Harvest Time In Cornwall
During World War II, along with a number of school friends, I assisted local farmers with the harvesting of their summer crops. At that time they were glad of our help for many of their farm workers had either volunteered or been called upon to serve. For our efforts we were paid the princely sum of one pound per week.
There was something magical about cycling along country lanes surrounded by centuries-old granite hedges festooned with all manner of wild flowers.
On arrival at the farm we would stow our cycles in a nearby shed prior to reporting to the farmer, resplendent in his dark corduroys, heavy boots and brightly coloured shirt. We had been warned to wear long trousers for failure to do so could result in our being bitten by midges and flies.
If we were lucky the farmer would allow each of us in turn to sit astride one of the Shire horses used in harvesting the corn. I vividly recall the feelings of pleasure when I felt myself being hoisted on its back from where I could survey the world about me from a different perspective.
Once in the field, the farmer would allocate us our tasks for that day. Before long, with horse and reaper attached, the task of cutting the corn would commence. This could prove backbreaking work despite our youth and energy.
At noon we would stop work for lunch and the entire task force would take a well-earned rest. Sandwiches were normally prepared by our mums and these would be quickly despatched.
As our country was at war with Germany we would keep an eye open for enemy aircraft which might come our way.
Our afternoon tea break was always something special for it was then the farmer’s wife visited the field armed with a basket full of scones and a large pitcher of home-made lemonade. A break of fifteen minutes would then ensue as we sat amongst the corn enjoying her offerings. All too quickly it would be time to start work, but we had been refreshed and the end of our working day was in sight.
Throughout the harvesting, rabbits would take refuge from the reaper in what was left of the corn. This meant that on the final cut in a particular field they would rush for cover and head for the safety of the hedgerow. When this was about to happen the farmer would shout, “Off you go, lads. See how many you can catch!”
Needless to say our mums were very happy, for food was short and a fresh rabbit a welcome addition to the larder.
Nowadays, whenever I pass a field of ripened corn being harvested, I recall those happy times in the 1940s when life for a small group of schoolboys proved to be full of wonder and excitement.