A 12-year-old Nottingham schoolboy who was drafted into the Lincolnshire Fens in wartime to pick potatoes in his school holidays has been reunited with the little train that took him into Nocton Fen to harvest for the wartime food campaign.
Peter Jarvis was already a keen railway enthusiast – and a ride to and from the fields on the narrow gauge train, with its little “Simplex” diesel locos pulling wagons salvaged from the First World War battlefields by the Nocton Estates Railway, was some consolation for the hardships endured.
That was in 1942 and 1943, when Peter was a pupil at The High Pavement Grammar School in Nottingham. His class was billeted in Metheringham Hall and each day travelled to Nocton and Dunston station, transferring to their workplaces in the fields on the two-foot gauge system. It had a network of 23 miles, serving the fields growing potatoes, sugar beet and other crops.
The Nocton Estates line was mostly closed by 1959, as road transport took over; Peter went on to have a career as a surveyor and he and his wife Mary eventually retired to live in the village of Winthorpe, near Skegness, where Peter, now 88, came to be reunited with his old potato train.
Part of the Nocton Estate Railway has been rebuilt as the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway in the Skegness Water Leisure Park. Peter recently introduced himself on a visit to the LCLR and was invited to see the old locos and wagons.
The potatoes harvested were loaded in sacks by Peter and his friends and taken by the narrow gauge train to Nocton and Dunston station, to be taken to Smith’s Potato Crisps factory in Lincoln.
Recalled Peter: “We were all small kids – probably because we didn’t get much food in wartime – our food was mostly dripping sandwiches.
“The farm also grew sugar beet. We were starving and used to take lumps off the tops of the sugar beet to have something to eat.”
Peter and Mary have been invited to the LCLR’s 10th anniversary of reopening this Saturday. LCLR spokesman, John Chappell said: “Peter has given us a rare glimpse into the role they played in feeding the nation in the most difficult of times. We know a lot about what the trains did in the First World War, but there are fewer memories of what they did in the Second World War.”