many other Whitstable women my mother would go hop or fruit picking each
year in many cases as insurance against non arrival of their serviceman
For me, hop
picking was great fun although not all fun. A number of Whitstable women, and maybe a few kids old enough to
be useful, were picked up by lorry or bus (in our case from near The
Noah’s Ark), and taken to various hop fields.
Our destination was in Boughton but the ‘farm’ name escapes
me. Unlike the Londoners,
our accommodation was comparatively grand. It was a large ‘chalet’ type
shed - off the ground with a ‘proper’ roof, windows and some
facilities shared by 3 or 4 women and a couple of we kids. Each
‘family’ bedroom was curtained off leaving a kitchen/living room area.
The Londoners had what looked like ancient cut down
stables - each
family with barely enough room to sleep.
I have no recollection of any facilities, toilets etc but, then,
such things were immaterial to kids having fun.
far as the actual picking of hops was concerned, kids weren’t welcome. The bailiff may claim kids damaged the
hops. As far as the women
were concerned, kids didn’t know the ‘tricks’ such as loading the
baskets ‘light and fluffy’ – a packed basket took longer to fill
therefore less money would be earned for the days work.
Quite often, the Bailiff’s billhook failed to release the vines
from the high supporting wires or the vines were tangled against others
and remained too high for the women to reach the hops. I could shin up the poles to release them so I was quite popular
with the ‘Whitstable team’ who gained some popularity with the
Bailiff for not continually calling him back as other pickers had to do.
my vantage point ‘up the poles’, I had a good view of the surrounding
countryside. One day, to my
delight, I saw a twin engine plane coming in low down from the east
heading towards Faversham. One
engine was on fire and the other, I think, dead. But, as it got closer, I could see it was a British plane and, sad
to say, it crashed and burs into flames just a mile or two beyond the
Another time, I saw what I would later realise
of the Normandy invasion build up. For
several days, there appeared to be a continual stream of army vehicles of
all sorts heading south. I
have to say ‘appeared to be’ because I couldn’t stay ‘up the
pole’ hour after hour!
of those vehicles were strange looking affairs -, especially tanks.
Recently, I saw an episode of ‘Weapons of Invasion’, a TV
documentary. Featured were
the partially successful attempts at making tanks amphibious by adding
canvas or rubberised fabric ‘skirt’s. Raising the skirt with compressed air formed a rectangular
container, the tank forming the bottom.
I guess some of those tanks I saw ‘wrapped’ in fabric
material of some kind were those same amphibious ‘Weapons of
Invasion’ tanks. I hope
those I saw were among the few which successfully floated when launched.
one or two rare occasions, enemy fighters or perhaps a bomber turned back
from London would appear low over the hopfields but generally the women
didn’t stop picking. I
only heard of one hopfield, a few miles away, being hit by a bomb but no
doubt there were others. The
Londoners' huts were strafed by a fighter but all were empty at the
time. The women were out picking and little damage was done.
One of our pursuits was to sneak
into the oast houses for short bits of sulphur stick which we could take
back to school after the holiday to trade.
In 1945 a new treat was introduced –
someone came around selling
delicious cricket ball sized hot crispy donuts filled with plenty of
rich strawberry jam. There
being no hand washing facility in the fields, those picking the hops ate
their donuts from hands heavily stained with a dark green residue from
the hops. Finally allowed
to pick hops, I also ate my donut with hop stained hands and became very
ill for about 6 weeks.
was something in the hop I was allergic to and I still recall Dr
Callendar warning me that I was never to drink beer as whatever I was
allergic to transferred to the beer and could kill me. So, my wartime
hop field experience ended on a sour note.