- Contributed by
- People in story:
- W. B. Broughton
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 February 2004
My late husband was an excise officer at the start of the war, working with pension claims and excise duty on sugar at various times. He was aged 27, married, and the job he held was a reserved occupation. However, he had been a member of the Peace Pledge Union, and interested in the H.G.Wells Society. He read a lot of general science by Huxley, Hogben, and other such writers, and had always been interested in wild life. He and his wife had come to the conclusion that, although they were pacifists, they should prepare themselves to help in the reconstruction of Europe after the war ended, and that the most important preparation would lie in knowledge of farming. Therefore he presented himself for interview at a Tribunal, where he was asked the sort of question “What would you do if a German came into your house and threatened to rape your wife?” to which he responded “Hit him, as an individual threatening me”. After many more questions, he was accepted as a conscientious objector to work on the land.
He and his wife then left their work, and bought an old Romany caravan to live in and travel from farm to farm. Neither of them was experienced with horses, and the first one that they were sold proved to be a handful, unwilling to pull and liable to bolt. It was also lousy, and had to be washed down to clean its coat. Eventually a more sympathetic dealer sold them a tough grey mare, which was always willing. When they later put the caravan on a public weighbridge the operator asked if they had put the horse on as well! It was then that they discovered that the van had a heavy lorry axle and a double skin of wood. It had to be rebuilt to lighten it. They also kept chickens in a coop hanging underneath.
They went from farm to farm every few months, always choosing arable work. He learnt to plough, sow and harvest, and to carry hundredweight or more sacks up into granaries. He could harness up a team of horses and service a tractor as well as the farm equipment. In this way they covered an area between the Chilterns and Cheddar. As the war progressed, it became clear that farming would not require people to go into Europe, and they decided to leave and join the Friends Relief Service. As a member of this, he was in the first relief team to go into Belsen just before the official end of the war, and helped to select the displaced persons from Poland who were to be repatriated. He told me of the people who were thrilled to be given some cocoa powder, but instead of drinking it, used it to paint their doors, to give themselves back some pride in their surroundings. Of course he also had memories of burning heaps of shoes, of lice and DDT sprays, of trying to make the water in the static water tanks fit to drink, and of the terrible deaths from TB and other diseases. This experience burnt deeply into him, and caused bad dreams for years. It also caused the end of his marriage, as they had found different interests. He returned to England in 1946 and then changed career, going to college to take a degree in zoology and becoming a lecturer, and remarrying.
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