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Top and Bottom of 14

by BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk

Contributed by 
BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
People in story: 
Bob Burrows. Bingy
Location of story: 
Kings Lynn
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 May 2005

This contribution to People’s War was received by the Action Desk at BBC Radio Norfolk and submitted to the website with the permission and on behalf of Mr Bob Burrows.
I was a schoolboy through the war and lived on the farm near Kings Lynn where my Father was a horseman. This story is about one day at harvest time on that farm during the war.
I found the workers in the stable waiting to be ordered out by the foreman, they had their jobs and I had mine. My task was to go with a chap called Bingy, tying wheat into sheaves as he moved round the field ready for the binder. A short, thickset bloke, he wore a collarless shirt, a red spotted neck cloth, waistcoat and cord trousers with thick leather belt and braces, the trousers were tied below the knee with binder twine. On his feet he wore hobnail boots and on his head he wore a flat greasy cap.
With his scythe and docky bag we set off for Top 14 Field.
He stood his scythe on end, drew his rubstone from the loop made of canvas on his belt and began sharpening the blade with long sweeping strokes. After several thumb tests it was considered sharp. Bingy fitted a bent stick to the blade to carry cut wheat to one side in a neat bundle, my job was to bind each bundle with a straw bond made by twisting lengths of straw together. Bingy tested some of my efforts by shaking them, they held, I was passed.
He never spoke a word as he worked, Bingy mowed with legs apart, each time he swung the scythe he would shuffle forward, chewing on his wad of black plug tobacco as he did so and spit every now and then.
At nine in the morning he told me to go and get the docky bags, so off I trotted. He was sitting on the brink of the dyke when I returned and when I gave him his docky bag he took out a spotless white cloth which held half a loaf of bread, a lump of pork and cheese and in a sock was a bottle of cold tea. Out came his lamb’s foot shut knife and he carved himself a hunk of bread, followed by a hunk of pork and cheese then a slurp of tea and so on.
He checked his pocket watch from his waistcoat pocket and we were off again. As he swung his scythe he muttered “You don’t know you’re born boy. See that’s wheat? That’s how them ow Jarmans mowed us ow Norfolk boys at Wipers. Least whats our Atillary didn’t gits. Our Albert was Atillary they just as soon kill us as jarmans”.
Albert was another labourer on the farm but Bingy never spoke to him. Now I know why.
Bingy never seemed to hurry but he never slowed except to have another sharp up. I struggled to keep up, my back ached and my hands seemed full of thistles (no weed killer sprays then). We just got round when the binder arrived behind the little Formall A tractor. It was prepared for work and away it went the tractor in the track Bingy had cut. The binder cut bundled and tied the wheat leaving the sheaves in rows to be “shocked” later. A shock was a tent of twelve sheaves with the ears upmost so corn dried out. Our job was done but no rests. The “Bottom 14” had to be opened. Bingy had another sharp up and off we went again. I was glad when the corn was cut and shocked and ready to cart. I was “Ho gee” boy then, a much easier job but wouldn’t have missed my experience with Bingy.

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