14th May – Pag-rag-day in Lincolnshire. Years ago when I was a child, all the boys and girls in “service” used to start their one holiday of the year, except that some of them got a few days at New Year. The May holiday lasted a week and new clothes were bought, fairs held in market towns, when those who were not “stopping again” often hired themselves to a new master. In many farming villages the S[unday] S[chool] Anniversary was held on the Sunday occurring in that week. I can remember my young aunts and uncles coming home, some of them staying with us, my father being the eldest son of a large family, there being 20 years between him and the youngest. Sometimes the girls brought their beaux, I remember the great excitement caused by one Jonah by name when he arrived on a penny-farthing cycle. I can still see him starting off on his homeward way and getting just past the little Chapel, (a house now that the Wes[leyan] and Prim[itive Methodists] are just Methodists and all go to the old Wes. chapel) and then seeing him go head-first over the handle–bars. This was easily done as the pedals were in the centre of the “penny” wheel. My father had one after that but soon changed to a bone-shaker and later to a pneumatic tyred cycle. The sight and scent of a pheasant-eye narcissus always brings all this and lots more back to me. Partly because it was a favourite flower of my father and the middle of May is the time of its flowering, it being a late variety, coming with blue-bells and tulips. Then also the “chine” was stuffed with parsley. Celebrated Lincolnshire dish stuffed-chine, on sale at all the eating-houses in the little market towns and eaten in all the farm-houses and anywhere else where a bacon-pig was killed. I am stuffing ours next week if all is well. Apart from this being the traditional time, the parsley is usually just ready then and later the weather is too hot as it soon goes sour in hot weather. Still it won’t be much hotter in summer than it has been yesterday and today. It was a strong hot wind yesterday as if it blew from a furnace but not so windy to-day tho’ very warm again. I had a bit of bronchitis yesterday and all night, and still keep sweating, tho’ it is partly due to heat I expect.
Africa War ended May 13.
Yesterday morning the welcome news that war in Africa was over greeted us when we switched on the radio at 8am. We have 175,000 prisoners and 16 generals, Von Arnim amongst them. I wish it were all over. I fear there is much more bloodshed to come yet.
Had two letters from Ron this week, one written Easter Mon 26 Apr and the other 29th. It was only just a fortnight coming. He had got some newspapers and also parcel now. Had used Persil and it was a great success. His clothes really clean and not such hard work, must send him another parcel now. He writes very cheerfully, had got letters from us too, but somehow I feel he is a bit homesick. It must be between the lines, as he says we need not worry about him, he is fit and well, tho’ he does not like the climate. Says he feels like a school-boy again in his shorts and will send a snap if ever he can get one taken. It is comforting to think the war is over out there. I wonder if he will be moved or if he will continue to service planes operating from there.
Jean is at Life Girls meeting and Father has gone to mow lawn at Lee’s house, so that he can get on at home tomorrow. J. Kirk just been to say there is another bucket of milk for pigs if he likes to fetch it, he dare not give his pigs too much to start with. I had better get supper ready I think. Eff has heard from Dennis he is quite happy and liking it alright so far. Had a letter from Mrs Leivers today. Have put my gladiolas in tonight, they have good roots and nice shoots too so hope they do better than last year.
‘Pag-rag-day’, well described by May, was much earlier reported in the Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury, May 20th 1870, which referred to an event ‘not so numerously attended by servants as might have been expected from its being “pag-rag day”, and but little hiring took place.’ The derivation is explained in Provincial Words and Expressions Current in Lincolnshire, J Ellett Brogden, 1866: ‘Pag’ – To carry on the back (from ‘pack’ – to carry like a pack); ‘Pag-rag-day, Pack-rag-day’ – The 14th of May, the time when the servants in Lincolnshire pack up their clothes and change their places. See also ‘flitting day’ (see 16 Apr. 1941).
The chapel that was converted to a house was almost certainly the Primitive Methodist chapel in Trusthorpe, the village where May had lived as a young child. The chapel was closed in 1933, following the Methodist Union in 1932, and the house was named ‘Cumberland’.
General von Arnim, Commander-in-Chief of Axis forces in North Africa, was captured on Cap Bon by British troops.
Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?