World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                 Muriel Patricia Aflat


By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: MURIEL PATRICIA ALFLAT (nee GILLIVER), Miss. E. Woodland, Miss J. Hague, Miss P. Hampston
Location of story: Sheffield, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, Helpringham
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of MURIEL PATRICIA ALFLAT.



In the autumn of 1944, a group of girls from Abbeydale Girls’ Grammar School, Sheffield, went to Lincolnshire to pick potatoes as part of the war effort. There was a shortage of labour in the countryside, as the young men had been called up for military service. We left Sheffield Midland Station on a Saturday by train, until we reached Sleaford. One of our party, Mavis Hurst, trapped her hand in the train door and was tended by some very kind American soldiers travelling on the same train.

On arrival at our destination, we transferred to a lorry and were taken to our lodgings. Up to that point, I was quite excited and eager to see what lay ahead. We reached our accommodation, which was an extremely derelict old farmhouse in Helpringham. To me it was horrific. We were allocated the rooms in which we were to sleep. We were about eight to a room. Mine was on the ground floor and others had to walk through ours in order to get to the upstairs rooms. We slept on sacks filled with straw and we had army blankets to cover us. If the doors of the rooms were slammed the walls swayed! We washed in water from the pump (queued up to do so in fact) and it was also our drinking water---that is until someone put their soap on the top (only there wasn’t one!) and it fell down the pipe! Next to the pump was a small static water tank with corrugated metal covers. When anyone lifted up a cover to get water, the midge larva at the top wriggled to the bottom! I’m afraid I did very little water drinking or even washing!

Our morning and evening meals, which were served in some hall or other, were brilliant and prepared by our accompanying teachers, Miss E. Woodland, Miss J. Hague (Maths) and Miss P. Hampston (English). Each day, a couple of girls were detailed to help with the chores, washing up, preparing meals, cleaning where the chemical toilets were. We mostly had cooked dried eggs and tomatoes for breakfast, which I quite enjoyed. Our evening meals nearly always included blackberry and apple crumble, the blackberries having been collected by staff and duty pupils. I enjoyed this too. The meal I didn’t enjoy was the mid-day one, a packed meal. Without fail it was fish paste sandwiches. I liked fresh salmon paste, but ours was, amongst others, bloater and mackerel from jars. To me it had a dreadful taste and I usually gave mine away. To supplement our meals, we were always hungry, we were allowed to go to various orchards and pick up the fallen apples to eat, even though the cows had had a bite of them first! Our other supplement was a tin of National Dried Milk into which we dipped our fingers and then licked it off!

One of the things I’d always wanted to do was to have a midnight feast. I had read a lot of Eleanor M. Brent-Dyer’s “Chalet School” books! Some of us had the odd food parcel from home and a “midnight feast” was proposed. I’m afraid I was too exhausted to stay awake and had to be woken up by someone. All I wanted to do was sleep---quite a let down!

Our daily time-table was as follows:-
- 8.0.a.m. we went to work
- mid-morning we had ¼ hour break
- dinner break for ½ hour
- 5.0.p.m. we finished.
We were taken to the fields on a tractor drawn trailer. The strip of field being harvested was divided into patches paced out and marked with sticks. The spinner (a machine that dug up the potatoes) was horse-drawn and went up one side of the patch and down the other. We collected the crop into some sort of baskets and left them at the edge of our own patch, to be collected by a man with a horse and cart. When the area had been cleared, the spinner was replaced by a harrow (rake), drawn by the same horse. This turned the soil again and we picked up any potatoes missed the first time. Then the whole process was repeated with a fresh strip of field. It rained nearly every day and was very cold, bleak and miserable. It was back-breaking work and I ended up working on my hands and knees. The older man who was in charge of the spinner was named “B dash” by us---as in “Get them B--- ‘taters picked”, and the younger one doing the collecting we called “Rosie” as he blushed when spoken to. I never did know their real names.

At one point, Italian POW’s were working in the adjoining field from where they cobbed potatoes at us with great merriment. Our pay was 9d. per hour (now the equivalent of 3 3/4p per hour and our keep was deducted from this. On our day off, Sunday, I would have liked to catch up on my sleep---but no, we were marched in a crocodile to look at the eight sailed windmills in the area. Some girls picked mushrooms---a variation to our diet---and some had assignations in the hay-stacks with the local lads!

Towards the end of our stay, I developed dysentry and was isolated. I presume we returned as we arrived, by lorry and train, but I can’t remember. My mother was waiting for me as were other mothers at the station. She was quite convinced I had someone else’s shoes on---they were so caked up with mud they were unrecognisable as mine! The following summer, some girls went fruit-picking, but I was not one of them!