Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Harvest Camp

One of my strongest memories of school days was going to an organised harvest camp; I went twice between the ages of 15 and 18 (1949 to 1952). The camp lasted two weeks during August at Pershore in Worcestershire and many of us cycled all the way there and back; a 100 mile journey each way along major roads.

The 'harvest' was the plum orchards and the 'camp', pitched army tents in a farmer's field.  The camp also included a cookhouse in a marquee, run by the masters and their wives, and field toilets which we had to build ourselves.  The toilets were very basic chemical loos which we had to take turns to empty every day into a deep trench which we had dug out when we set up camp (and had to fill in before we left).  I discovered later that in the army these were referred to as 'thunder-boxes'.

Each day we walked or cycled to the orchards for a day's work picking plums and loading them into 56lb crates which had to be weighed before being loaded onto trailers or lorries for despatch.  We were paid by the crate provided they were properly filled, minus twigs and branches.

With apologies to Bizet, we used to sing our version of the Toreador song from Carmen:

"Toreador, pick the plums up off the floor. Put them in the crate, they will make it weight" (this is the clean version) [You could have told me the dirty version, Dad!...Trish]

We had a packed lunch for a midday break and worked until about 4.30pm.  The weather was generally good although heavy rain stopped everything, particularly as it increased the weight of the fruit!

At the end of a hard day's work we had a cold shower (also set up in the field) and a good hot meal in the cookhouse.  Then came the freedom of the evening when the attention of the teachers relaxed. The drinking laws in the local pubs were also more relaxed and the local cider or 'scrumpy'was in plentiful supply.  A few glasses of cider and and game or two of skittles or darts and we could be found staggering back up the road to the camp.  I don't think we were any worse for wear the next morning; at least we were back at work.

At the weekends we found numerous places to visit: Evesham, Broadway, Gloucester, Worcester and the Malvern Hills, all within cycling distance.  One Sunday we spent all day at a County cricket match. I also recall there being a small airfield nearby, an RAF training centre. One year they had twin-engined Avro Ansons; another year Gloster Meteor jet fighters. Security was non-existent; we were able to get onto the airfield because the minor road from our camp actually cut straight across the main runway. During flying lessons the RAF simply drove vehicles to the crossing point to form a barrier.


  1. Can you imagine the Youth Of Today agreeing to go to 'camp' under those conditions, even for pay? It sounds like good wholesome fun, but I suspect my children would not think so....

  2. Ms Caroline - That's what struck me too. I don't think my son would bed happy using the loos, never mind digging them in the first place. I suspect he wouldn't say no to a glass of cider though!

  3. Brilliant post! 100miles along main roads, cold showers, digging and emptying the loos!

    Those were the days. Mind you, there wasn't so much traffic on the roads then, but it was still along way on a heavy bike!

  4. @Sarah - I can't imagine pedalling that far; and only a year or so after breaking his leg, poor lad!