Nostalgia: Readers remember the rewards of picking berries

Berry pickers weigh in at Glendoick (DC Thomson)
Berry pickers weigh in at Glendoick (DC Thomson)

READING our feature took Isobel Turner back in time.

Back almost 75 years to when her strawberry and raspberry picking helped feed the nation through the dark days of the Second World War.

At 89, Isobel’s recollections of her school summer holiday activities are as sharp as ever.

Isobel Turner (C Austin/ Sunday Post)
Isobel Turner (C Austin/ Sunday Post)

As a 15-year-old picker Isobel, who now lives in Broughty Ferry, kept a diary. Her entries, from 1943 and 1944, paint a fascinating picture of the days when the berry harvest was crucial.

“It was the summer holidays and there wasn’t much to do during wartime,” said gran-of-three Isobel, who was born in 1927. “They’re really fond memories and we were also doing our bit.”

It was a month-long commitment during the season, with Isobel’s diary from 1944 showing she arrived on July 19 and stayed until August 12.

Isobel Turner (C Austin/ Sunday Post)
Isobel Turner (C Austin/ Sunday Post)

Accommodation was at Webster Seminary at Kirriemuir that year, previously it had been a farm near Blairgowrie.

The girls would pick into containers then carry their fruit to the edges of the fields to be weighed and then paid according to their efforts.

“They were long, hard days and half the time we were soaked to the skin,” recalls Isobel. “It was tough work.

“At the end of the day your hands were stained red with the juice of the berries.

“The only time we saw farm labourers was when we went to the hop in one of the local halls on a Saturday night.

“They were all there with their tight collars on, which looked awful, but they could fair do the Scottish dances!”

Children berry-picking at Gilliesfaulds Fruit Farm near Cupar, Edinburgh
Children berry-picking at Gilliesfaulds Fruit Farm near Cupar, Edinburgh

We told last week how the nation is going berry mad.

Sales have rocketed and they have become a billion pound bonanza, with a fifth of all fruit sales now berries.

We asked you to get in touch and let us know what your berry memories were – and you weren’t slow to tell us.

Here are a few of your fruity tales:

For we “toonies”, the berries was a slightly foreign land, filled with opportunity. The journey on the berry bus was like setting off on an adventure. There were new smells – a field fresh with rain, the perfume of 10,000 strawberries. And there were untold riches at the end of the day if you toiled in the sun like Cool Hand Luke’s chain gang. Steve Byron, Dundee

The berries was an education, an adventure and funny wee day-trips all in one!
Boarding the rickety old berry bus at 6am, aged 11, was a thrill despite the early hour. For most of us it was the first time we’d been let loose without our parents.
Summer days seemed to last forever as we picked, ate, sang, chatted and laughed. Dawn Truscott, Angus

I only went berry picking once, but it was an experience I’ve never forgotten.
I went with a couple of friends who had no problem having a “comfort break” behind a bush. I, on the other hand, simply couldn’t do it so it was an uncomfortable, long day!
My friends and I just went for laugh, but there were obviously serious pickers, there to make money. Susan Peters, Kelso

I was the world’s worst at getting up for school. But it was a different story for “the berries”. I’d spring out of bed, even though I knew there was a hard day’s graft ahead.
For a 12-year-old, the opportunity to earn money was too good to pass up. Plus there were boys there!
The banter kept us going when the work was really tough. Bev Burness, Kelso

During WW2, our holidays were split in two – strawberry picking and potato picking. I can remember being about five and lovely, sunny days sitting among the rows eating more strawberries than went in the basket! Elizabeth O’Regan, Lincoln

We went during the summer to stay on a farm near Blairgowrie. We were there for two to three weeks during the summer holidays. We had a good time at night when we got to ride the farm horse. Happy days! William Westwood, Methil

My family, including three sons and my mum, used to go berry picking every year. The farmer would tie baskets round our waists and off we would go. Great fun. We would eat as much as we wanted, but still fill 100 baskets. Lorraine Anderson, Edinburgh

The worst job was when we were sent to do the blackberries at a tuppence per pound. You needed to pick a lot of berries to reach that one pound weight! It was all good fun, though and a way of life in the ’60s and ’70s. Robbie Russell, Elgin


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