Blackberry Lane – Episode 05

TED PROCTOR was doing his utmost to assume a friendly co-operative expression, but he was finding it hard going. The man standing by his side was surely asking the impossible!

“But Mr Shilling,” Ted remonstrated, “it’ll take a miracle to turn that field into cultivated ground. It’s boggy as can be.”

Bernard Shilling was undeterred.

“What you need to do, Mr Proctor,” he responded blithely, “is to employ a sub-soiler.” He shuffled through a huge wodge of leaflets in his briefcase, and brought out an illustration.

“Here it is!” he proclaimed triumphantly.

“It acts like a mechanical mole, and breaks the land up to facilitate underground drainage.”

“Oh, aye, and where do I get one o’ these?” Ted asked, trying to keep the scepticism from his voice.

“Ah, well!” Mr Shilling exclaimed, warming to his subject. “The government has introduced a scheme to make new machinery available to farmers. It’s all part of our push to increase productivity.”

New laws had been passed compelling farmers to increase production. Pasture was to be put to the plough, and all livestock, barring dairy cattle, were to go. There was no choice in the matter. Your farm could be taken from you if you didn’t comply.


“Never mind mechanical moles,” Archie said scathingly. “Who’s going to work them? How can the two of us do more work than four or five used to? What we need is people to replace the farmhands who’ve joined up.”

Ted nodded his head in agreement.

“I’ve been told I can put in for some o’ these women what they’re enrolling.” He tutted sceptically.

“We might find this time next year the war is all over,” Archie said.

“And we might not. I don’t reckon this Hitler’s going to be a pushover.”

Archie’s eyes rested on Ted thoughtfully.

“Really? You think we’re in for a bit of a tussle then, do you?”

“Yes, I do. And I don’t like to think of the consequences if we don’t beat him.”

The two men had built a close and solid relationship over the past 15 years. Archie respected Ted, and set great store by his opinion. Once he’d left his boyhood behind, Archie had stopped wasting time yearning to be like other men. He’d accepted that he would never get married and have a family.

No girl wanted to walk out with a man who had only one good arm.

In the same way, he knew that he would not be going off to fight for his country

Spring, 1940

Two young women tumbled out of the train and dumped their suitcases on the platform. They each looked around for a minute, taking stock of their surroundings.

“Oh, dear,” Stella said. “Where ’ave we come to?”

Her eyes scanned the horizon, hoping to see something vaguely familiar or reassuring. There was nothing, though, just this platform on which they stood, and, on the other side of the track, green fields as far as the eye could see.

Her friend seemed to have been rendered speechless, gazing around her as if she feared they’d landed on some foreign planet.

A voice called out to them suddenly.

“Hello, there, young misses. Is it you what’s come to work on’t farm?”

Stella gawped, open mouthed. A little old man, dressed in a gabardine mac and wellingtons, with a scarf wound thickly round his neck, was beckoning to them.

It was Maureen who found her voice.

“Yes, that’s right,” she responded. “Are you the farmer?”

He laughed heartily.

“Me? Good Lord, no! I’m Amos, the grave digger. Ted was too busy to come to fetch you hi’self, so he asked me if I’d bring the horse and cart out.”

The girls looked at one another. A horse and cart! Didn’t they have cars in the country?

They trailed after him as he headed off in a sprightly fashion that belied his years.

“How far is this farm?” Stella asked at last.

“Only ’bout half a mile,” Amos called back jovially. “These fields what we’re passin’ through, it’s all Proctor land.”

They’d never seen so much open space, or a sky which loomed overhead so endlessly.

At the heart of the village an oak tree stood solidly on its broad patch of green.

Amos stopped the cart for a moment.

“Shop is over there.” He pointed to what looked little more than a house frontage with two steps leading up to the open door. “The pub’s opposite,” he added. “School is up that lane, church is away over there, and farm gates is just beyond it.”

“Is this it?” Maureen asked incredulously.


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!