Hardwick farm life, 1948-1955

by Ed Deak

George "Happy" Kester on his 1948 Fordson Major tractor.

George "Happy" Kester on his 1948 Fordson Major tractor

When we arrived at Hardwick in June 1948 the farm had three tractors. Two antiquated Fordsons of about 1933 vintage on spiked iron wheels, driven by Jack Marshall and Len Hobson, and a new Major driven by George Kester, all running on paraffin, or as we call it in North America, on kerosene. The tractors had small petrol tanks and larger paraffin tanks. We stated them on petrol and when they were warm enough, switched over to praffin. When we stopped them we switched off the paraffin and let it them run until the paraffin was used up in the carburetor.

Later we received two new Fergusons , also on paraffin and a new very small Oliver-Cletrac caterprillar on gasoline, for working between berry, mostly black current rows. Of course, we often switched tractors, but most of the time I was driving one of the Fergusons and also the Oliver. I believe the other Ferguson was driven by Harold Wilson. No he didn't become PM later. The Fergusons had basic Standard Vanguard ohv engines and were completely misused on the fields, as we had no equipment for the three point hitches, with the exception of a manure loader. In 1954, or early 55 we received 2 new super Majors with Diesel engines. Jack Marshall got one and George Kester the other.

Chivers were a very good company to work for. Very easy going and we received a lot of benefits, like working clothes, food parcels, etc,. E.g. the new bungalow we lived in cost us about 4 shilling 6 pence per week. Our weekly wage started at 5 Pound 10 in 1948 and it was about 6/10 when we left 7 years later. This was the accepted norm. The housing shortage was terrible. People were paying large amounts for dingy cubbyholes in the walls. That was the reason we stayed on the farm, as, although jobs were easy to get, there was nowhere to live.

I don't know how much decision making powers the local managers had, but the top management were completely incompetent and had no idea what they were doing, consequently there was an incredible amount of waste of resources and labour. Although the labour force was treated very well, it was in a paternalistic way, which was a step up for some of us, as in some parts of Europe workers were treated like animals who could be be misused and beaten at will. I've seen it many times in my native Hungary when foremen beat up workers.

Where the management fell down was that they ignored us and never even spoke to us. There were some Chivers family members floating around and on some occasion some head foreman, or manager came by, who allegedly was some former military officer. They greeted us and went by. In the 7 years I worked there I never exchanged a single word with any higher up manager. If they'd stopped and talked to us, asking our ideas and opinions, they could have saved themselves a big bundle of money and trouble. As it was they went after their own heads and a large percentage of their decisions were deadly wrong. On account of this the workers didn't care either and did their best to avoid working on any excuse.

Taylor was driving around in a prewar , green Morris 8 and when he was walking around the fields he had the habit of producing a toneless whistle, obviously to warn the workers to start doing something. He was a good man, very mild mannered and of good humour we could exchange some jokes with. When he saw that somebody had some problems with his work, he used to saunter away, not wanting to be bothered. On one occasion I was working on the fields behind the church with my Ferguson, when it started misfiring and jerking around. I did everything possible, but could stop it. It was obviously a faulty condenser. Taylor came by and looked at my agonies, the next thing I knew he was in his car, driving away. I thought he'd call the company's mechanics, but he didn't. I finished the day somehow and on my way back to the farm the whole exhaust system, including the silencer blew up as I got onto the road. A very expensive condenser exchange.

He retired either in late 1954 or early 55. His job was taken by the manager from the Dry Drayton farm, by the name of Butler.

Charlie Marshall
Charlie Marshall on the cat of a ploughing/combining contractor. Charlie was our cowman and couldn't drive..........
Sid Badcock with Ed driving.
Sid Badcock with Ed driving.
Ed sitting on the gate
1948. Ed sitting on the gate by our hut across from the church. I looked like a Yank, as I was working for the US Army in Wels, Austria for a while and they gave us dyed uniform pieces. That was all the clothing we could have, plus old German Wehrmacht pieces. as there were no stores and nothing in them until after we left Europe. Clothing and shoes could only be obtained on the blackmarket for cigarettes. Money was worthless. Also, I had a great uncle in the USA, who sent me some clothes. There were a lot of US air force personnel in the area and many times in Cambridge I was mistaken for one of them. Until they heard my Magyar accent. Another group of Americans were exhuming and sending bodies back to the States from the army cemetery near Madingley hill.
Ed with Morris
1948 Ed with Morris. There was a young couple in the house across from our lane, where the Ashfords later lived. They had a little boy of about 3, by the name of Morris, a very smart little boy, who came to visit us regularly. They left soon after we arrived. That house must have had the cleanest windows in Britain. The lady was hanging out of some window, polishing, every time we went by. Come to think of it, Morris must be about 57 by now. Hope he is happy and healthy, wherever he is.

I'm sitting on my pride and joy, a beautiful Rudge bike, that cost 10 pounds. Everybody thought it was far too much money for a bike. George Kester bought it from me when we left. Andrew may have seen George riding it.

Ed with Bill Preston and Franz Herfort
1948. Ed with Bill Preston and Franz Herfort.
Jack Marshall
Jack Marshall on his early '30s Fordson. It kicked back once and broke his wrist.
Harold Wilson.
Harold Wilson.
Bill Preston,  Harold Wilson,  Sam Jaquest
Bill Preston, Harold Wilson on the tractor, Sam Jaquest, or Jacquest.
Ernie Ashford and George Happy Kester
Ernie Ashford and George Happy Kester. Taken probably in 1953-54.

We did a lot of spraying , especially George and I and we were constantly covered with the vilest poisons, as we had no protection whatsoever. We used arsenic, lead, tar oils, nicotine, DDT and up to malathion and parathion, which was my job. I had a primitive cab on my Ferguson and had to wear a white rubber coat and Souwester hat. I had to fill the 250 gallon tank with a single cup of the poison, making it certain that the wind was at my back. A bloke at the Drayton farm was not very careful and disappeared. They were looking for him and found his tractor still running at the water tower. Hours later another farmer called Butler at the Drayton farm, asking if they'd lost a bloke wearing a white coat and hat. They found him wandering around the fields out of his mind, after he took a whiff of malathion. He was in hospital for weeks and what my scientist friends tell me, probably never recovered.

Living in Hardwick, 1948-1955