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Veronica haymaking at Otterburn.







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The Wartime Memories of
Veronica Fletcher

At the beginning of the war Veronica was still completing her schooling, but when that was over, she took a correspondence course in agriculture and joined the Land Army, working for Frank Caton in Otterburn from January 1943 to 1945.  There, she did all general farm work, but particularly working with the horses, all for 10d per hour.  Her first job every morning was to ‘gallop’ the Caton children to school at Airton on the back of a flat cart, dressed as many children were, in clogs, and taking their packed lunches. 

The farm had milking cows and milking was one of her tasks.  They possessed one of the early milking machines, the milk then being put into kits and collected from the stand outside the farm.   In winter the stock were let out twice a day, mucked out and then fed, all very labour intensive.  At the start of the summer, the stock was moved up to Middle House on Malham Moor to the limestone pastures, and Veronica remembers setting off alone driving the cows all the way from Otterburn to Malham Moor.


At hay time she was required to work very long hours.  Mr Caton forecast the weather by watching the smoke from the passing steam trains.  If the smoke went below the train then it would be bad weather, so there would be a race to protect any lying hay, either by making the small hay cocks into bigger ‘pikes’, or by sweeping it into one of the barns.  The hay settled and compressed when left in pikes and it took great skill to move a whole pike into the barn in one go!

The farm also had to have some land devoted to crops - oats, kale and turnips.  The ploughing was all done by War Ag but other jobs were done by Frank’s team of workers.  Veronica remembers that leading the oats was very slow because very little height could be placed on the cart, otherwise it was unable to go down the incline and under the railway bridge.  It was led all the way from Crane Hill down to the Dutch barn in Otterburn, all by horse.  The farm had a team of six horses, usually including one young inexperienced one.  Threshing again was done by War Ag, when they set up the thresher in the field behind Bodkin House and all the local farms brought their crops to be threshed.

The farm labour also included prisoners of war, some travelling daily and for part of the time, two lived in a cottage at the farm.  The prisoners had either a square or a circle on the back of their clothes to differentiate between the Germans and the Italians. (Unsure which was which).  Veronica remembers them all as being hard working and pleasant.

The Home Guard was very important in the Dale and all farmers had to join that or the ARP.  Her father, Ronald Fell, and Mr Haggas from Otterburn both became officers in the Home Guard, which had its HQ in some buildings at Anley Hall in Settle.  They staged training events, one involving an imaginary fire in a barn when local people had to form a human chain for passing water to put it out.  These events proved very funny but they all had to try to take them seriously.  One of the more serious tasks of the Home Guard was to mount a twenty-four hour watch at Ribblehead Viaduct on the main west coast railway, to prevent sabotage by the German Fifth Column, and members from Malhamdale would take their turn on that duty.  Parades were held in a field at Hellifield Auction Mart.  Veronica also remembers that there was a bomb store at Halton West and it was necessary to obtain a permit to go into that area.

One dramatic event was when a bomb dropped at Coniston Cold, and the roads were packed with people coming to see the crater which it had left.  She recalls it was very small, more like the scratchings round a hen hut!  Presumably the enemy had been aiming to destroy the railway line.

Mrs Fell, Veronica’s mother, worked for the WVS and was a Billeting Officer for evacuees in the area.  She also visited farms on behalf of the Land Army to assess what type of work the farmers needed doing and to inspect accommodation to be used by Land Girls who lived on the farm, rather than in a hostel.  She was also involved when Otterburn, along with other villages, raised money for war efforts such as Wings for Victory and Salute the Soldier.  Otterburn had a unique way of registering the progress of these events by moving an otter along a ladder type structure placed along the bridge.  The more money the village raised, the further along the ladder went the otter.

Veronica remembers going to dances at Kirby Malham Village Hall.  Virtually everyone went by bike, leaving them in the wash house at the Vic. 

After she left the Caton’s at Otterburn, she went to Sawley to milk a dairy herd three times a week, and finally ended up in Clacton on Sea working with horses, finally leaving the Land Army on April 20th 1946.

Read the Wartime memories of other Malhamdale residents:
Edith Carr
Rob Foster
John Geldard
Norman Heaton
Barbara Purcell (Hoare)
Frank Sharp
Ethel Taylor
Margaret Thompson (Carr)
Dora Varley (Watson)
Marion Wellock


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