Did you know that, during the First World War, children picked blackberries for the Government?
In 1918 as a result of the war, food rationing was introduced and a committee was set up to look at the ways of utilising any available natural resource. Throughout the country rural schools were instructed to ‘employ their children in gathering blackberries during school hours’ for the Government jam making scheme.
The children of Willingdon School rose to the challenge and supervised by their teachers groups went out into the fields from 9 September to 23 October; to harvest what was obviously a bumper crop. The School Log records 17 days when the children were taken out blackberry picking. The first afternoon 9th Sept – ‘No school this afternoon, the children gathered 73 lbs of blackberries for jam for the Ford Committee.’
Of course the main road didn’t exist at this time and over the playground wall the fields from Willingdon, the area of what is now Willingdon roundabout down to the Triangle, spread out with a large number of bramble bushes. The fruit was packed into specially provided baskets of a regulation size and sent immediately by rail from Hampden Park station to the special factories where it was made into blackberry and apple jam for members of HM Forces. Mr Haylock, headmaster, records the amazing weight of 1,869 lbs 3oz being sent from the school. In return, cheques were sent to the teachers who were authorised to pay the pupils. On 28th October Mr Haylock records receiving a cheque for £23.7.6d in payment, which he shared out among the gatherers, the 123 children on the school roll. This was a good sum of money when compared to the average weekly wage of an agricultural worker, in 1918, who was paid just £1.10.6d for a 52-hour week.
This story was submitted by Rosalind Hodge, Archivst, Willingdon Parish Church