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- Ipswich Museum
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- 13 December 2004
Emma Draper pictured in 2004
Emma comes from a Gypsy Traveller family and has been living on the West Meadows Traveller site in Ipswich since 1995
We used to work on farms off and on during the war. I remember stopping near Huntingdon. One time this big American plane landed right behind our wagons. My Mother went out and took the pilots tea and all that. We didn’t have a clue what was going on. Then we moved to Barnwell in Northamptonshire and worked for the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester on their estate.
I was thinking about it the other day because the Duchess Alice has just died aged 102years. I had no idea she was still alive. Well it made me remember when we were staying on their estate and they used to come and visit us. We did a lot of work for them. They had a lot of horses so we used to take the hay up to the stables. We also used to do the pea picking for them. By hand of course because there weren’t any machines then. One time the Duchess came along with white gloves on, sat down on a box and started picking the peas with us. She was a really nice lady.
At Christmas time they used to come and visit us in the wagons and bring us presents. We didn’t have a lot during the war and they knew that. At Christmas they used come along on their horses with all their dogs, big dogs and dear little dogs. Then one Christmas during the war they brought us this great big ship full of presents. It had everything you could think of in it. Chocolates, sweets, fruit. It was so lovely, so nice of them to think of us. But they knew we couldn’t get things like that.
We kept moving around during the war but always returning for a time to the Duke and Duchess. After the war we never went back but we used to listen to stories about them on the news.
I was fifteen while we were working at the Duke’s. I can remember I had my fifteenth birthday with my twin sister. My Mother cooking a great big stew. She wrote a letter to my brother telling him that she was putting fifteen dumplings each into the stew for our birthday. I bet we ate them too! We were always that hungry.
While we were working on the estate there was a farm manager called Mr Burridge. My sisters and me used to help out in the yard, milking the cows, taking the hay up to the stables and all that. Mr Burridge had lots of geese in the yard and when it was dinner time - time to go home- we used to go and find the geese nests and take the eggs back to Mother. There were loads of geese and loads of eggs. Anyway, we were wearing bib and brace overalls with corduroy jerkins, and we used to stuff the goose eggs down the top of our jerkins. But one time out came Mr Burridge who called for one of us to come back. Too scared to go home my sisters and me ran home. I had four eggs stuffed down my jerkin. When we got home we cracked them and put them in the pot. And that was our dinner. If we’d gone back the eggs would have rolled out and smashed on the ground.
We moved from there to Keystone to work for another farmer. As it was still the war we had to go and register in town as available for war duties. But we were made exempt because we worked on the land and the farmer employed us. There were all sorts of people there. Italian prisoners of war who used to give my Mother dried fruit and other things we couldn’t get because it was all rationed.
Another time we were asked to go and work on a farm in Peterborough. We travelled there with our four horses, two wagons and one trolley. When we finally arrived we discovered that it was next to an army camp full of soldiers. As the soldiers saw us girls coming - we were about fifteen or sixteen - they all started getting themselves dressed up, shaving and everything. To get there we had to cross this dike. When my father saw all the soldiers getting ready for our arrival he refused to go any further and turned us around. “We’re not going in there”, my Father said. Of course us girls were a bit disappointed ... all those handsome soldiers.
My Father didn’t go to war because he only had one leg. My brothers too because they worked on the land. But several Travellers went into the war. My husband’s brother-in-law went. I still have the photos of him in his army gear. I knew others who went too.
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