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Fruit picking for the Nation

A combination of Brexit and Covid-19 has left British farmers with a dearth of foreign workers who would normally travel to the UK for seasonal work picking fruit and vegetables. The government is now calling on local workers to ‘Pick for Britain’ in a recruitment drive to help bring in the British harvest.

During the Second World War, when labour was similarly scarce, the staff of King Edward VI High School for Girls organised several fruit-picking camps at Manor Farm, near Worcester. The fruit-picking camps are well-documented in the KEHS school magazine, The Phoenix (Autumn 1947)

In August 1942, a group of approximately 30 pupils cycled from Birmingham to Lower Wick, Worcester, where they were greeted by the farm owners, Mr & Mrs Bennett. Lunch was provided after which the girls set to work in the canning factory where they “packed plums into cans and put them on the belt with great dexterity.”

One pupil, Irene Thomas, describes a typical day on the farm:

The Phoenix, No. 62. Summer, 1947, p.30

Irene Thomas’s account reveals that the girls generally preferred picking to canning fruit, and that work among the fruit trees was often “elevated by the soulful singing of some Italian prisoners who were working on the farm.” She describes the prisoners as cheerful, their only complaint being the English climate which consisted of rain and more rain!

Fruit picking is hard work, but the girls found time to relax in the evening. After supper the favourite recreation was cricket, followed by prayers and a bible reading in the orchard. One memorable evening the girls were entertained by a group of fellow-pickers:

The Phoenix, No. 62. Summer, 1947, p.31

At the end of the camp the girls put down their tents “with heavy hearts” and eagerly looked forward to their next visit: “We are all hoping to be able to return to Bennett’s next year for another hard-working, thoroughly enjoyable and, we hope, useful KE Camp.”

In the words of pupil, Gillian Blackburn: “What jolly days those were!”

Note: All quotes are from the KEHS magazine, The Phoenix, No. 62. Autumn 1947