Life on the Farm at the Royal Albert

When in 1942 I arrived at the Royal Albert at the age of twelve, my ambition was to go into farming and I was glad that some two years later my dream came true...

September 1st 1939 I was taken from my home and sent into the countryside in the melee of the evacuation. 

For the first 18 months I spent my time with a lovely Scottish family on the Abbey Farm in the village of Lanercost in Cumberland. It was there I got involved with farming with the farmer’s three sons, each having responsibility for sheep, horses, and cows. They allowed me, a 10-year-old boy, to help each one to do small tasks, under their watchful eye. 

Being a town boy, this was a great adventure for me and I soon learnt to love these animals, especially the sheep and mostly at lambing time, helping to bring these lovely little bundles of wool into the world, even drying them off after birth.

So, when in 1942 I arrived at the Royal Albert at the age of twelve, my ambition was to go into farming and I was glad that some two years later my dream came true.

I left the classroom at Christmas 1943 and started in kitchens while waiting for a place on the school farm, which came at the Easter term when a vacancy occurred, and I got my wish.

Work on the farm was dictated by the animals so there was no lying in bed. In winter, the cattle had to be let into the paddock, allowed to have a drink of water, and sometimes we had to break the ice on the trough so that they could get a drink. Then the stall had to be cleaned out and swilled with buckets of water, possibly having to unfreeze the traps on the trough to do this.

Food such as corn, bran and hay had to be placed in each stall before bringing the cows back in to be milked, in those days by hand. That was the duty of the three boys on cowshed duties. Of the other three boys, whose duties were the horses, the same applied, watering and letting them out to pasture before bringing them in to feed and grooming them.

Of the two other boys, one had the responsibility of all the dairy equipment and starting the boiler fire to sterilise the milk pail and cooling equipment. The last boy had the responsibility of the pigs and the chickens, and all this had to be done before the school had arisen from their beds.

That was the winter routine. In the summer, the cows were put out to grass after milking time, the horses when their workday was over, and the stalls and stables were readied for the next morning.

Next day the routine was the same. It was still an early rise to fetch the cows and horses from their pasture and feed and groom them before starting out on our daily tasks such as milking, cleaning the farmyard, ploughing or harrowing the fields, trimming the hedges, repairing any breaks in the fences and any other menial tasks that are found in the daily lives of farmers.

Each week when your responsibility was looking after the horses, we had to hitch up to the four wheeled flat cart and trundle down to Camberley to collect supplies from the hay and corn warehouse, so that was a good morning’s work away from the school.

It wasn’t all farming. At the weekends we became part of the school functions, such as football and cricket matches, sports events and going to exhibitions with our country dance team, or parading with our Army Cadet Unit, often down to Sandhurst Military College. There we trained with some of their instructors, a privilege we got from being pupils at a royal school. I did four small courses down at the college in the evenings, usually for 2 hours, in radio operating and vehicle maintenance, and used part of their assault course and the rifle ranges.

All in all, we were well occupied throughout the weeks and there was never a dull moment. We were men from 5.30 in the morning until 5pm in the evenings, when we reverted back to boys.

Radar was in its infancy along with television, and as we only had a large radiogram which mostly used for country dance records when Miss Muller came to our practice sessions (another healthy exercise after a hard day on the farm), we were always ready for our beds at 9pm, a privilege allowed for senior boys. 8pm was the time for the younger boys to go to bed but there were times after a hard day’s work when we sometimes joined them.

There were a couple of times when we had to work in the middle of the night. The first time was when one of the horses caught pneumonia when we sat in the stable pouring medicine down its throat. Unfortunately, we were unable to save its life and quite a few tears were shed that night. It was replaced by a tractor so, after that, we only kept one horse and the stable duty boy became a tractor driver.
The tractor was a 1937 Fordson with all steel wheels, the rear ones having large metal spikes, it started on petrol and then we switched to paraffin. It had a starting handle at the front to turn over the engine which required quite a lot of strength and technique, but we all managed.

The second night we had to stay up was when the young heifer had her first calf and the calf leg twisted inside. The veterinarian, the farm master and six farm boys did a tug of war to save both the calf and the mother – it was very necessary or we would have lost both, but we succeeded. So it was not all fun and games, most of the time it was serious work.

Although I loved farming life, when I left school I started in a flour mill to learn milling but it wasn’t for me so I joined the Royal Navy and ploughed the waves instead, which I did for seven and half years.