Although thirteen year old Freddie (Frederick John Randall) didn’t spend a lot of time with his older brothers, he was very proud to boast that Alfred, the eldest, had already enlisted in the Territorials and was in training to go to war, and that Albert and Ernest, who were a couple of years younger, were keen to sign up too.
Freddie knew that his Mum and Dad were worrying about Alfred joining the army and even more so if his younger brothers did too. They sincerely hoped that this war would not last long and that the boys would come home safely so that they could get back to their normal lives.
The farm labourers – including his Dad – were working extra hours in Alfred’s absence, for though the harvest might be finished, there was always plenty of work to be done on the farm. Each day more young men left the village to answer the call, so the workload for all those remaining became heavier.
Freddie – along with most boys of his age – had not attended school during the harvest. Because this was one of the busiest times in the farming calendar, everybody – women and able-bodied children – were expected to help.
Now back at school, he still had his chores to do. He worked as an errand boy at the grocer’s shop, in place of Ernest, who now worked on the farm with Dad and his brothers. Freddie delivered provisions all through the valley on the grocer’s bicycle with the huge basket at the front – to the big houses, to the vicarage, and to those customers who were unable to carry bulky items. Having been in St Mary Bourne all of his young life, he knew everybody – where they lived and now – what they ate.
Some of his school friends must have been envious of him with his lovely job and of the few coppers he earned.
As he cycled passed Mrs Medhurst’s bakery, he would take a long sniff to inhale the lovely smells emanating from the shop.
At this time of the year (early autumn) Freddie and his pals would pull their home-made trolleys up to Wakeswood and into the woods, or Baptist Hill to collect any burnable fallen branches and fir cones found in the hedgerows, to store for the winter for the fires at home.
Sometimes he would sit his sister Florrie on the trolley on the way there, and when they reached the top of the hill by the Spring Hill turning, she would get off and pick blackberries to take home for Mum to make jam, or maybe a pie for Sunday tea along with the apples from the tree in the garden. There were also hazel nuts to be collected before the squirrels found them all.
Coming back down the hill was quite a task, every branch had been carefully loaded and the bundles tied down, however the weight of it and the steepness of the road threatened to hurtle the trolley downhill without him. The boys would take it in turns to help one another to the bottom
With this task completed he and Florrie would return home to their daily jobs. They would collect the eggs from the chicken run, wash them and take them indoors and put them in the larder. Sometimes if there were plenty, Mum would put the eggs in a basket outside the back door for sale.
Freddie would chop up kindling wood, fill the log basket with dry logs and take it into the kitchen ready for the next day, while Florrie helped Mum in the kitchen.
Often as he returned to the shop, having completed his deliveries, there would be a huddle of wives and mothers outside discussing the latest news of the village – which son, brother or husband had enlisted – and wondering how the families would manage without them, not just the labour but the money they earned too.
Although we have no independent corroboration of Frederick doing his brother’s grocery run, it seems highly likely that this is in fact what happened. Their father worked on a farm according to the 1911 census and the harvest meant extra money for all who could help. With so many having left for the front, extra hands would have welcome, and (relatively) well paid. But Ernest would have been older and stronger than Frederick, hence their all moving up a step. Ed.