FRANK THIRKELL

FRANK THIRKELL, DIED DECEMBER 2018, AGED 91

We were born in a house called the Chimneys, formerly Homefield, in the Alders. We only moved to here on Amhurst Bank Road from there on May 8, 1945, VE Day. There were four of us, me, my sister Lavinia and our parents. Our mother was born a Miss Buggs.

This farm was the last remaining property of the Tyson/Amhurst Estate -- 65 acres and my father remained tenant until 1977. Later I bought it.

My father grew quite a lot of soft fruit -- blackberries, raspberries, loganberries but changed to sheep. Father died about 1978 and mother in 1988. She lived to be nearly 95. I am 91, Lavinia is 85. I haven't married - yet!

From 1978, I was in charge but started having to cut back in the year 2000 as my mobility was in question because of a hip problem

I was sort of house-taught a bit by my aunt who did basic things and I went to St George's in Tunbridge Wells from the age of six. I caught the bus at the end of Alders Road, up Colts Hill. When I was 11 my grandfather gave me a second-hand bike and after that I biked in. There was very little traffic in those days.

I left just before I was 16 and came straight on the farm. I've no regrets. I may have had some at the time but then I look at these poor commuter people and see them traipsing back to Tonbridge after a day working in London with a lot of time spent in travelling.

I am interested in reading books and so on. I'm trained as a heavy labourer and worked with people who were born in the 1880s, that sort of time.

CLASS DIVIDE

There was a great class divide in those days. I was middle class and they were working class and I looked across this divide until I came on the farm and then when I actually rubbed shoulders with these people that I had only looked on at a distance I found that I was very deficient, muscularly weak, and a bit deficient in common sense. A practical person gains common sense and tenacity.


Labourers had enormous tenacity and I think of people now I worked with and all my working life I've looked up to them as sort of iconic figures. In my memory they were people who had persevered and were not always running to the doctors with minor ailments, that sort of thing

You visualise these people living in a cottage, initially with no electricity, and a small kitchen stove. You worked more or less all weathers and waterproofing was not very advanced. There were macs and army greatcoats, so in a very wet season you might work all day and get wet-through and the next morning you put on these wet clothes and went to work in them.

They didn't complain and as I say they didn't go to the doctor very often. They did take a lot of patent medicines, a lot of aspirin such as Aspro. There was no health service

WARTIME

In World War Two, we lived at Homefield and there was a narrow bit of land between the bungalow and the pond. Six or seven bombs came down and one dropped behind the row of houses at the Alders.

My father was a special constable and he'd only just come up the road two minutes before the bombs dropped and - we have religious views, we look upon it as God's preservation - that particular bomb dropped in the soil rather than on the road.

That delayed the explosion so much that a lot of the bomb burst upwards. Had it burst on the road or roadside I think it would probably have fetched the bungalow down.

Another remarkable escape involved this farm and what were called "Molotov bread-baskets," consisting of a canister of about 250 small incendiary bombs which broke up in the air. The first ones fell at Rose Cottage in Half Moon Lane and one went through the roof.

The rest of the canister fell right across this farm stopping just the other side of the road and the whole house and buildings were untouched.

The bombing was worrying of course but millions of people died a most horrible death in that war. I've heard a figure of 60 million, troops and civilian casualties.

The thing that stands out is that in 1940 London was bombed day and night. They were not supposed to be dropping their bombs here but some did come down. The planes were going over and you did not get much sleep and nearly everyone was doubling up tasks and duties.

NOT MUCH FOOD

Farm work was mainly manual -- no fork-lifts then, you man-handled it. It was heavy work, doing that during the day summertime, working overtime, then you'd got to double up perhaps as a part-time fireman, or warden or perhaps as a special policeman.

So you've got a job and half a job and there was not much food about. We weren't starving or anything but butter and meat and cheese and that sort of thing were tightly rationed. Looking back you wonder how people came through. You couldn't just pack up and have a holiday and say you were sick, you'd have to be really ill to give up.

During the war my father grew a bit of soft-fruit. He was not an extortioner and he priced his fruit at a reasonable price. We had people flocking down from Tunbridge Wells and even the odd person from London just to get a bit of soft-fruit.

They'd be coming down from London and getting here as far as Capel School then walking all the way from there up to here and then back again. It's a long walk, especially carrying the bit of fruit you've got.

There was no electricity in here when we moved in in 1945. It was oil lamps. We just put up with it. Then we had a generator for some years and then finally current was supplied. The house dates back to the 1830s-40s.