the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet
page forms part of the research
carried out around the area of Bakers Hall and Butlers Farm
when it was commandeered by the USAAF during WW2
Directly opposite Pricketts Hall
Farm, a well hidden By-Way leads onto the concrete road built
by the US Army which used to encircle Nurses Wood.
Alongside this By-way lived two
local characters by the names of Norfolk Bill, George
(Quark) Baker and Old Major
Both Norfolk Bill and Quark Baker were so well known by the service
personnel in the area, they often shared food and warmth inside
the guard posts.
Both lived in "Shepherds Caravans",
Norfolk Bill`s was fixed whilst George`s was mounted on wheels
which meant he could move location much more easily.
Their locations are circled red
on the left map.
NORFOLK BILL:- written by Mrs C. Wyllie Laurie.
It was pea picking time when he came.
All day long the army of men and women and children had advanced slowly
across the faded green of Great field and with it the stranger, tall,
thin and stooping, wearing the old cap and nondescript clothes of the
"Roadster" and they called him "Norfolk Bill'.
William Woolston was his real name he told my husband, and he had been
in the Royal Horse Artillary (Lancers) during WW1, and he stayed on
until the pea picking was over.
After that he stayed to help with
the harvest, then the threshing, then potato picking, then sugar beet
lifting and eventually became accepted on our farm and the neighbouring
farms as a reliable extra hand. Sam Peck and Arthur Rice were the other
two workers on the farm.
I recall these glimpses of Norfolk Bill through the years that followed.
There was the time when our five children had a plan to bathe in Craigs
Brook before breakfast one summer morning. Craigs Brook was about a
mile and a half away and as some of the ten legs were very little, the
fat black pony was harnessed to the tub trap and we set off bumping
happily down the cart track in the early sunshine. As we turned the
corner at the top of Craigs Hill and began the slow descent to the brook
we saw that someone else had a plan like ours, for away in the rough
meadow at the side of the lane a man stood stripped to the waist and
towelling vigorously. Modesty forbade me to look long enough to identify
the figure but a whisper came from the Five, "Mummy, it's Norfolk
Bill" This was the Soldier.
I often caught sight of Bill taking horse and tumbrel to and from the
fields, helping with the drill or leading the horse-hoe up and down
the rows of corn and beans and his quiet capability with horses shoved
in great contrast to his shabby stooping appearance and his slow shuffling
There came a day of National Celebration a year or two after Bill's
coming and there was a procession through the village. The Five in fancy
dress as the occasion demanded, rode in the procession, the four girls
representing the seasons of the year, and the boy a Crusader with sword
and shield. It was past dinner time when our cavalcade returned and
Bill was having his solitary meal in the cart lodge. Nine-year-old Crusader
could dismount alone and Summer, just six, could manage to slip off
her little bluebell-trimmed mare unaided, but Autumn and Winter were
on unaccustomed side-saddles and having walked four miles holding Spring's
pulling pony, whose equilibrium had been disturbed by the band, and
also holding one fat little leg of the saddle-less rider, I was thankful
indeed when Bill shuffled forward to take charge as I carried bare-toad
Spring into the house.
In fine weather the thick bushes on the side of Craigs Hill provided
shelter for Bill's camping, but In wet weather and In the winter he
took refuge in an old disused barn on the far side of the second meadow
from our house. (Balls Barn which was on Bakers Hall land) One
night in late autumn that barn caught fire. The next morning only a
low Blackened wall remained surrounding a heap of smoldering ashes and
they said a pair of boots! It still puzzles me to think how those boots
remained intact and identifiable after that furious blaze of old tarred
timbers. They were vouched for by the threshing-engine driver, as having
been worn by Bill the previous day. Bill was remanded in custody on
a charge of "Maliciously setting fire" to the barn.
When his case came up my
husband was able to clear him from suspicion of malicious intent, declaring
that all who knew Bill could testify that such would be entirely out
of keeping with his character.
||Bill was brought safely back and
a wooden shed set up on the hill on the opposite side of the farm
to the site of the old barn and thereafter this was his "Home",
where he and his little dog lived for several years.
Every Sunday morning Bill set out for the Swan Inn, in his same
shabby clothes, but neat and clean, to have his one good dinner
of the week. No one ever knew him to be other than sober and when
sometimes as he shuffled back on Sunday afternoons, if we were in
the fields high above the roadside and we heard him mutter or exclaim
to himself we guessed memory and pain had been stirred, perhaps
by the well-cooked food or the workless hours. I still wonder what
had brought that strong man so low.
left:- drawing by Busky Laurie
About thirty acres of woodland adjoined
our back garden from which the mature oak trees had been removed so
that the undergrowth flourished exceedingly and the hazel and elder
reached a considerable size and height. My husband began to clear this
from the corner by the pig house, and in order to root out the great
clumps of hazel used an implement with a long handle called a "Monkey
Winch" , aided by Norfolk Bill when work was slack on the farm,
and the proceedings were of much interest to the Five. Then one day
that Monkey Winch behaved contrarily, as I have known simpler implements
with less mischievous-sounding names unaccountably behave, a long iron
handle hit Bill a very severe blow on the head.
Hand drawing from
the early 1940`s, showing the location of Norfolk Bill
and Fred Baker.
Courtesy of Butlers Farm
They brought him to the house and he
sat on a chair in the back kitchen, saying little as usual, while I
bathed and bandaged, thinking how sad it was that there was no one to
help him at home.
It must have been some years later when one morning, returning towards
the garden through the wood with a little daughter, we had been blackberrying,
we met Bill going home to dinner and just then suddenly two shots from
a gun were fired quite close to us. Poachers!
Startling as was the sound in the stillness of the wood still more striking
was the effect on Bill. His back jerked straight, his eyes gleamed,
his hand shot forward pointing and his voice sharply snapped out the
"I will tell my husband" I said hurrying on with daughter
and marbling at the transformation in Bill. Again we had seen the Soldier!
"It must have been those Americans' my husband said when we told
him", I will have a word with the C.O.
A trivial incident, but the impression it made was deep so that now,
more than twenty years after, I recollect it quite clearly.
About five years later, as winter closed in, Norfolk Bill's strength
began to fail. He was not old, my husband thinks fifty-six, but he was
ailing, and one day towards Christmas, he was taken to hospital to have
an operation for some form of tuberculosis, while we took care of the
little dog. One grey afternoon in January we went to see him.
There he lay too weak to sit up. Not the shaggy grizzled-"Roadster"
we had known. His hair was cut short and his face clean shaven revealing
the fine handsome features of the Soldier.
As I sat at the bedside Bill at once explained that his dog Bess (or
Bessie) would only take food if it was offered from the hand a piece
at a time.
So that was how they had shared their meals, bite for bite!
I hastily assured him that the children had found that out already,
and was talking of the weather and the farm when a nurse came to the
foot of the bed with a steaming jug in her hand.
"More tea, Mr Woolston" ? she asked ,
"Mr Woolston" she had called him- and for over ten years no
one had called him anything but Norfolk Bill or "Bill"
Somehow I was glad they only knew him there as Mr Woolston, and when,
not many days after, they told me Norfolk Bill had died I knew that
William Woolston,-Soldier,-Cavalryman,-Lancer, had like all old soldiers
only faded away.
'Norfolk Bill' Woolston was born in Ingham, Norfolk (October - December)
William H. Woolston is first mentioned
in the October 1945 register with his address being identical as Quark's....'The
Hut', Colne Road. Quark of course had died in 1944, the year before.
However, there is no mention of him in the October 1946 register.
We can only speculate that he died somewhere between 1945 and 1946 at
the age of 62
If you can shed any more information
on this gentlemen, then please use the Contact icon or the Forum
ver 1. 22.08.07
Update 23/02/09 by Rob Brown
Additional research on 'Norfolk Bill' & ''Old Major'.
Between 1945 & 1949, there is a William Woolston who died Q1 1946,
aged 61, in the Chelmsford district.
His name,age and quarter of year when death occured does tally with
info contained in the web article, although I'm surprised about the
I am confident that this is 'Norfolk Bill' though as no other William
Woolston's qualify during this time period.
Unfortunately,I was unable to find any reference to a Arthur Whiting
having died during this period, who was likely to have been 'Old Major'.
I was interested to read though of his parents having farmed at Pebmarsh.
In the 1901 census there is a Whiting family listed as farming at Preston
farm, Pebmarsh. They were John & Sophia Whiting and their eight
children,the eldest being 18 year old Arthur Whiting.
Further searching shows that John Whiting married Sophia Spooner Q4
1880 in the Sudbury district. Arthur Robert Whiting is shown having
his birth registered Q3 1883 (Sudbury district),although both the 1891
& 1901 census's show his place of birth being Alphamstone.
I think there is a good chance that this Arthur Whiting is indeed 'Old
It would have made 'Old Major' about 61 when Quark died and of a similar
age to Norfolk Bill.