunately was diagnosed as having TB. This was a very worrying period when it looked as if he might have had to go to a sanatorium, but it was finally decided that he would return home to Malham, but having been downgraded from A1 to C3, he could only undertake light duties on the farm. He also had to suffer the discomfort of sleeping in a shed in the garden in order to get the maximum fresh air, which was the recognised treatment for TB in those days.
These restrictions meant that he was unable to join the Home Guard, but did some ARP work in Malham. This involved being on phone duty at Sparth House, then the Airedale Hotel, to take messages if there was any sort of alert in the area.
Prior Hall was one of three farms in Malham producing milk, along with Friar’s Garth and Kirkby Top. When petrol became very scarce as the war continued, it was decided by the War Agricultural Committee that the lorry collecting the milk could no longer call directly at the farms and the milk had to be taken to a collecting point in Kirkby Malham. This involved an enormous amount of extra work as the milking had to be completed, the milk cooled, the kits loaded onto the horse and trap and to be delivered to Kirkby by 8am. The three farms took it in turns, week about, but John always did Mondays. This was because, after dropping off the milk, he then drove to Bell Busk station to collect the schoolteacher, Miss Marion Cockerill, who had travelled from Bentham, and delivered her to the school for her week’s work. For this effort he was paid the princely sum of 2/6d (or 12.5p).
John remembers two unpleasant incidents which occurred on these Monday morning journeys. Because of the blackout, traps were supposed to display lights which were beamed downwards, but as the farm did not possess any of these modified lights he had set out one dark morning with no lights at all on the trap. There was very little traffic about, but unfortunately he met the bus coming up to Malham almost head on. Fortunately the horse was placid and not prone to bolting and the bus driver managed to stop in time, so an accident was narrowly avoided, but he remembers the driver getting out and giving him a real telling off, which he had to admit was deserved.
The other incident occurred on a very icy morning when the road was like glass. The horses had studs or ‘sharps’ on their shoes when the conditions were slippery, but this particular morning the studs had become worn and were not effective on the icy road and the poor horse was slithering and sliding about. He called at Skellands to see if they had any studs, but they had none the right size, so it was a case of inching along the road very slowly. So slowly in fact that Miss Cockerill had walked all the way from Bell Busk to Airton by the time she met up with her lift!
These early morning milk trips stopped however when it was realised that the same lorries that were allowed too little petrol to collect the milk, could find enough petrol to deliver hay and straw direct to the farms. As it was pointed out to the officials, if they could do it for the animals they could surely do it for the people, so the collection service was resumed, much to everyone’s relief.
Other things changed on the farm too. Every farm was expected to put some acres under the plough in order to grow crops for feeding their own stock or for going towards the national food requirement. Each farm was told by War Ag how many acres it was to be and local inspectors came around to ensure this was done. Mr Proctor from Holgate Head was the man who visited Prior Hall. The big problem in the Dale was that there was very little depth of soil over the underlying rock so cultivating most fields was impossible. It was decided Prior Hall should cultivate two acres. But this limited acreage meant it was not worth buying the necessary machinery so all the ploughing etc was done by hiring the War Ag tractors and drivers.
The crops that were grown were potatoes, which were crushed and fed to the horses and cattle, a type of rape which was grown for the sheep to graze and which was good for fattening, kale for the dairy cattle and oats. The potatoes were lifted with the plough and then hand picked, before the best were sold and the rest were stored in clamps till needed. The kale was hand cut every day as needed and carted to the cattle. John recalls this was a very hard job as it had to be cut very close to the ground where the stalks were very tough. The oats had to be cut, bound into bundles and stooked to dry before threshing. This was a village affair with the threshing machine coming for a day in front of the Listers and all the farmers bringing their crops to be threshed. One year the machine even came on a Sunday which greatly upset John’s father who was a staunch Methodist, but there was nothing to be done about it. The sacks of grain were later taken for milling to Preston Farmers at their mill on Marton Road in Gargrave and John remembers one year when his father was in disagreement with the mill because he was convinced he had not received as much grain back as he was entitled to. It seemed to be a rather casual system.
During the war years there were no stock auctions as we know them today. All stock to be sold was taken to the auction mart but it was all bought by the Ministry of Food. Beef cattle were weighed and graded and the price paid was according to the grade. Sheep and lambs were given an estimated weight and graded, but the prices were all fixed by the Ministry with the farmers having no control. John said the prices were ‘adequate’. A cheque was sent to the farmer some time later.
John’s comments about food at home during the war were that farmers were very lucky. All farms kept pigs and hens so there was always bacon and eggs, milk and potatoes. He remembers hams hanging up from the hooks in the ceiling although the best hams were sold to the hotels in Skipton where they fetched a high price. The hotels could never get enough so it was a seller’s market. The black market flourished including the sale of black market coupons for provender.
The chief entertainment that he was involved in was the drama group run by Mrs Mason from Airton. They started by giving one act plays but progressed to three act plays even entering drama festivals. On one occasion they won first prize at Settle with a play called ‘How Now Brown Cow’, and went on to win second prize in Harrogate. It was through the drama group that John and Margaret started courting, although they had known each other all their lives. Margaret played his girlfriend in a J B Priestley play and it just carried on from there!
The Geldards had one evacuee, a young woman with a baby, from Leeds or Bradford at the beginning of the war, but she didn’t stay for long.Despite the hard work and problems of the war, John remembers it as a time of great co-operation with farmers helping each other with the big jobs of hay time, harvest and potato picking and a time when everyone pulled together. But with all the hard work, Malham was not a suitable area for the farming methods, which they were forced to use, although most farms got by producing as much as possible of their own requirements and made a valuable contribution to producing food for the war effort.
Read the Wartime memories of other Malhamdale residents:
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