From "Skipper's Byways" by KEITH SKIPPER
Published in the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich, Wednesday, April 7, 1999
Poignant tale of a woman who fought for her land.
When they compile a list of Norfolk's doughty fighters during the 20th century, the name of Lucilla Reeve must figure near the top.
Her story of taking on Breckland's unforgiving soil and military might in the Stanford Battle Area is a truly compelling one - but still waiting to be fully acknowledged.
She recalled miracles wrought at derelict Bagmore Farm in her powerful little book The Earth No Longer Bare, written under the plain label of "A Norfolk Woman", all profits going to St. Dunstan's Institution for the Blind.
She took her own life on Remembrance day in 1950, a battler who could absorb no more. Yet there was one fight to come in her home village of Tottington. Born out of wedlock in 1889 and killed by her own hand, Miss Reeve was buried in unconsecrated ground just outside the churchyard, A year or two later, part of the boundary fence collapsed and the military agreed to rebuild it amid speculation it had been knocked down by a tank. They began following the line of the fence, then came to an area where there was obviously a grave - so they extended the fence around it. Even so, doubts remain.
Among those still wondering if Lucilla Reeve rests in consecrated ground is Jock McLean, He worked in the Battle Area and became so enthralled by the woman's exploits against all odds that he felt compelled to write a book about her. He stood and gazed at what was left of the once-immaculate Bagmore Farmhouse and realised few people knew what had happened there. He dug deep into Breckland's past for the roots of physical endurance andmental tenacity destined to shape the character of a woman farmer who became a refugee on her own land.
Agent to Lord Walsingham, owner of the Merton estate, Lucilla Reeve was plain and hard-working but not without literary talents She wrote regularly for the Eastern Daily Press and The Farmers' Weekly and composed patriotic verses which she sent to the Royal Family. In 1938, eight farms owned by the estate had to be let. She found tenants for seven and decided to take the other on herself. She created order out of chaos, rearing pigs, sheet, cattle, goats and ducks as well as cultivating crops and finding time to plant thousands of trees. The bombshell came on June 13, 1942. Her farm was wanted for military purposes. Everybody in that group of Breckland villages of Stanford, Tottington, Sturston, Langford and Buckenham Tofts was given notice to quit with a promise they could return after the war. A stubborn Lucilla simply refused to move. She continued to live in her house at Bagmore, but eventually the sight of tanks churning up her fields and knocking down barns and outbuildings proved too much. So she acquired three wooden chicken huts and a tin garage and set them up just outside the northern boundary of the Battle Area.
Defiant Miss Reeve waited for the chance to go home. But as the years passed she felt the effects of all the physical and mental strains. This led her to accept a plan to leave the area altogether. She had seen a vacant house "in a north-easterly village, a few miles form two coastal towns, and overlooking 13 acres of water." There was room for a family of three besides her, and she knew of such a family. She had pledged a farm equivalent to Bagmore. It had to be cheaper for the authorities to buy this house and re-house two families from the Battle Area at once. The people in power decreed it unseemly to profit thus from war. Costing would be calculated on pre-war prices.
There was no chance of acquiring the house. Miss Reeve could take no more, and on Armistice Day, 1950, she committed suicide.
A poignant saga but remarkable resilience shone through most of the chapters. She fought for her land, her life, her heritage. She didn't go to war ... it came to her.
Transcribed by E.C.Apling, April 1999
Copyright © Keith Skipper, and Eastern Counties Newspapers
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