Blackberry Lane – Episode 02

ON the border between Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, a good 35 miles north of Southampton, lay Hollow Farm. Life here appeared idyllic. Hens roamed freely in the kitchen garden, a few marauding cats – on the lookout for unwary mice or rats − patrolled the barn, cattle grazed contentedly in the lush meadows, and crops in the fields basked under a summer sun.

This effect was only achieved by the constant hard toil of Ted Proctor and Archie Sims, plus the regular help of three other farmhands and Ted’s son, Ken – when he could be persuaded.

All of these men were sustained by a steady supply of food and drink, churned out daily from the farmhouse kitchen by Ted’s wife, Kate.

The kitchen was its heart. Spacious, with a range at one end set into the wall, and a long table running its length, it positively invited people to congregate.

Kate’s memories of the previous war were still vivid and painful: of her two elder brothers marching off, never to return; of her poor old mum descending into a grief which changed her for ever. So it was with a feeling of dread that she stood in the village church and listened to the announcement that Sunday morning.

Home – that was where she needed to be. With barely a word of farewell to her neighbours, she sped from the village church and down the road to Hollow Farm.

As she rounded the corner of the barn she caught sight of Ted. He was leading the pair of heavy horses back to their stables.

Relief flooded through her.

“Oh, Ted!” she exclaimed, “War’s been declared − the vicar told us so in church.”

Ted stood for a moment, taking in her words.

“Ah, well,” he said slowly. “I’ve got a crop waiting to be gathered in, war or no war.”

“Oh, Ted, really.” Kate looked at him with a frown. “The crop − is that all you can talk about?”

“Well, it’s like this, love…” His calm, deep brown eyes met his wife’s. “There’s nothing I can do about this war; but there’ll still be people needing fed − maybe more so than ever. So I’ll stick to what I know, which is growing food for folks.”

She turned on her heel and stalked off back to the farmhouse.

Ted stood silently as he watched her walk away. He, too, had memories of the last war.

Most worrying of all, their son was of an age to fight. The thought filled him with a fear he couldn’t put into words.


Running up Walbury Hill on a warm afternoon was not for the faint-hearted.

Fortunately, Ken and his friend Davy were both young and fit.

It was Davy who reached the summit first, and stood, arms raised in triumph.

“Victory to the artillery,” he hollered.

Ken was only seconds behind him. Their energy finally spent, they lay on their backs for a few minutes, laughing and panting.

“Next time,” Ken said, “I will definitely beat you.”

“You will not!” Davy chuckled. “Might as well just accept it.”

“I accept nothing,” Ken retorted amiably. He sat up suddenly and his face had assumed a harder, more discontented expression. “I certainly don’t accept that all I’m gonna do in this war is plough fields,” he growled.

Davy raised himself to a sitting position.

“How are your family going to take it?” he asked.

Ken sighed deeply.

“Mum will bawl, and Dad will go on about working the land, and how I’m a Proctor.”

Both young men gazed down the slopes of Walbury Hill. From their vantage point they could see for miles around, over a patchwork of fields interspersed with villages and farmsteads. Ken had a clear view of Hollow Farm.

“Look at it,” he remarked scathingly, “just sitting there, same as it’s always done. It never changes.” His gaze swung round, and his blue eyes locked on to Davy’s. “I want see something different; do something different.”

“Well,” Davy said slowly, “you’ll never have a better excuse.”

The boys had been friends since infancy, but their situations were very different. David’s dad, Douglas Painter, was the local chimney sweep. He’d raised Davy single-handed after the death of both his wife and the baby daughter she’d given birth to. Throughout his childhood, Davy had spent many hours at Hollow Farm.

As soon as war was declared, it had been more-or-less taken for granted that he would join up. His path was clear. Poor old Ken, on the other hand, had a battle to fight before he even got near a Jerry.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!