Work Before Joining Up


When I was 14 I left school, and as Grandma’s health was not too good it was decided that for a time I should work for Grandad and Grandma, be a kind of house boy and also help on the holding. “York” belonged to Mr Jones of East Hoathly and only comprised of about 15 acres, but by now Grandad hired a part of adjoining Vine Farm, so raised quite a lot chickens himself and also produced more eggs than in the past, and my job was mainly with these running chickens and hens (free range we would call them now) and to help with plucking and stubbing, that is removing the small developing feathers which were beneath the developed ones. Also we kept pigs which are very lovable creatures and not dirty and smelly if well looked after. I remember Aunt Hannah bringing up one by means of a baby’s bottle because the mother had too many to manage; it slept in a basket with Betsy a wire haired terrier, and followed my Aunt around like a dog. On one occasion at least she took it on a bus.


Farmers were having a difficult time in the thirties and it became apparent that York could not support Grandad & Grandma, Uncle Will & Auntie Hannah (Grandad’s son and daughter-in-law) who in 1937 had a baby son John,  and myself. One day Grandad happened to bump into Mr Pryke proprietor of Nook Nurseries at Halland and came home to tell me that there might be a job for me at the Nook. So in April 1939 I began my career as a gardener of one sort or another.  I had done gardening all of my life. My earliest recollection of putting broad beans between the bricks of the pavement at Greywood and digging them out shortly afterwards to see if they were growing. At York I always had my own small garden, this was extended to a sizable vegetable plot when I left school. I sold some of the produce. Now I was in it for real, but I didn’t then think of it as a life long experience.


Life had been very sheltered at York, now I had to get used to working with other men. Most of them were young like myself. Mr Pryke had a shop in Uckfield and one in Brighton, where he supplied hotels, so he was out delivering at least two days each week, so his son Ivan was our foreman. I knew him well as he had been a friend at East Hoathly school, but along with his twin sister Jean he had gone to Lewes Grammar School at 11 years of age as paying pupils. I got on very well with Ivan, who was a quiet even tempered chap, unlike his father who could get very excited and use some strong language if things went wrong. Sadly Ivan went into the R.A.F. in 1941 trained as a bomber pilot and was killed, I think over France probably in 1944. (Pilot Officer Henry Ivan Pryke d 11/10/1943)


My links with my cousins at Crockstead, and with Halland Chapel grew stronger. There was a large group of young people attending not only on Sundays but Uncle Jim’s Wednesday young peoples meeting. Uncle Jim was my mother’s eldest brother, and the Pastor at Halland. Among the young people was Nellie Cottingham. I knew her of course from school days, but school boys are not interested in girls 2½ years younger than themselves, but by mid teens it is different. We became very friendly, but not too openly as she was only fifteen, and her father was understandably very protective towards her. However soon after her sixteenth birthday she broke the news to him that she had been invited to go with me to my parents home to tea. He accepted the invitation very graciously and there was only one snag, that on the Sunday in question we awoke to a world of ice. There had been freezing rain during the night. Everything was coated in ice. We tied sacking on our boots to stay upright on the paths or roads. Tree branches and telephone lines were broken by the weight of the ice. I have never seen anything like it to this degree before or since. This meant that instead of us cycling to Greywood I went to Nellie’s home at Halland Farm instead. However before this time we had been helped in our romance by my Crockstead cousins Jim and Ruth, our respective best friends. They invited us to tea on the same days and gave us wonderful opportunities to be together. I am sure that my Aunt knew well what was going on. I guess her eyes sparkled.


The second world war had broken out on Sept 3rd 1939, and one evening that autumn my cousin Jim and I rode to Greywood on Jim’s tandem cycle. Coming home in the blackout we failed to see some men in the road, one, old “File” Jeffery from Halland had a stick which got into our front wheel. We were travelling quite fast and were thrown on to the road. Jim had a cut leg and I was knocked unconscious. Jim managed to ride to Crockstead to get his father to come with his car to convey me to a Doctor, then back to Greywood to tell  my father, who ran 1¼miles to Broom Lodge, East Hoathly where the accident happened. By the time Dad arrived I was just beginning to come round, and Uncle Bert took me to Dr Orchard at East Hoathly who said that I had concussion, then back to York to my grandparents. I soon improved and was back to work in a week, while I believe Jim’s leg took a time to heal and he was off work for two weeks. It was of the Lords mercy that neither of us were killed. It was in fact while convalescing from this accident that I finally decided to be serious regarding my relationship with Nellie, hence the trip to Greywood for tea already mentioned.



Frank and Nellie 1st September 1940 Halland


In June 1940 British troops were evacuated from Dunkirk. This was followed by the Battle of Britain, and we often saw dogfights between our Spitfires and Hurricanes and the German planes. As Winston Churchill declared “Never in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”. How inspiring were the broadcasts over the radio of our great leader Winston, especially after the near despondency of the last few days of the premiership of Neville Chamberlain, the man who with the French prime minister had betrayed the Czechs and allowed their country to be overrun by the Nazi hordes, until now Poland had been divided between Germany and the Soviet Union, and Britain was next on the list of Hitler’s victims, after occupying most of France, all of Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway. Our battered army at Dunkirk had few weapons and perhaps little spirit left for battle, but the R.A.F. by Gods help thwarted Hitler’s immediate plans and by the end of the summer of 1940 Reich Marshall Goring’s Luftwaffe abandoned mass daylight raids and began bombing London, Coventry, Plymouth, Portsmouth and many other cities and towns by night.


Often the Germans would jettison their bombs before reaching London anti aircraft defences and many bombs were dropped in Kent and Sussex. The nearest to us was a string of bombs (probably 100lb ones) across Granddad’s fields one Sunday night. Thankfully the only victim we found was a rabbit! The nearest was about 100 yards from the house. I was unwell that night and was in bed when I heard the bombs whistling down. The first of a number of times when I tried to dive for shelter, but at such times last minute resorts to a safe haven are usually useless, but there is a Sovereign protector “Not a single shaft can hit, till the love of God sees fit” I didn’t credit this then but look back with thanksgiving.


Nellie had a great loss on June 22 nd 1941 when her father, David Cottingham, died. He had taken ill on his 63rd birthday Nov 26th 1940. It was not only long but a very distressing illness affecting his lungs. This was also the  date that the treacherous Nazis  invaded the land of their allies the Soviet Union, and so a great mass of Hitler’s troops now faced east instead of threatening Britain, although vigilance had to be constant, and Mr Churchill with his minister of production Lord Beaverbrook began building up for a great offensive.



Frank and Nellies's Engagement photo taken on the 11th March 1942

This was the day before he had to report for Army training!


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