Remodeling, hunters, and nearly kidnapped
by Irene Biddle
Dick and Irene Biddle were a couple of farm kids who grew up on fine, black dirt farms. Irene’s dad raised corn for the cornstarch factory in nearby Batavia, Ill., and Dick’s dad raised dairy, 5,000 chickens and 5,000 turkeys, orchards, and 80 acres of tomatoes for the tomato soup factory near Kirkland, Wash.
Dick graduated from the University of Illinois with degrees in Agriculture and Agronomy. Irene and Dick had been married only six months when they took a group of 14 FFA boys of various ages to Scotland. The year was 1939.
Irene now resides in Greeley and does freelance writing. Dick died 18 years ago.
These are accounts of their Scotland adventures.
For a week, the contractor in the area and his tradesmen came to the manor for meetings with Lord Dunsmore and the whole bunch ” boys, sponsors, dairy men, butchers and hatcherymen. They all discussed the matter of updating the manor and cleaning and painting it. It meant a tremendous amount of work, as nothing had been touched for over 50 years. The FFA boys were a part of the meetings every time, and they studied the blueprints and talked about them at dinner. It was more than just a paint job, for they were bringing in all modern dairy equipment, and all new equipment for the butchers including all new refrigeration.
On July 1, the work began of tearing out the old, and building everything up again. The workers ate with us during all the meals they were on the place, and we were cooking all day at all times.
They utilized the boys in every way they could, and the boys were not foreign to work, having learned a lot on their farms back home. Once the concrete floor was in, the work really progressed. In between waiting for various contractors, the boys worked at farm chores. Luckily, it was between mowings that they were rebuilding.
We finally hired some more help in the kitchen, and I was freed up to do more secretarial work. I had to make lots of phone calls, and I had to prepare the wages, as Lord Dunsmore paid everyone every day.
They all needed the money very badly. We had no time to go to town, and everyone went to bed early as everyone worked from sunup to sundown. Lord Dunsmore paid everyone very well, and men were readily available to work on the project.
It was a tremendous education for the boys. They saw big trucks bring in the new stainless steel equipment using a derrick-type machine to lift everything into place. Everything had to be nailed down with huge bolts. They re-vamped all the areas used for work, and they built new apartments for the men to use. It was all very modernized and very new.
Townspeople would drive by at night looking at us to see what was going on, and they brought Larry, Lord Dunsmore’s nephew, who violently disapproved of the whole affair. He could not see spending all that cash just to update the old manor. He said he would bring in an army of thugs to tear it out in a day.
“I think not,” said the contractor, “we built this to stay for quite a while.”
Aug. 1 rolled around and the work was all done. Lord Dunsmore staged an open tour, and over 300 came to visit us and see the changes.
The adults could not get over how our boys had matured during this project. They were given responsibilities, and they came through. Added to this, they worked hard, ate well, and slept every chance they could. Their parents were amazed at what the boys had accomplished in this work.
We had completed our Sunday chicken dinner, which the boys from the FFA adored. We were outside shaking the tablecloths when two very large birds alighted in the apricot trees and were catching the small, blue birds that always sang so beautifully for us. The boys shooed the big ones away, and they zoomed into the sky, yelling and squawking at us.
At that moment, we saw hunters come out of a small cart parked outside the fence that circled the estate. They came toward us yelling that we had chased away their falcons. They said they had paid a lot for those birds, and we had chased them away, maybe never to return. They had rifles with sights on them, and when one of them lowered his rifle towards us, I became alarmed and told the boys to “Run!” and they followed me, running into the dining room and we headed for the pantry and closed the door.
The men then ambled around the house, and sat on our deck (right outside the pantry window that was open). We heard them talk about the “Yankees” and all the revenue we had created for Lord Dunsmore’s bank account, since one of them was a clerk at a bank. They also talked about their plans to come for us with papers signed by the Home FFA Office in London to transfer us to his brother’s manor. (His brother was Lord Guilford, the man who previously had treated the American boys so badly.)
After a time, the men walked around the house, and were going toward their bird blind. As the older man was being helped into the blind, the rifle fired in the old man’s arms, the bullet hitting the horse in the shoulder.
The horse bucked high, waving his front legs and then came down on the run, gathering speed as he screamed in pain and ran like the wind, dragging the blind full of hunters bouncing behind him. They continued to fly along out of control until they hit the bridge, which caused the men to fly high into the air, throwing all three of them head first with great force into large boulders and rocks in the stream.
I sent the boys immediately to fetch Dick and Ian, who got on horses and rode down to the bridge. Soon after, the ambulances were called for and Dick and the boys helped load the men into the ambulances.
The men were seriously injured, and in a couple of days, two of them died. The third one tried to implicate us in the whole event, though we had done nothing except scare away the falcons.
We were notified that we had to appear at an inquest for the hunters. The morning of the inquest, we rose very early and I was down in the kitchen at 4 a.m.
Suddenly, I heard the terrible crash of glass over my left shoulder, and I looked up to see a chauffeur-like dressed man come through the windows which had broken. The Scotland Yardsmen had stayed the night at the manor and heard the commotion, and yelled at the black figure, “Just a moment!” The figure whirled around and took a shot. He missed. The Yardsmen returned fire, and did not miss. The black figure fell forward with a loud slump on the floor and blood gushing out of his chest.
By this time, the FFA boys and Dick had awakened, and they were all screaming, “What is going on? What are you doing, Irene?” I opened the sliding door between kitchen and front hallway, and the Yardsmen followed me. As we stepped through the doorway, we saw a very large man racing too fast down the stairway. He lost his footing, crashing hard against the rickety banister which gave way under his heavy body, and he came crashing out into the air, screaming and falling down the entire three flights of stairs into the large room where we stood.
The Yardsmen took over, knowing First Aid, and tried to bring him back to consciousness. It was not much use, although they worked for at least 45 minutes. Dr. Starkey was called and pronounced him “Dead.”
I had found a folder carried by the huge man and in it were papers I recognized as orders for us to be transferred to the Guilford manor. They were signed by several people at the Home Office in London. I had to make a quick decision ” “Do I destroy them or hide them?” I decided to hide them in the window seat, under a whole lot of ladies’ magazines. No one would be looking there, at least not until we were gone.
We called the court clerk, telling him of what had happened. He would not believe us, so the Yardsmen had to come to the phone to talk to the judge, and the judge decided to come out to check the situation out for himself.
We sent the boys back to bed, since it was so early. It was about noon when they came down, and everyone was unusually quiet. The boys conducted a meeting, and they decided it was in everyone’s best interests to go home. We would stay for the inquest, the boys would wind up their projects and write their reports, and then everyone would pack. On Monday morning, we would take the 5 a.m. train to London. But no one felt like working.
During the next four days, we all worked like fiends, because we wanted to leave everything in good shape. We hired two women to wash everything, including walls and ceilings. They washed down the insides of cupboards and the boys were cleaning their quarters.
Monday morning arrived and I had cooked the last breakfast. We left Lord Dunsmore, who shook every boy’s hand and kissed all of them. He was crying when he said farewell to those boys he loved so very much. We were driven to the station by the dairymen, and were off.
When we arrived in London, we could not get within two blocks of the ship we had planned to take. So, we hired out as help on a ship owned by the American Merchant Marine. We were on the water for 10 days, and the boys worked every day of that time, packing, taking inventory, and doing work for the first mate of the ship.
On our arrival to New York, we were taken directly to the train station. Dick sent telegrams telling of our arrival time to parents and others. The train was slow, but when we pulled into Chicago, were we ever surprised! There was a band to greet us, the parents were all there, and we were all crying with happiness.
We were taken to the Blackstone Hotel, where supper awaited us, and the press was there to greet us and take pictures. The boys spoke, and Dick spoke of our time in Scotland. Lord Dunsmore had written a letter, and the boys were teary-eyed when Dick read it. He thanked the boys for giving him back his life, as Lord Dunsmore, and for making him a very rich man again.
The 10 months in Scotland had taught the boys patience and caring. They also learned what an effort goes into farming huge numbers of acres. They received first-hand information about updating and remodeling a farm, and the enormous cost involved when the farm had been let go.
Most of all, they learned to appreciate the freedom they had so casually taken for granted living in America.
None of the boys wanted to go again, but they treasured their visit to the Dunsmore Manor and their trips all over Europe.