Harold Gayfer’s account of life near Coltishall airport and working on the farm
I came to Tunstead when I was 15 and worked for Mr Jones. I came because of my father – he was a farm worker and we both worked for Mr Jones at Fir Tree farm at Anchor Street. I did enjoy it, in a funny sort of way. It was near the aerodrome so I was able to cycle over to see the aircraft take off and land.
Coltishall was built at the beginning of the war – Douglas Bader was there during the early part of the war. In the 1930s, flying a Bulldog with 23 squadron, he lost both legs in a flying accident – he did a slow roll too near the ground and finished up with no legs.
One day, I was working in the fields near Tunstead church, and there were 8 Meteor jets flying over, one behind the other, and they were doing loops, and one came down and cut the tail clean off the one in front. They were both up about 6,000 feet and one went into a spin, and one crashed at Beeston. The other crashed at Neatishead, but its tail came down in Guns corner near to Cats Common, but 2 parachutes came out and both pilots escaped without injury. The aircraft that were left were circling around the 2 plumes of smoke, checking that the parachutes came down safely.
[Ed.s note: see www.meteorflight.com for more info. on this aircraft]
I also saw the Brabazon when I was working on the farm. I saw a Meteor dive into the middle of Barton Broad but the pilot didn’t manage to get out of that one. There was another one came down in the middle of a field near Worstead Rectory – I cycled over and saw that it was a Mosquito that had belly-landed.
My interest in aircraft was how I met Vera. I used to make model aeroplanes, and I was friendly with a lad who lived up on the Forge Estate. Vera lived there as well. I used to come up and meet Basil and help him make the models. Vera was still at school then – Tunstead school – and we met, and I got quite friendly with her and I used to give her rides on the crossbar on my bike. Up and down the road, away from the others! I was about 17 then and she was 14. Then my call-up time came. The night before I left, I came up here to see her, and I waited about but she didn’t come. Apparently she’d done something wrong and her mother had made her stay in. Next day I caught my train and I went to Wilnslow for basic training in the RAF, then eventually to Butterworth in Northern Malaya. That first Christmas I sent her a Christmas card, and 3 months later I got one from her with a tuppeny-ha’penny stamp on it! They hadn’t put an air-mail stamp on it, so had come by sea!
We corresponded right throughout my service in Malaya. First she was working at the shop in Worstead – the one on the corner opposite the church – and then she went to St Faith’s, working with the children there, but she didn’t enjoy that, and then worked in Butchers’ shop in Swan Lane in Norwich, in the millinery department.
When I came out in 1954, I met her up at the church – she was a Sunday school teacher as well, and we started walking out quite regularly then. I used to meet her up at Swan Lane in Norwich on Saturday after work and we would go to the pictures. We used to go in the 3 shilling seats! We’d be in the queue, and the usher would come out with all his regalia on – looking like an admiral with all his gold braid on his bright blue tunic, and he’d say, “2 for the 3/6?” and we’d step out of the queue. People thought we were made of money! And then we’d catch the last bus home. We were married in Tunstead Church in 1957 – 55 years ago.
This tractor was a World-War 2 case tractor, American built and used, I think, by the Royal Air Force. After the war, the farmers had them – Mr Jones had 2 of them. These tractors had accelerators, like cars – very powerful, with double wheels. It had a fly wheel that drove the belt to a pulley wheel on the drum.
My father – Ernest Gayfer – is giving the sheaf to Walter King who’d cut the string and feed it into the Ransomes drum where it would be shook out and sorted. The grain would go into different graded bags. The straw would come out the back and go up the elevator. When the stack was finished, weighted cords were put over it to stop it blowing away. Standing on the corn pile is Walter London and Jimmy Grimes Sr. Wilfred Smales is near the top of the elevator.
When the corn pile got down really low, there’d be rats running about so you might have little terrier dogs catching them. I once saw a terrier catch the rat the wrong way and the rat dug its teeth into the dog’s nose! The dog was running round and round, trying the shake this rat off and a chap came over with a pitchfork and knocked it off. I’ve seen one run up the trouser leg of a chap and he just managed to hold tight round his thigh before it ran right up and did some damage!
My job was usually weighing the corn. The worst job was what they called the calder man who had to collect all the dust and much that come out – seeds and thistles – and he would cart it away. That usually was done by an older man – a pensioner, who just wanted to make a few extra pounds. And when he’d go home at night, he’d be black! And they weren’t as clean as we are nowadays, and he probably didn’t wash and wore the same shirt the next day. They were right characters, these men. If you made a mistake, they wouldn’t let you forget it, even for years after they’d remind you of it.