The first thing I can remember is a fire at the barn, the corn stacks and cow sheds on the other side of the road to Wills Farm. It belonged to my father and was in the dry summer of 1921. The horse drawn fire engine from Bilsington had only a hand pump, which used the water from the spring well close to Wills Farmhouse. All the firemen could do was spray the stacks and sheds.
About this time a tower was built in the field opposite the new village hall on Brian Wimble’s farm, and was nearly 200 feet high It was a listening tower with a small hut connected to the big hut where the children’s play area is now. After school I never had time to play. When I got home there were the sheep pots to turn over so they would be dry when I fed the sheep in the morning, the milk shed to clean out and the pigs to feed. Sometimes after tea I would go with my father to the barn to clean the corn, make bonds (straw ropes to tie up the straw behind the thresher) so there was no peace but plenty to eat.
From the age of 10 or 11, on the Easter school holiday, I would be out with the sheep in the lambing field. In the summer holiday I helped to get the harvest in. It was hard work but I liked to be like the men, and it was better than school. After school and work I was allowed to look after the odd horse with the waggoner. That meant I had to feed and water the horse before six, back in for breakfast, back to the horse, push up its bed and get the horse ready to go to work with the men on the farm at 7 o’clock. At 4 o’clock we come in and get hay in and cut it up. About five I'd have my tea, then at 8 o’clock go out to the horse to see if the waggoner wanted any help to bed down the horses for the night. The rest of the day was my own. I was lucky as I could go where I liked as long as I told my parents who I was going with and what time I would be home, but work came first.
Charles Homewood on a horse drawn hay rack, c.1930
From the time I was about 10, if there was a load of straw to put on the rail at Ham Street or take to a farm in Bethersden, father would say to the waggoner “You can have the third horse and Charles will come to lead the front horse”. This meant there was a third horse to pull the load up the hills. I would lead the horse one way, and when the wagon was empty on the way back, I would ride on the wagon with my horse tied to the back. Later father got a Ford lorry. That saved the walking. But when we left the farm with a load of straw, the lorry was very slow going up Bilsington hill and I had to walk behind to see if the load was OK.
About 1922, when I was five, father had a tractor, registration number KK100, which had iron wheels and was alright on our beach roads. After a year or two we had at least two more as we were helping other farmers out doing contract work. These all had the same number KK100 which cost just five shillings a year.
Of course, I was eager to get on a tractor, which was great. To start you had to swing the engine over fast to make the spark, then to get into gear there was a lot of grating as the gear oil was very thick. To turn at the end of the field we had to do some tricky manoeuvres as there was nothing to lift up to make the tractor turn easy and no brake. If you were on loose ground the tractor would go almost straight.
About 1934 we had new Fordson with iron wheels. A year later we had rubber tyres, the first in the village. I did a lot of work for other farmers about this time, discing and drilling or ploughing, then back home to work with lambing, haying, harvesting and back to ploughing in the Autumn. In the winter I would go round the farms on the marsh threshing grass seed and wild white clover. This work did not take up all my time so I had to help out at the farm with the corn threshing and steam ploughing.
At 14 when I left school, my best hobby was shooting. There were a lot of vermin, rabbits, rooks and pigeons. My first gun was a 410 which I liked best as it was lighter than the twelve bore. I would try to keep the big flocks of rooks and pigeons off the fields of peas and corn. On Saturday we worked until 4 and then it was a rush to be ready by six to bike nine miles to Ashford for an evening walk round the shops till eight, then to the pictures. There would be about six of us, and it cost 2p to park the bike and 8p for the pictures. On Sunday evenings we would bike the nine miles to Hythe or perhaps go to Rye or just ride around the country. On winter evenings we would stay at home and play cards. Later we would go down to the pub and the one who won the most would buy the drinks, so you had to win a lot to be in pocket.
When the war started it meant more work and less time off. I was lucky as I had to stay on the land to feed the people. That was fine, I was always at home at night, but it was very hard work at times. The work had to be done and most of the young men had gone into the forces. There was a lot more corn as a tenth of the grass had to be ploughed. This put a lot of extra work for our old tools and we could not get new parts when they broke. We had to work harder on Sundays repairing things so that they could keep going to get the work done. As the war went on, the army came to help with the harvest, which was a great help. But they only worked from 8 o’clock to 4.30 while I worked from 6.30 until 8pm, and then I had to do fire duty three evenings a week after that. When the army left, some would say they were going on 28 days leave, while I hadn’t had a day off for a long time.
Edward and Frank Homewood working with a reaper c.1940