The Bomfords of Worcestershire
L. R. BOMFORD, D.S.O., M.C.
Extract from The Bomfords of Worcestershireby Dr Bruce Bomford FRCS, Salford Priors, 1983. The work was published privately and only a few copies were made. Re-published here with permission from Dr Bomford's sons.
During a visit to Tufton Warren the following notes were made from talks with L.R., as he was called by his friends, and from papers he kindly allowed me to read.
Harry Evershed came to Bomfords from Fowlers of Leeds. The Pitchill works became too crowded so the road rolling and dredging of lakes were split off. They started the Atlas Works in Pershore, but it was too big so they built the handy little workshop on Salford Priors station.
Raymond Bomford made several big reservoirs with steam ploughs, cultivators and semi-rotating scoops.
At Bevington a governess was employed to teach the boys and the housework was done by two or three maids from families on the farm. Mother did most of the cooking and made butter which she took to Alcester in the trap, weekly, and came back with groceries.
There was one rather primitive water closet in the house and three outside privies, one three-seater near the front door and two two-seaters at the back of the house. Bath night was Saturday and hot water was carried from a copper in the back kitchen, through a passage and the kitchen, up the back stairs to the bathroom. Two buckets of hot water per person, after emptying two buckets down the lavatory or through the window to the shrubbery. Water was piped from a windmill half a mile away and when the wind failed a hand pump was used. The well was subsequently condemned but it did no harm. There was a knife house where knives were sharpened and polished.
They kept three of four house cows and the milk was carried in buckets on a yoke. Cream was skimmed off and the whey went into the pig barrel with potato peelings. Pigs at twenty scoreweight were a festival with lovely stuff to eat and sides and hams salted and cured on a slab in the back kitchen and hung on hooks in the ceiling.
There was a large laundry over the dairy about thirty foot long.
In two cottages were a gardener who also looked after the horse and traps called John Barley, and a head carter, Mathew, who cared for the ten working horses. Three horses were harnessed to a single furrow plough. Pitchill was known as five horse land, as it was heavy clay.
In 1856 steam ploughs started to be used to replace horses and human labour, and they grubbed up hedges so the small fields at Pitchill became three large fields.
Benjamin at Pitchill farmed 5,000 acres for 30 years of golden farming, producing mostly beef and corn. The slump which followed was produced by cheap imported corn, so the acreage was reduced and market gardening and fruit started.
L. R. remembered rabbits caught by trap would sell for 1d. each. On Sunday they went to Dunnington Chapel with Sunday School in the afternoon. There were stables behind the chapel. An exceptionally good organ was played by Auntie Gertie and L. R. used to pump the handle on the bellows watching a little lead weight in a slide. L. R. sang in the choir and went to the Albert Hall to sing in massed choirs.
Leslie Bomford signed on as fit for the Army without a medical examination at Bidford-on-Avon.
By June 1915 he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Worcestershire 3/8 Battalion T.F. at Malvern. Then to the 2/8 Battalion at Epping Forest.
In January 1916 aged 19 years, he went to France, seen off by Douglas at Southampton. He joined the 8th Worcestershires at rest at Bus en Artois, to No.2 Platoon, A Company; Sgt. Edwards and Sgt. Wedgbury and 30 men. Rested for four days then into the front line at Heluterns. Shown the ropes by Robin Blake, son of a parson near Evesham. Wedgbury recommended for D.C.M., and M.M., which he got, and in 1918 in command of D.Coy. he was awarded the D.S.O. and M.C., (J. E. Wedgbury, son of the above, became Company Secretary of British Petroleum and used to talk often to Bruce Bomford in B.P. Medical Department of his father and the association with Leslie Bomford who he much admired.)
They went on raids into No Mans Land, some were very silly and they took undue risks. Later in the trenches opposite Gommecaut a German raid came on the left of the line and a Sgt., 6 men and a Lewis gun were captured. L.R.’s orderly got a shell splinter in his back.
July 1916 Germans mortared with 5 gallon oil drums full of explosive, usually they could be seen and dodged. Once the trench was cluttered and L.R. unable to dodge; he was a little deaf ever after. Men rubbed feet with boracic powder to avoid trench foot and fever; when discipline was bad casualties from this were high.
While in reserve an attack was mounted which failed, the front was all mud and corpses; they dug a trench and shells came over releasing phosgene gas. This affected the heart and a few men died, others were sent to the coast to recover. Nasty business. After, if a motor-cycle would not push-start first time one had to lie flat for ten minutes to get ones breath back. Posted for light duty on East Coast defences at Cromer, detachment at East Runton. Then to 3rd line at Catterick, Yorks., where convalescents were taken on marches. L.R. overstayed his time there. Later billeted to Cheltenhamwith brother Douglas who was recovering from a shrapnel wound in his neck. Again overstayed leave then sent to France 1/8 Worcesters, No.2 platoon again. Spent hours on patrol near German wire listening to movements. Once mistook clump of thistles for a patrol of Germans. The wire would ping and a machine gun open up. An order was issued that bombs must not be used to kill fish. The battalion had an epidemic of German measles and chicken-pox. L.R. got a bullet through his tin hat which took the groove out of the left side of his head; knocked him out; tin hat saved his life.
Main party captured Guillemont Farm but lost it after counter attack; 8 officers went over, 5 killed, 2 wounded, bad business. Went to hospital but M.O. would not send him to Blighty, most exasperating. Has a week at Rouen base camp, visited Douglaswho had a bone in the thigh smashed by a bullet. Douglasmoved to U.K. after several months. Doctors made him walk and bone broke down leaving 1½ inches of shortening and a spinal problem.
L.R. rejoined unit at Bourbon Wood. Twice had whole company out in Douglas’ patent hollow square formation. One German wandered lost into out lines; L.R. got a mention in despatches.
Sent up to Ypresoffensive; very muddy; shelled and shot up; next attack cancelled. Marched back to Poperinge.
Leslie was very critical of the planning by General Staff and Field Marshall Haig for the late summer offensive at Ypres in 1917. Tanks had broken through but were not followed up by infantry, so the chance to capture prisoners was lost. Pillboxes could only be taken tanks or bombs put through the slits. Machine gun crews inside pillboxes slaughtered the infantry.
G. L. Watkinson arrived as a replacement.
Went to Abbeville to refit then to Vimy Ridge to release Canadians. One day a covey of partridges landed in the British wire so L.R. grabbed a sentry’s rifle and shot one through the head and one through the neck. Later he slipped over the top to get them and only on German had a pot at him.
In November they were moved to Italy, on Riviera Coastand one day bought food on the beach near Cannes. They went on raids against the Austrian lines and took prisoners. Once they took forty prisoners and a machine gun. L.R. got the M.C.
Leave took one weeks journey to England, very long and hot. Travelled in a goods train, truck labelled 8 horses or 40 men. Back from leave Staff arranging big attack on Asiage, but L.R. sent back to France to reform 25 Div. to Abbeville. Captured a Battalion H.Q. at Chateauand with the help of a tank. Pressed on along road lined by houses to Landricies where bridge over canal was mined. Crossed canal at locks where Capt. Walford got a bullet through the buttocks. ‘C’ Company crossed on rafts, a good show. L.R. was standing on his objective watching next wave of the attack go through when a bullet hit his right upper arm. This fractured the bone and divided the musculo-spiral nerve (which was later joined up). The ulnar nerve was also partly damaged. The result was a long painful treatment and convalescence. He nearly lost the arm but after hospital at Epsom he was discharged with a permanently disabled right arm and hand.
Later Leslie joined the Defence Force and was called up in 1928 to deal with the Miners Strike. A motley crew stationed at Worcester in huts, they were never called out to quell riots; he had use of a new Bradbury motorcycle. Awarded the D.S.O. for the capture of Landricies, citation written by Kinson (Sir Lawrence Watkinson). L.R. said that Douglas was a much better soldier than himself, a better infantry officer; he did not get any decoration although he handsomely deserved it.
For a few months after his return L.R. commanded the Evesham Coy. of 8th Worcestershire Regt. Thus he acquired a Captain in front of his name and he was never able to get rid of it.
Father Raymond had farmed a large acreage and managed the engineering business with great success, so after his death his sons decided to carry on the business. Uncle Ben would have nothing to do with it and refused to be an executor. Thus he was inclined to be looked on as the wicked uncle and the boys as the babes in the wood. Farming was ready for a slump. Probate value of oldest set of twin-engined steam ploughs was £1,000. In a few years they were worth £70. for scrap.
The steam plough foreman and gangs were wonderful, skilled craftsmen themselves. Sometimes there was winter work for one set, the Fowler BB compound set, which was bought during the war and still being paid for. Then the 14 h.p. Fowler single cylinder sets were used as work increased during the spring and summer.
Sometimes seven sets were out at work over a wide area. The balance plough was never a very satisfactory tool but it could plough to 24 inches for fruit.
The minimum gang needed to keep going over meal times consisted of a foreman, another driver, a cultivator, a fourth man and a man or boy as cook. The living vans were prone to bugs and vermin. The men lived in them all week and bicycled home at week-ends, leaving home at 4 a.m. to get the fires going. Each field varied in texture, shape and slope. The cultivators could jerk when the rope was in the air and turn over when being turned. Whistle signals were used or a bowler hat seen in the air was also a signal.
Single cylinder engines were apt to stop at dead centre so the driver had to pull the flywheel over to start. The compound engines could be started by steam in the low pressure cylinder. The winding drum had a brake and skill was needed to wind and unwind the rope. The rope broke sometimes and the men would splice it on and make a very even job. The engines used 6 to 7 cwt. of steam coal per acre at 30 shillings per ton plus haulage from the station.
At Pitchill the staff included two smiths, one boiler expert, a fitter who could face a slide valve and seat, a turner for the lathes and two carpenters. The engines were overhauled during winter after doing work for other farmers or contractors. The boilers required much attention, tubes were removed and scraped every two years; fireboxes patched or replaced. Boilers had hydraulic tests well above working pressures.
After repeal of the Corn Laws arable farming slumped, land left as rough pasture. The firm tried to diversify, bought three steam wagons and one Sentinel for road haulage. Steam ploughs used for roadside trenching for water and electric cable, but they caused considerable obstruction to traffic. Once they broke a gas main outside Kidderminster. They also grubbed up woodland and did a big job for a colliery near Coventry. Then credit for steam ploughing had to be limited to three months, before the farmers often paid when they ordered next years work. When neighbouring steam contractors finished up Bomfords worked further afield, but they still lost money and passed their overdraft limit. At the Smithfield Show in 1925 they sold two Fowler BB sets to a dealer, after which L.R. went to Sentinel Wagon Works and was offered a job in Kenya at £600. p.a., later rising to £700., a very useful salary in those days.
Sailed for Mombassa after one months work assembling engines. Journeyed to Nairobi, Nakuru, over plateau to Timberoa, to Eldoret. Some problems with the drive and breakages blamed on L.R. for using the machines too hard, but same problems encountered in India. L.R. given a months notice, but later this was withdrawn. So the Rhino engine was designed.
Returned to Kenya in 1927 and assembled machines with use only of a 30 cwt. crane. The tractor worked well and was sold eventually to Evans Bros. at Rongai, the only Rhino sold in Kenya. Also sold a locomotive and a few portable engines.
L.R. suggested to Hercs that he sold up in the U.K. and moved to Kenya. Returned home in 1928 to the works in England.
Later he left for Capetown, Sentinels always booked staff first class. The Rhino did well in haulage and ploughing and several orders were booked. Did trip to Northern Rhodesia by rail, visited Victoria Falls, taking a six-wheeled wagon which was often short of water there. Then on to Laurenco Marques and Beira. South Africa then passed a law to limit the load on solid tyres and the total load was limited to 4 tons which spelt the death knell of all steam wagons in the country. Sentinels refused to adopt diesel engines and pneumatic tyres, so they dwindled and went broke.
L.R. got a job as Works Manager at Ken Stuarts of Stoke-on-Trent, who were old established locomotive builders, building a batch of side tank shunting engines for the G.W.R., and starting to produce a diesel lorry with MacLaren Benz engines. But the firm put money into metal windows and went west.
1930 found Leslie back at Pitchill looking for a job. He applied to Marshalls, Fodens and Listers, but without success.
While at Pitchill he designed and produced several machines, a three row potato planter and a mobile crane with automatic grab to lift hay onto ricks.
L.R. then began to look at farms and almost took one at Six Mile Bottom near Newmarket. He then found Tufton Warren with an ingoing valuation of £66., the landlady being the Countess of Portsmouth. He was told it was a rotten farm and no-one stayed long, but L.R. farmed there successfully for 50 years.
In later years L.R. said that he ought to have bought the farm. He could have had it for £6 an acre at one time when Portsmouth Estates were selling land near St. Marys Bourne for £10. an acre; but he sent any surplus money to the family business in Warwickshire.