Death descended from autumn sky
MANY childhood memories are a blur but some days are imprinted on your mind for ever.
MANY childhood memories are a blur but some days are imprinted on your mind for ever. Tony Smith, of Quinton Road, Needham Market, has good reason to recall a day from his childhood, more than 66 years ago, as he stood in a field picking potatoes.
He writes: “I remember Monday, October 10, 1942, like it was yesterday. We were in the fourth year of the Second World War. It was a bit foggy and apart from the drone of the Fordson tractor as it dragged the spinner along the rows of potatoes, it was quite quiet, just a bit of banter between the men and women farm workers and about a dozen or more of us lads as we picked up potatoes.
“During the war, school children aged 12 to 14 were allowed ten days a year off school to work on farms. Mr Wilson of Darmsden Hall had hired us, and we were working on a field called White Hill. This is the field on the right as you go out of Needham Market towards Ipswich, opposite “Pow Wow” the last building on the Lion Barn Industrial Estate.
“We worked in pairs. Each pair allocated a stretch of 30 to 40 yards. We picked the potatoes and put them into pails then filled the sacks that were laid out down the field. As these were filled two men came around with a horse and tumbrel and took them to be clamped into the corner of the field at the bottom of Gallows Hill. The potatoes were covered with straw then a layer of earth to protect them from the coming winter. Potatoes were valuable. Food was in short supply as many of our ships were being sunk by German U-boats as they tried to cross the Atlantic.”
“As always, boys will be boys and a few “tatters” were thrown at the pair in the next stretch. There was a bit of ducking and dodging as a barrage of “tatters” came flying back, followed by a shout from Todd Deaves from his open tractor, there were no cabs in those days. 'Git on with your work yew boys, stead of mess'un about. If Tom Doe the foreman or the boss see yew it will be back to school for yew.' It was hard, backbreaking work, but at the end of the week when Tom Doe came round with the moneybag, we would get our week's wages, ten shillings (50p).
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“At around ten o'clock we looked forward to our ten minutes break, with a sandwich and a bottle of cold tea. Nobody had flasks. Most of us had forgotten the air raid warning which had sounded at about 8.45. In Needham some children had not gone to school because of this, others had gone as usual. Suddenly we heard a plane approaching from the Coddenham direction. We hoped it was one of ours, but it was an enemy Junkers 88 and it was very low. With its twin engines screaming it headed straight for Needham. As we watched there are two explosions, smoke and debris in the air. It had happened! Needham Market had been bombed.
“It was very worrying for the lads as most of them lived in Needham, unlike me I lived in a bungalow next to Darmsden Church with my mother and father, sister Peggy and three-day-old sister Pat. By now the plane had disappeared into the fog in the Battisford area. A few moments later we again heard the scream of its engines; it had turned to its left and headed back our way. It appeared out of the fog, low and banked to its left, almost over us. We could see the pilot clearly looking down at us through the Plexiglass of his cockpit. We threw ourselves flat between the ridges of potatoes and waited for the chatter of its machine guns, which we felt would surely come next. Thankfully this did not happen. I watched as the Junker levelled out and headed away towards Coddenham and probably out over the North Sea and home.”
“It was silent for a moment, then the first voice I heard was from Ellen, a little lady who worked on the farm, always a bit of a comic, she shouted to Peggy, a well proportioned Land Army girl: 'Get your big ar** down, Peggy, if he sees that he'll be back again.'
We gathered in small groups, then all met down by the now silent tractor. No cars around then so it was decided that Cyril 'Ginger' Gosling, who lived at the drift end of School Lane should cycle off on his trade bike and then come back and report.
“A bomb had exploded in the street where the fitness centre is now. Some people had been killed. Telephone wires were down, the street blocked, lots of houses damaged. The other bomb landed on the left hand side of the school drive, bounced through the chain link fence and exploded in the school playground. Thankfully no children were killed, but the school was damaged. After our farm work was finished we found ourselves in makeshift classrooms, like the Institute, church, church hall, chapel and Mission Hall. I got the job of delivering milk to each class and made this last as long as possible to miss a few lessons.
“I wonder if the JU88 crew got home that day, or did they tangle with one of our Spitfires or Hurricanes? I wonder if they survived the war, if they did and are still alive today, they may well be in their late 80s and if they are around do they sometimes look back as I do to a foggy October morning in 1942? Where have all the years gone, am I really 78 now? Was it really 66 years ago?”
n Do you have memories to share? Write to Dave Kindred, Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org