Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

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Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

Further challenges were made to the survey, not just in terms of its accuracy, butalso to the picture of agriculture which it creates. In relation to ownership details,a number of respondents pointed to the deliberate splitting of holdings in orderfor younger men to avoid conscription. One farmer for example, spoke of hisfather ‘breaking the farm into three lots’ and providing each of his sons with arent book, in order that they would avoid conscription to serve in the war. Sowhile the ‘official’ documentation of this time reveals a predominance oftenanted farms over owner-occupation, the oral histories reveal that such figuresmay be artificially high.A particularly contentious area was the more subjective assessments that weremade by those officials completing the survey. Farms were graded A, B, or C,and while this was intended to be an assessment of the farm, reasons cited for thegrading were often assessments of the individual farmer and included commentssuch as “this farmer lacks ambition”. Commonly, the oral histories offered analternative narrative to these negative labels attributed by scheme officials. Thefollowing extract is from the interview with a retired farmer who questioned thenotion of ‘ambition’:But you see, a lot of them, they were farming to live and they didn’twant very much, [They would say] ‘We don’t want any money, we’vegot enough to live as we are’…. To other people it looks like a lack ofambition, but he’d say: ‘What do I want to do all that for? I gotenough money to live on; I can pay my bill at Matthews.’ They didn’tlack ambition, they were just meeting their needs.Compliance, Coercion And Force – Practices Out Of Place?A second major theme brought to the fore by respondents was the role of stateintervention in the form of the ‘War Ags’. The level of intervention was seen tovary considerably, not only in relation to the different areas of Devon, but fromfarm to farm. Particularly important was the role of local officials who weretaken on by regional officers to implement their work in individual parishes. Theoral histories shed light on the sparse records of how and why these people wereenlisted, and how their appointment often generated much antipathy. In the areaswhere interviews were conducted, the officers had predominantly been retiredfarmers, many of whom were considered by our oral history respondents as“farmers who had failed to make a go of their own farms”.An important aspect of the War Ag’s work in Devon was land reclamation, withattention focussed particularly on common and moorland. Indeed, the officialhistories pay tribute to the large areas of formerly unimproved land taken undercultivation across Devon during the war. Such heroic narratives were challengedby the oral histories of respondents, many of which had direct experience of theland reclamation. One theme, encapsulated by the following farmer was that “itwas reclaiming land for reclaiming’s sake, when they had cleared all the bracken63

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