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Stillington and District Community Archive

In the Heart of North Yorkshire

A few years ago Muriel Law (nee Wyrill), a resident of Stillington, decided to commit to paper her memories of a childhood spent on her family farm during WW2. They evoke a time when life was hard and simple pleasures were appreciated more, possibly, than they are today.


"The day war broke out my mother said to me...", so said Stanley Holloway.
But I wasn't born until 1937. I have no idea what my mother said because I was too young to remember.
I was born in Farlington. Mother was 42 when I came along - it was always said that if I had been a boy I was going to be given a dip in the beck. But along I came, the apple of Mum and Dad's eye. I really must have been a very spoilt child.
My two brothers were 12 and 14 years old when I was born so I realise now why they never got to know me and it's one of the sad areas of my life that I never felt close to them.

When I was one year old my family moved to Novay Farm, Marton. My mother's family had farmed there so when her father died they took over the running of the farm.
I am told Vicar Smith arrived down to see them and on being informed that I had not been christened said "We will do it now. What's her name?" So I was called Muriel. The name came to England with the Celts and was revived in the 19th Century. I was named after my mother's cousin, Aunt Muriel - it means Sea-Bright.

Growing up on a farm in the war years was quite exciting. We had some French Canadian soldiers billeted down the lane and my parents befriended them. They were very kind lads and Mum used to make cakes for them and they would bring us big tins of cocoa, and sweets, etc from the NAAFI. We kept in touch for many years after the war and only lost touch when my parents died.
I can remember the Germans bombing York. My mother and I sat under the kitchen table. I was terrified but thinking back, what good the kitchen table would have been if we'd been hit by a bomb, I don't know!

I was five when I started school here in Stillington. The headmaster was called Mr Metcalfe and the Infant teacher was called Miss Gaythorpe - not a very good name for her because she had a very stern face and hair tied back in a bun. I remember being very frightened of her. She used to make us sit with our hands on our heads and not speak. I daren't ask to to go to the toilet so I wet my knickers - the toilets were all outside.
There wasn't school dinners then. I used to take a packed lunch and we could go outside in the schoolyard, which had a dividing wall and boys played one side and girls at the other. The classrooms were heated with open fires.
When I first started school I had to walk, or my dad would take me on his bike, three miles each day. But soon I learnt to ride a bike and I used to ride to school with the children from the next farm. But they were much older than me and used to leave me far behind. No one seemed to worry about me. I would stop to pick flowers. In the Spring it was primroses and cowslips and wild violets for my Mum. Sweet violets were seen as an act of friendship, a custom dating back to Victorian days. Then came wild raspberries and strawberries. Wild orchids grew in the boggy bit down the lane.
Of course we had to remember to take our gas masks to school every day.
My Mum had a friend who was good with sewing so she made my clothes. 'Make Do and Mend' was the motto in the war!

In Winter it snowed - I often would miss school for a few weeks, as did lots of farm children. No one had a car or telephone and petrol was on ration.
I can remember being told how men from the Ministry would come round the farms and try to get people to sell them eggs etc, which, of course, was a very serious offence in the war. The old lady at the next farm said yes, she would let them have 1/2 dozen eggs. On paying the money for them the Ministry man said she would be hearing from him again to which she replied yes, she hoped so - they were POT eggs which people used to put in the nest to help the hens to lay.
Living on an isolated farm I never had anyone to play with but always had lots of pets - kittens and a pet duck called Puddle who came every night and tapped on the kitchen door for some bread and milk. Then I was given a little dog who was the love of my life. I called her Vicky and used to dress her up and wheel her in my old pram. Sadly she got run over with the milk wagon. I can remember being inconsolable for days over my little dog.

In wartime, before the farmers' hearts were taken over by tractors, most of the farm work was done by heavy horses and a treat for me was to ride home at night on one of the older horses called Dobbin. The blacksmith used to visit the farm once a month to shoe the horses and we would light a fire in the smithy ready to heat the shoes up.

On thing that sticks in my memory is sitting at the kitchen table listening to Workers' Playtime on the radio - and Dick Barton, Special Agent - and Mrs Dales' Diary! She used to say, "I am very worried about Jim!"  Our radio was powered with a wet battery and it had to be charged up - we had to take to Mr Baker at Marton Vicarage.
Children do silly things and one day I must have been feeling a bit bored so I got a nail and scratched all over my Mum's best table in the front room. I got into great trouble and was sent to bed.
I was always allowed to play outside round the fields on my own. The hedges were full of birds - thrushes, robins, blackbirds and tits carolling their song - and moths and butterflies were everywhere in the Summer.
The seasons played a big part in my life when I was small. Easter would be for egg rolling. Mum would boil eggs in onionskins, and we would go looking for the first nests with all the speckled eggs in - not that I was allowed to touch them.
In the Summer I would be taken on the bus to Saltburn to stay with my Auntie Muriel - a real treat. She had a little beach hut with a gas ring. We would make tea and swim in the sea and go to the Summer Show at the end of the pier.
Then it would be Christmas. My tree was the top of a holly bush and have real candles on it, which I was only allowed to light when Mum or Dad was around. I can remember Auntie Muriel giving me some old Christmas tree decorations - which looking back must have been 30 years old then! My daughter Gill still has some of them and puts them on her tree at Christmas.
Nothing would be put up until Christmas Eve - really Christmas was just a day then. I would hang up a sock on the mantle shelf and would hardly be able to get to sleep wondering what Father Christmas would bring - nothing like the children get today - maybe a pretty hankie or some coloured scraps and a book to stick 'faggies' (cigarette cards) in or a top made of wood by my dad. I would be happy with what I received.
We would have a chicken for lunch and then Christmas pud. Then we would all go for a walk around the farm and the cats would go as well - cats love to go for a walk! We would collect sticks for the fire and look for the first snowdrops. Such simple things but happy thing to do. When we got home Mum would make toast on the fire with her home baked bread and we would put dripping on it and drink ginger beer from the bottle with home made biscuits.
In those days there was a postal delivery on Christmas Day and the postman used to come on his bike. He would always have had lots of wine and cake before he reached us ( I think it was called 'Lucky Birding') and be very merry. Often he would stay for his lunch with us before setting off to finish his round and return to Stillington. I think he would be pushing his bike by the time he reached home - quite unable to get on it!

My Dad was a very good vegetable grower and did his best to 'Dig for Victory'. We always had plenty of fresh food. Apples and pears were stored in the barn, sorted and the rotten taken out. Spare eggs would be put into wather glass so that when the hens stopped laying eggs in the cold winter we had plenty for baking etc. Rabbits were always on the menu during the war. I am sure lots of farm workers families would have starved without them. Mother used to make rabbit pie, also roast rabbit - which is better than chicken if it's cooked the right way - and corned beef hash was a treat with potato cake.
We were allowed to kill one pig per year on licence so we used to find out when our neighbours were going to kill theirs and then we would kill ours about four weeks later ( and always in the cold weather because there were no fridges) so everyone would share the pork around and the ham would be salted with saltpetre and hung up in the back kitchen on hooks from the ceiling and left to cure for ham and bacon.
Butter was made fresh every week in a large churn. I used to love helping to make the lovely patterns on the large butter pats with the wooden moulds. Milk would be set up in the pantry in large bowls and cream would be taken off then the skimmed milk would be used to make scones and bread.
Mother had a lady who used to walk from Farlington to bake for her each week on a Friday. All the baking was done in a large bread oven heated with wood. Bread and fruit pies, cakes and buns would be made. My parents aways had pie for breakfast but both lived ot be 86 and never had any illness until the very last day of their lives. Mum had never been to hospital until she was taken ill just before she died.

In the Autumn we would pick brambles and crabapples to make pickles and jam. Fruit would be cooked and put into kilner jars and stored on the long shelves in the pantry ready for the Winter. In September time we would go out early in the morning and collect mushrooms from the fields and have them for breakfast with home cured bacon.
Winters were much colder then and the windows would freeze up with Jack Frost patterns on them and large icicle spikes would form from the drippy water on the buildings. I would take a stick and knock them off. No one thought about what would happen if one hit me - I would have been dead I expect.
Each week Mr Hutchinson from Hutchinson Stores here in Stillington would come on his bike to take our order for groceries. Mum would get out the ration books to see what we could have and he'd bring the goods the next week in a box on his bike. No going to Tesco then!
Some people might wonder what we found to do in the Winter with long, dark nights. As the American visitor who was staying in a North Yorkshire Farm after the war asked one of the locals:
"Whatever do you find to do here in the winter?"
"Same as in Summer but with us overcoats on!" was the blunt Yorkshire reply.

When the war ended in 1945, and food rationing eased, my mother used to stand York Market much like the farmers' market today only she used to take everything in two large butter baskets on the bus that ran once a week on a Saturday. I had to help her get it all packed up with eggs, jam and chickens: small posies of flowers I had picked from the fields; fruit and veg. I really looked forward to going to town. There would be a queue of people waiting to buy from her and soon the baskets would be empty and then we could do our shopping. A rare treat would be to go to the cinema and see a film such as Judy Garland in 'Me and My Gal' or 'Anchors Aweigh' with Gene Kelly. Then we would get the bus home.

In the winter of 1947 it snowed for three weeks. The snow was over the hedge tops, the wind whipping up drifts for 20 feet or more. But we had plenty of wood for the fire and our own food so we just had to manage. The worst thing was making sure the animals had fresh drinking water but we had three wells on the farm. It all had to be carried in buckets in sub-zero temperatures so life must have been hard for my parents but I never remember them grumbling.
We had very few luxuries but I was well looked after and much loved which enabled me to give love in return. I have had a very happy life here in Stillington and I'm sure much of that inner happiness I have felt over the years was because I was well loved and cared for when I was a child growing up in the war years.

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