May 4, 2017

Hannah Capstick’s Wartime Memories

By angus

My War Memories.

The Forties On The Land

Hannah Capstick

Chapter One

June 1940

My write-up has to begin one night in June 1940. Hull was being bombed the same night, the sky being lit up by heavy bombing. Dad had been taken ill a week before, and we kept vigil round his  bedside. Morning came with the sadness of his death. It  was ironic, having fought in the first world-war, that he would witness yet again the destruction of war.

It was the day I grew up! I'd lived a sheltered life on Crowle Moors. It was Dad's intention for me, to keep  going a small horticultural nursery until his retirement. But fate stepped in and it was not to be. My lifestyle took a change and I now found myself a sort of breadwinner.

I always regarded myself lucky that a certain Rosie and Rowland Haughie visited us most Sundays. 
Rosie was very helpful, when seeing my plight and suggested I might try land work. She didn't promise it to be easy. A war was on and help on the land was needed. I'd been used to working the garden, but this would prove very different.

Finally I accepted and duly arrived early at her house, where we made for Brewery Road to join the gang of about fourteen women. My first reaction was amazement I never realised that I was to work with so many.

There was lots of chatter as we set off on our bikes to Rains Butt and Charlie Stones Farm. Being Monday the young ones of the group talked of their Saturday night spent at the Tavern, dancing and meeting men in the Forces, who were stationed round the Isle of Axholme. It opened up a new way of life to me. Living on those remote moors, one never ventured out at nights, so dancing and socializing was out.
Leaving Brewery Road, we made our way past Mason's Farm to a cinder path, where we rode in single file. We must have made an impressive sight. Sit-up and beg bikes, snap bags swaying. Land Army girls?
In a fashion! We were greeted at the farm by Sam Laister and told where our day's work would be. He was the most kind and helpful foreman, and I'm sure he got the best out of us.
I shall always remember my first day's work, picking potatoes at the Headland. The Headlands have to be ploughed first with potato crops to make way eventually, for the plough to turn in and out of the rows. It proved an easy day; but it was not always so. Vinie Winter, probably knowing what a first day meant, put her arms round me and said,
"It's not been such a hard day Hannah."
I cycled home quite pleased with myself. A day to remember.
Keeping Vinie in mind, there came a day when a horse and cart had to be yoked. I hadn't been working there long, and my heart dropped, when Vinie and I were given the job. I daren't refuse, but with Vinies, "Come on Hannah, we'll show 'em", and with her
instructions we faired well. We geared the horse and cart and trudged down to the field where it was wanted for filling with turnips. It felt like leading the winner in on Derby Day. Always remembered, Daisy, the faithful Shire horse.


Chapter Two


September with its warm dusty harvest days, when sheaves of corn were turned out by the harvester. When we rubbed our hands which were sore
by heaving those sheaves, eight of which propped together made a stook. On threshing days the Irish men were recruited to bring the sheaves to the threshing machine. Although they were on piece-work, making the work harder for us, no one complained. Never sit- down strikes, just grateful for work and the pay packet.
It was always a busy and noisy day. I never knew how it came about...Elsie (nee Winter) and I was mostly picked for the dusty job of chaff and pulse. A sheet was placed to catch the waste. When full, four ends grabbed, another sheet replaced and then dragged to the fold yard
for bedding for the cattle. Times we were met with quips from the cattle-men, Joe Seaton and Fred Jackson, causing a distraction from our work, only to find when getting back the sheet was overflowing.
While in the fold yard my eyes were always drawn to the iron steps fixed straight on the wall, to the chopping house where turnips etc. were prepared for fodder. My partner for this work was mostly with George Colbrook. I was always pleased when it was finished and my feet reached terra-firma.
One morning, arriving at the field for our day's work we were amazed to see in the next field a Lancaster Bomber. It had made a perfect landing on the ploughed land. This was an opportunity not to be missed! Work forsaken we made our way towards it, to be met by a very proud looking pilot. I always remember him as small, dapper and complete with moustache. I've often thought what his thoughts were of us, wellies and home made attire, but he welcomed us and invited us to inspect the bomber. Obviously it was on its return from
Germany as proved by the vast number of bullet holes. We met the crew, some so very young. In our excitement we never questioned, "where from, where to." Maybe the answer would have been nil. The next day the Lancaster was guarded and removed.
Sadness played its part too. On cycling to work a distance from Mason's Farm, a Spitfire had landed with disastrous results. I quote a write-up from The Advertiser.
"Update of Spitfire Crash"
Last week we asked if anyone had information regarding
a Spitfire and its pilot who crashed on Crowle Waste on Sept 18 th 1944. It is rare when wartime aviation matters are raised in this newspaper that someone hasn't some information and able to report on this. This week we received a letter from one of those learned sources, Mr. Ken Turner of Epworth.
He writes..."Your request for information on the crash of the Spitfire on Sept. 18 1944, led me to go over some notes, which I have in my possession. I perhaps found some reference to the crash in that an official
report at the time stated that a Spitfire aircraft crashed near Crowle.
Its pilot, who was killed was an Indian and the aircraft's home base was RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey. The crash most definitely occurred in Sept. 1944, but the date is not legible in my records."

Chapter Three

Potato Crops

Potatoes were one of the main crops. Seeds were planted in spring by hand. There was always a welcome break at the row ends. Bearing in
mind these were large fields, making for long wearisome work. If the March winds were blowing we finished the day 'gritty'. For some, the pleasure of a hot bath on returning home, but mostly for others a strip down wash.
It was when the potatoes had been picked and put into pies, the days would arrive for them to be delivered to the shops etc. Then the potato riddle would make its appearance, which meant scoping the potatoes from the pie on to the wire mesh on the riddle. The good and the bad selected. The small potatoes went for seed and were forced down a spout, caught in baskets, then bagged.
On one particular day I shared this job with Mary McDunnock. The seed spout was constantly filling up. The result was appalling, seed potatoes everywhere. But worse still the boss, Mr. Charlie Stones emerged from down the road, saw our calamity and declared,
"If you two don't get that spout cleared, it's down the road".
I froze, but Mary never blinked an eyelid. I think the scopers took pity on us and eased off a little. It did the trick and made for normality, Incidentally, Mary and I were not always doomed for the seed spout. Years after whenever I bumped into Mr. Charlie Stones in the street, he would greet me with,
"How about a spell of potato picking, Hannah" The seed spout forgotten.

Chapter Four

Italian P.O.W.

In the Spring of 1943, potato setting time, five P.O.W's were recruited to work with us. Four Italians, Frank°, Sylvio, Johanne and Antonio, and an Ethiopian, Antonio. Regardless of the language barrier, we became quite friendly from our first meeting, with the exception of one and only one disturbance. It was when Antonio, the Ethiopian, giving seed potatoes from the cart, shouted "Mussolini"

Florence (nee Winter) waiting her turn at the cart responded "Churchill"

It was seen by all, Antonio raising the knife he was holding to cut the bags open and seeing Florence standing her own, Mary Wicks, who was always quick with her wit, spoke, and a huge smile came over his face and the knife lowered. He was always a great smiler. We were all victims of war.
Their cookhouse was an old railway but near to the yard where they always managed to get for dinner time. If our work was round about we always visited them. We found their rations were ample to our war ones. We noticed nearly everything was cooked in oil. We never knew who was the chief cook, so busy and so much laughter. Savoury smells which put our meatless sandwiches to shame. My mind travels back to Alf
Marchant giving his sandwiches a French Toast on a stove in a nearby building.
They certainly added colour to our working lives, being entertained by their singing in the fields.
What their songs were about we little knew, but it was a great sound. Something they enjoyed maybe more than the work they had been given. Whenever the foreman was away, and our work was round the potato riddle, Antonio, the Italian loved his siestas in the afternoons. His secret always kept.
Johanne skillfully_ made all of us a ring out of metal whilst at the camp. As always the things to cherish get mislaid. A disappointment to me and probably to others. He must have had a great deal of patience making them for so many.
They were always eager to add the latest pop song to their repertoire. Ivy Taylor who too had a nice singing voice spent her free time learning them. "Mercidotes and docedotes and little la msidivey, a kidaletivey too, wouldn't you?"
Hopefully I've got that somewhere right. I wonder if anyone remembers that song and I wonder too, if any little ‘lamsicliveys went back to Italy!
At this point I must include Elsie (nee Winter) who, whenever she spied Harry, the foreman's son would serenade him with a rendering of,
"I'm just wild about Harry and Harry's wild
about me".
I believe they were the only two vocalists we could claim.

Chapter Five


There was always a happy atmosphere about Lizzie Taylor, the oldest member of our group, who was a character with the ability to make one
laugh. Arriving one morning with a box of snuff, she insisted we all took a pinch. You've got to be brave to sample snuff. By the time Sam, the foreman arrived the snuff began to act with sneezy results. He was always a caring person and wondered what was happening, but tolerated the joke when hearing about it.
The monotonous 4chop,chop' while hoeing sugar beet would only be broken by someone breaking a hoe shaft, or someone with an uncomfv wellie, kicking it off to land yards away. Then a ripple of laughter would run through the group. Sam, would urge us on with,
"Girls, time is ticking away",
failing to see how a hoe and a wellie could become a comic act.
Once when work involved cutting cauliflowers and boxing them, came dinner time and we hit upon the idea to fill our bags with them. Come home-time Charles' son came and told us to take a couple home. But where to put them? We selected and slyly forced them into our already full bags. A distance away from the farm we saw the funny side of it.
Many would have to prepare a hot meal on arriving home, but I was lucky to have mine ready. The blessing of having a caring mother and 1 must say crushed cauliflower did taste good with white sauce.
Organic was never a word used by us. A word, oblivious to us, but much is said about it now. To bring back hand weeding and put away the weed-killers, would be wishful thinking, but a healthy thought.
Whenever the young Charles needed savoys to be picked, he would invariably pick on me. Always a cold hand and feet person. I faced the idea of frosted savoys with reluctance. There was never a large amount grown, mainly a supply to local shops, so light work was made of it. I can't remember what came up in our conversation, but there was always a "Thank you Hannah" at the end of it.
Seasons brought different work. June was haymaking time with the intoxicating scent of new mown hay. We would work long hours cocking the hay into heaps, but this helped to swell our pay packets.
Unless there was an indoor job for us to do, a rainy day meant a day off work. It was always the same story on the next day's arrival back,
"We've baked, washed, ironed and cleaned
through the house and put flowers on the table". But days off were few and far between.
I think our hardest job was hicking potatoes on to a lorry, with no elevator in sight. The potatoes were scooped onto the riddle and the bad ones taken off, while the good ones were caught in bags at the end. These were weighed by the men folk, into eight stone's, tied, and put into rows to await the lorry. On its arrival two were given the hicking stick, which was placed under the eight stone bag. And the free hand grabbed the bag top, and then hoisted onto the lorry.
Twenty bags were the limit for the pair and then passed on to two more. This was unbelievably a woman's job,but eight stone shared, probably doesn't sound too bad. 

Chapter Six 


It was two workers Annie Pidd and Annie Walker were always referred to as 'The two Annie's'. For years they had made the journey to the farm on foot, and it was only in the later years, that they both decided to learn to ride a bike. A brave attempt as both were in their forties. But they always made their up to and from work at the rear of us cyclists. Better safe than sorry!
Looking back, our home made tunics and strong wellies could hardly compare with the 'glamour' of the Land Army Girls. Although some of the women preferred trews. But we worked diligently for our country, maybe the 'unknown' ones. And through it all our thought often drifted to those in the Forces, and the serious business of a war with Hitler, as Alice Maud, Winnie Collinson and Joyce Trueman all had husbands in the forces.
As the war ended time came when we finally bid our farewells to the Italians, and Antonio, the Ethiopian, with handshakes and grateful thanks on both sides. It must have been a great feeling to be returning to their homelands. As Johanne emphasised
"Genoa, Bella!"
My ramblings through my memories leave much to be said about those war years.
The farming way of life is so different now. Were they wasted years, hoeing and weeding by hand etc?
Or does the nation appear not to care about the vast amount of chemicals used now?
What did I gain from it? Although I loved Crowle Moors and still do, my experience on the land taught me lots about life and about people. So different from being with the small community on those remote moors.
I expect these memories will fade and drift away like the dust blown away on the autumn winds. But hopefully it will be an insight of what it was like working the land in those far aw ay war years.


Names of those who worked on the land. Those who left and those who took their place.
Olive Broderick 
Joyce Broderick 
Winnie Collinson
Mary Mc.Dunnock 
Eileen Mc.Dunnock 
Betty Hanson
Mary Hanson
Rosie Haughie 
Edith Hodson 
Elsie Hodson 
Alice Maud 
Annie Pidd 
Ruby Proctor 
Gert Seaton
Ivy Taylor 
Lizzie Taylor 
Annie Walker 
Mary Wicks 
Florence Winter 
Vinie Winter
Bob Gamewell
Sam Laister (Foreman) 
Harry Laister
All Marchant (Engineer) 
Fred Jackson (Cattle Man) 
Joe Seaton (Cattle Man)

Hannah was born Hannah Rust on 19th June 1917 in Bardwell, Yorkshire. She moved to Crowle Moors as a young girl where she lived with her Mother, Father (a Builder and Lay Preacher) and her siblings, a brother and sister.
Hannah left her beloved Moors and married Frank Capstick and had two children, David and Lois.

Now retired, Hannah is still active and has many  interests, including nature painting, crosswords and bingo. She entertains her family, including grand and great grandchildren with the stories surrounding her life.

Hannah welcomes new challenges such as memoir writing and Sudoka puzzles.

Hannah 2005
Copyright C 2005 Hannah Capstick