Reunion more than 75 years in the making for wartime potato picker at Skegness attraction

Peter Jarvis, with wife Mary and one of the locomotives from his wartime effort. PICTURE: Dave Enefer/LCLR
Peter Jarvis, with wife Mary and one of the locomotives from his wartime effort. PICTURE: Dave Enefer/LCLR

A reunion more than 75 years in the making has taken place at a railway attraction near Skegness.

When Nottingham school boy Peter Jarvis was drafted into the Lincolnshire Fens during the Second World War, there was one consolation for the 12-year-old railway enthusiast – the little trains that each day took him and his classmates into Nocton Fen to harvest potatoes for the wartime food campaign.

This was 1942 and 1943, when Peter was a pupil at The High Pavement Grammar School.

He and his class mates were billeted in Metheringham Hall, near Sleaford, and each day travelled to the Nocton and Dunston station, before being transferred to their workplaces in the fields on a two-foot gauge system. The potatoes they would harvest would ultimately be sent to Smith’s Potato Chips factory in Lincoln.

Now, aged 88, Peter has been reunited with some of the locos and ex-First World War waggons from his childhood.

For, as fate would have it, Peter and his wife retired to Winthorpe, where just a mile from their home the equipment features as part of the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway (LCLR), in the Skegness Water Leisure Park. Its continued existence comes thanks to the preservation efforts of the LCLR Historic Vehicles Trust, a registered charity.

Peter, who maintains a strong interest in railways, recently introduced himself on a visit to the LCLR and was invited to see the equipment from his past. He said he was impressed with all that had been achieved in restoring the trains and that they brought back many memories.

“The crisps were an essential part of the troops’ diet,” recalled Peter. “Food was in very short supply. We were all ‘small kids’ – probably because we didn’t get much food in wartime – our food was mostly dripping sandwiches.”

Peter remembers him and his class mates biting lumps off the tops of sugar beet because they were so hungry and another time when a farmer’s wife took pity on them.

“She felt so sorry for us, she served us a steaming hot meat and potato pie, which we couldn’t resist,” he said. “She followed that with apple dumplings! We were so little used to this that we all fell asleep in the haystack and so were dismissed early at three o’clock!”

Peter and Mary have been invited to the LCLR’s 10th Anniversary Re-opening event at its Walls Lane home on Saturday, July 13, when the Mayor of Skegness, Coun Mark Dannatt and the Jolly Fisherman, will lead the celebrations.

“We’ve all been fascinated by Peter’s recollections of our historic trains in the Second World War – he’s given us a rare glimpse into the role they played in feeding the nation in the most difficult of times,” said LCLR spokesman John Chappell. “It’s gratifying that Peter has been reunited with the locos and wagons from his childhood war work, especially as they are within a mile or so of his home.”