HE USED TO WAIT 12 MONTHS
FOR HIS WAGES
I AM writing this at Candlemas and it makes me think how
much country life has changed in the past thirty years.
In those days, now only a dimming memory for some of us,
Candlemas was a great time in the life of the countryside. It was the farmworker's
annual holiday. But even the tradesman in town looked forward to the coming of
Candlemas for it meant more money flowing into the till from the stream of workers
who drifted into town to spend their wages.
The village clogger and the village tailor welcomed the flood of
orders that would keep them busy for weeks to come, as well as the inflow of new
money that would help them to replenish their depleted stocks.
IT MAKES you wonder why the farm-workers chose such a dismal
time of the year for their annual holiday until you remember that they had little
choice in the matter. The worker's holiday was governed by the amount of work there
was to do. February was a "slack" time before the springtime work began in
But conditions have changed on the land and there are those who
say, "And not for the better" as modern methods of farming have brought a change in
the farmer's fortunes so the farm-worker is no longer content. among other things,
to wait twelve months for his pay.
The traditional "Hodge" of Richard Jefferies, with a back
permanently bent by grinding toil on the land, has gone from the countryside for
Gone too, are those rather grim days some of us can remember
when bent, old men were trudging along the dark lanes and over the fields to the
farm before five o'clock in the morning.
That was not even living. It was only existence.
In those days there was no other choice than to work on the land
for many a lad leaving the village school. He was wedded to the hard, back-breaking
toil of the fields for the rest of his life, or until he was too bent to be of
further use, or so crippled with rheumatism that he could not hobble far from his
Careers in town
TIMES have changed as, indeed, they needed to. Very few of the
lads who leave the village school today are destined to work on the land. By their
own choice they pass to careers of more promise in town.
That means that the few who do choose to work on the land can
afford to bargain with their would-be employers as their fathers could not. They
can state their price with a reason; able chance of getting what they demand. Then,
again, the easing of the housing situation has complicated the problem.
Soon after the war the bait of a tied cottage was an added
inducement for the family man to work on the land. But as the building programme is
stepped up the job on the farm a with house" is no longer the attraction that it
Just what all this adds up to is that the drifting of skilled
labour from the land is becoming one of the major problems of the countryside. Nor
can the farmer recruit all the labour he needs from under his own roof. Large
families in the farmhouse are the exception rather than the rule.
TRUE, many a farmer's daughter is as good with tractor and cows
as the best of men, but it is not every girl born on the farm who wants to spend
the rest of her life on the land.
A career in town is even more likely to appeal to the farmer's
daughter than it is to one of his sons Mechanisation has eased the labour shortage
but it has by no means solved it, and the prospects are that it never will. However
much the machine can take the sweat and back-breaking toil out of farming there
will always be a keen demand for the skilled man to handle the machines. That means
there will always be the promise of a career in farming for those who choose that
way of life.
I SAID earlier that this drift from the land is fast becoming
one of the major problems of the countryside. It is more. It is becoming a national
Not for much longer can the nation afford to ignore this
disaster that threatens its major and its oldest industry. Food is the heart-beat
of a nation and it is imperative that that heart-beat be sound.
No nation can survive for long if its fields are bereft of the
labour that can sow and harvest the crops. Modern farming is highly skilled and
technical and the dwindling acres mean that every yard of workable land is farmed
to the best advantage.
Men must eat to live, unless we can devise some other way. It
won't matter, then. who works on the land. But it does matter now.