Wartime memories of Ickworth Estate

During the War Ickworth was a little world of its own. Materially they were safe, more than enough food and clothes. All surplus vegetables went into the village free. Only thing they were a bit short of was sugar to make preserves. Memories from Mary Macrae - Granddaughter of Frederick Hervey, 4th Marquess - shine a light on wartime Ickworth alongside those that lived and worked on the estate, as the little documentary evidence we have on what it was like during the Second World War on the estate.

'Dig for Victory'

The War Agricultural Executive Committees (WAEC) were government-backed organisations tasked with increasing agricultural production in each county of the United Kingdom, during both the First and Second World Wars.

They were established in Autumn 1915 in a collaboration between the Board of Agriculture and County Councils, with the aim of better managing the country’s limited wartime agricultural resources.

They were later re-formed in Autumn 1939 with the outbreak of the Second World War and given more expansive powers over farmers and landowners in the United Kingdom.  After performing surveys of rural land in their county, each Committee was given the power to serve orders to farmers “requiring work to be done, or, in cases of default, to take possession of the land”.  Committees could decide, on a farmer’s behalf, which crops should be planted in which fields, so as to best increase the production of foodstuffs in their areas.

With the help of the War Agricultural Executive Committees, or “War Ags”, British farmers increased the total productive land in the UK by 1.7 million acres between 1939 and the Spring of 1940.

" Between the wars Gardeners were able to grow melons, figs, tomatoes and peaches, until about 1939, when there was not enough staff to keep the boiler hot! They still grew the grapes though. Mrs Sangster was the cook...kept the Herveys well fed during the War. "
- Mary Macrae, Granddaughter of the 4th Marquess, Frederick Hervey

A Changing Landscape 

The most significant event in the wider park following the loss of the new canal was the widespread destruction of trees in the areas around the Linnet Valley as part of the efforts for 'Dig for Victory'.  Parts of the park alongside the River Linnet were ploughed and put into arable production during the second World War to provide food for the war effort, as well as the woods towards Chevington felled. The Stumpery today is what is left of the trees that were uprooted during the Second World War. 

 

Stumpery sculpture, carved out of the ground and a reminder of the Second World War
Ickworth Stumpery, showing the stumps left of the trees that were uprooted for
Stumpery sculpture, carved out of the ground and a reminder of the Second World War

The asthetic of the parkland was nonetheless important to the family and those working the estate, as a letter we found showed reference to a proposal to park a large number of buses under the trees in the park! The surface being very wet after the snow, buses would likely get completly bogged in and the cost of reinstating the parkland high and unlikely to be achieved! Despite discouraged from using the parkland, an invitation was nonetheless presented to the captain to stay for two nights at the House!

 

Memories of the Army units 

In World War 2 there used to be Army huts near the small Round House, there used to be a cookhouse near Mordaboys. The Army also used to be near the Red Barn and in the bolts of wood down Westley Lane near Little Horringer Hall. 

" Two big army camps actually in the park, one at the Mordaboys, which covered, literally all of the Saxham side of the river.  That was all built up, there was Nissen huts, and a lot of tents and that.  And the same down by the Fairy Lake. Fairly quiet up until the buildup to D-day.  And then we had a lot of troops here, there were convoys all over the park and everything else, I mean there was troops everywhere, in actual fact the King actually came here and inspected the troops in the park.  I know I came over to fetch something, I forget what it was.  It was a pushbike job, so it wasn’t a very big job, but I came to fetch something from home and they wouldn’t let me in the park.  Because the King was here and they wouldn’t let me in."
- Jim Herod, Head Gamekeeper at Ickworth 1940s

Gerald Curtis shares memories of the war, his father shown in the picture below, Jack Curtis, who was gamekeeper at Ickworth in the 1940s. 

1940s gamekeepers at Ickworth, Curtis with dog and Herod with cat
1940s photo of two gamekeepers - Curtis with a dog and Herod with a cat, sat on the grass at Ickworth
1940s gamekeepers at Ickworth, Curtis with dog and Herod with cat

It was lucky that Ickworth wasn't commandered during the War, but then there was the reason "the Germans never bombed it was ‘cos they used the glass on the top.  They used to know exactly where they were.  They flew over, they looked down, they said that’s Ickworth!"

Ickworth was a landmark.  "The Army were camped during the war. There was a camp down at the Boat House Lake (Fairy Lake).  There was sort of huts along the road as you go up to the Round House – to the Round House.  And the Army was there and they was camped down there during the war.  Can’t remember which Regiment it was but then they also had another camp, another one - I can’t remember, they were the buffs, mortar boys. The Army was there and the German prisoners of war of course.  I remember the German prisoners.  We had German prisoners worked here in the war.  They were camped Hardwick and they used to come up here every day.  I think they used to march up.  I’ve seen ‘em marching back and they used to march up into the woods and then they would work in the woods, trimming up trees and doing whatever.  And then they’d march back again during the war."  

Letter from Ickworth Estate, 1943, requesting any anti-tank unit crossing Ickworth close all gates where stock is grazing!
1943 letter from Ickworth estate requesting any unit passing through the Ickworth estate close all gates where stock is grazing; a detachment from a six ponder anti-tank unit had not done so and the Shetland ponies had escaped
Letter from Ickworth Estate, 1943, requesting any anti-tank unit crossing Ickworth close all gates where stock is grazing!

Important to ensure that gates were closed during any marching and use of the estate, as to prevent any livestock - Shetland ponies - from escaping and wondering freely! 

 

" The day before D Day I remember all the engines revving and the next day there was nothing to be seen, they had all gone.  I remember Lancasters coming over with the enemy in tow."
- Adrian Peck, worker on the estate