Throughout the 1920s and 30s UK farming was at a low ebb. Farmers were unable to
compete with cheap foreign imports of grain etc coming in from overseas and many
of the fields were left uncultivated and growing weeds.
With the outbreak of war in 1939 all that changed as ships bringing in food from
overseas were in danger of being attacked by enemy U-boats etc.
The Ministry of Agriculture stepped in and formed the War Agricultural Committee -
generally referred to as the War-ag tasked with bringing back all available land into
cultivation and growing food. They conducted a survey in 1941 and the report paints
rather a sad picture. The farms were given gradings from 'A' to 'C' and remarks given
to those below 'A' list the problems as Lack of Capital and Personal Failings.
As might be expected, Alan Gray who had only been at Bocking Hall since 1940 got
an A as did Jack Lord who was also new to Waldegraves and West Barn.
I was living in Suffolk Avenue and the fields between us and Mill Road, East Road
and the Glebe and Colchester Road were among the the first to be cleared of brambles
and mature hawthorns. They almost certainly had never seen a tractor before let alone
a brand new Caterpillar D4. This was driven by my Uncle Frank Richer, There was
also a D2 driven by Norman 'Tog' Baldwin and less powerful Fordson and Case
tractors for lighter jobs. The first crop was of oats.
Next to get the treatment were the fields off Cross Lane including the 40 acre leading
down to the sea.
This job was done by a pair of steam ploughing engines which had large drums of
steel cable under their boilers. An engine stood at each end of the field and the
implement, in this case a cultivator was attached to the cable of one engine which
pulled the implement towards it. At the end of pull a toot on the whistle was a signal
for the other engine to start its pull and the cultivator went to the other end of the field.
I went along to watch and was warned by one of the operatives, 'I shoont stand thar
booy if oy wus yew. If that owd woyer break that'll hev yer leg orf'. I promptly moved
to a safer spot. The engines were of course stationary.
Then the lower fields of Bower Hall Farm were cleared. By that time to girls of the
WLA, Women's Land Army had appeared on the scene. Many of these girls were
from the Romford area and had previously worked in a clothing factory. It was cold
weather and at the weekend they went off home and returned on the Monday armed
with thick woolly jumpers and other warm clothing.
Over the Strood, a new building was built - next to the old Bonners Barn that later
blew down in the storm of '87. This building is still in use as a shop and has taken the
name Bonners. Also in Peldon there was a new hostel built for the Land Army girls. It
still exists somewhere in the bushes. Pete Tye Common was also ploughed up.
The Mersea land girls were billeted out to families and many were in Orleans.
The Hall Barn was taken over for light servicing of tractors and machinery. Any
requiring bigger jobs were sent off to Writtle.
There were still horses used and I remember in particular the Woods brothers who
were horsemen. They had farmed North Farm, East Mersea but had moved to a
bungalow on the main road. The farmhouse was by then derelict. Oliver was was the
quiet one but Fred was more friendly and I spent a lot of time with him. There was a
third one but I don't remember him.
Ron Green was born in 1932 and would have been 7½ at the beginning of WW2.