'We always had this connection' - Former student, 82, hopes to reunite farming college's founding class of 1951/52
One of the first intake of students at Norfolk's agricultural college in 1951 is hoping to bring his former classmates together for a reunion so they can swap stories about their teenage school days.
Despite leaving agricultural college 65 years ago, John McCarthy remembers his time there fondly.
He recalls preparing the ground for the new Norfolk institution, the camaraderie of doing homework in a Nissen hut – and he still bears a scar from a painful lesson about how not to cut sugar beet.
And now the 82-year-old who was among the founding students of Easton and Otley College hopes to find his former classmates and bring them together once again for a reunion.
Mr McCarthy, chairman of the McCarthy’s fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Norwich, was one of the original intake of 20 students at what was then known as the Norfolk School of Agriculture in 1951/52.
But when national service took him into the RAF for two years in 1953, he lost contact with his college comrades.
“I don’t know how many of the first intake are still around,” he said. “We always had this connection and it is something that held me in good stead in the years that followed.
“Looking back at the old photo you can still remember them, although you cannot put too many names to faces now. One went to Canada and another to Australia. The connection is still there so it would be nice to see them again.
“They will all be in their 80s now, so sadly we are not going to get all 20 of us coming back. But if they bring their families it could be hundreds.”
As a 16-year-old, Mr McCarthy remembered doing a lot of practical training, and work to bring the new college’s grounds up to scratch.
“Being the first intake, we did quite a lot of work in the initial stages,” he said “Obviously there was quite a bit of physical labour needed doing and we got involved in that. It was a case of digging all the rubble and debris out of the garden.
“A lot of our training was more practical than academic. When it came to lambing time, all of us spent a night out in the shepherd’s hut with the sheep, and we learned ploughing and sowing. It was all practical and then we went into the White House [now the reception and office building] to do the theoretical side of animal health and arable farming.
“We did our homework at Wymondham College, where we slept in one of the Nissen huts. Coming here and having to live with the 20 of us altogether in a Nissen hut – we had to get on together. We didn’t visit each other’s farms so much. Easton was home, and it was a full-time occupation to be here.”
COLLEGE’S POST-WAR PURPOSE
Easton and Otley College now has almost 4,000 students across Norfolk and Suffolk and has expanded its curriculum in recent years– but its post-war agricultural heritage remains central to its purpose.
Deputy principal Ray Goodman said: “There is a very high level of engagement from our ex-students, because they worked the land here and stayed up overnight together to do lambing. They lived and breathed this place.
“This level of involvement is critical to us and it is critical for students today to understand their place in that history and live up to the standards of the people who came here first – and the reason it all started.
“The reason the land-based colleges were founded was because the country was going to starve after the Second World War. It was about ensuring that we never get to that position as a country again. There is something about those trailblazers who understood the importance of that – that we should never allow our country to be as vulnerable as we were at that point in history.”
The college has joined Mr McCarthy in appealing for the original cohort of students to attend a reunion at the Easton campus open day on June 10, when they hope to recreate the class photo from 1951/52. The invitation is extended to their families, particularly relatives who would like to represent former students who may have passed away or are unable to attend the event themselves.
• For more information and to get involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01603 731200.