Malhamdale Local History Group    


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Rob Foster on the right and the experimental crop of sugar beet.






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The Wartime Memories of
Rob Foster

Rob was one of five children whose father farmed at Newfield Grange. He went to Airton and Gargrave schools and then Woodhouse Grove which he left in 1937. He worked for his father until 1939.

His father bought cattle from many markets in the north of England and sent them down to Bury St. Edmunds where they were sold. One of the chief buyers was EV Knight who worked for Lord Iveagh. In 1939 Mr. Knight took him for a year to work on an arable farm to gain experience. He then returned to Newfield and went to the Agricultural Department at Leeds University to study for three years with farming at the weekends.

Whilst at Leeds he was in the University Training Corps which was a training ground for the armed forces.

Local Defence Volunteers. The Malhamdale branch of this group met in a shed with a hard floor in Hanlith at Badger Hill. Ron Fell was the major, John Haggas was the captain.

The uniforms were light denim and equipment was hay forks, shot guns or anything they could find. They marched along the river and went on exercises at Attermire Scar where they could discharge their guns (using blanks) into the cliff.

Sometimes one man would sleep all night in a tin shed on the top of High Side at Settle. From this shed there was a metal pipe pointing to Sharphaw. A light could be shone down this and a message transmitted by morse code. Other pipes connected up to different points rather like beacons.

This shed had a cast iron stove until someone cleaning their gun let it off and broke the stove in two.

Occasionally the group would drill with that at Hellifield and a similar accident happened on the ground floor of the drill room and the shot went through the ceiling.

In 1942 the Volunteers were told the Area Commander was coming to inspect them. They were all lined up with everything polished when the car arrived. The door opened and Harry Clay stepped out. He had been a colonel in WW1 and been given the job of Area Commander. He had only travelled ten minutes up the dale to reach them.

Mr. Foster was Chief Air Raid Warden for Malhamdale. He never had to answer a red alert.

Tractors. It was impossible to buy new tractors during the war but work which needed doing was reported to Skipton and a tractor would be sent to do this. Car park behind the Town Hall was full of tractors.

Silage campaign. There was a drive to encourage farmers to make silage and a course was run at a farm near Durham. Silage was a difficult job without modern equipment. The farmer had to mow it, rake it and load it onto carts to move it to the silo then fork it in and finally pour treacle on it.

‘Give a hand on the land’  Newfield Hall had been taken over in 1935 by Holiday Fellowship and 19 visitors to the hall rallied to the request and came forward to turn the hay in the 25 acre meadow in front of Newfield. They only had to go round the field twice to finish it.

Sheep feeding. Malhamdale land is soil over limestone on a bed of clay so it does not drain well. This made feeding them in winter hard. Mr. Foster moved 2000 sheep from farms along the Settle  - Carlisle railway to farms in the Eden Valley where they were fed on turnips and the soil is more sandy. They had to be visited each week to make sure all was well. It went on until after the war when the Eden Valley farmers turned to arable crops and the movement stopped.

Land girls did work on the farm as contract workers picking potatoes. They did not live in.

Mr. Foster worked as a sheep grader during the war. A farmer and a butcher did this job and went every Monday to the Auction mart to estimate the carcass weight of each of 2000 lambs. When the results came a week later they were never more than half a pound out. Farmers were paid by the carcass weight.

Sugar beet.  NFU asked if any farmer would try growing this crop. Mr. Foster agreed and they ploughed up ten acres – the bottom half of the field opposite the telephone exchange. It grew well but the problem was harvesting it. Beet has a long and tough tap root (now special lifters are used). The root and the leaves had to be cut off and they were collected to be piled in a heap outside Clays farm. They were then loaded into a cart and taken to Bell Busk for the train. Sugar beet needs lots of sunshine to raise the sugar content to about 15%. Farmers were paid by the sugar content. It was too much work for small reward so they only grew it one year.

Rationing.  This was in force as anywhere else but most people had chickens and perhaps a pig. The law was that if a sheep broke a leg you could kill it for food. A surprising number of sheep suffered that fate!

Black out.  German bombers could be heard during the night going over the dale on their way to Liverpool. The Fosters had battery hens in a loft outside and the lights were switched off at night – only just in time one night.

Reckitt and Colman.  The firm came to Airton before the war and installed two 25,000 gallon tanks in the yard for phenol. Twice these leaked into the river and fish were floating dead  on the surface. The Fosters gathered up a barrel of these fish and took them home and soaked them in clean water in the bath for a few days but when cooked they still tasted of Dettol. So they were boiled up and fed to the animals.

The work force at the mill mixed the Dettol and filled tins with it.

Basil Reckitt came occasionally on inspections from his home in Hull.

Mr. and Mrs. Holmes were wardens at Malham Tarn House but Mr. Holmes died. Mrs. Holmes became a magistrate and Basil Reckitt came as a visiting magistrate and before long they were married becoming eventually Sir Basil and Lady Reckitt.

The firm finally moved to Skipton.

In 1944 Rob Foster was appointed Assistant District Officer in Cumberland. He travelled round the area scheduling which areas had to be ploughed, supervising the agriculture in the area and making sure that all the government’s war time rules were being carried out.

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


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