The Folk high school

Books have been written about Folk High Schools and only a very brief summary will be given here. They were schools for adults from the rural areas. Originally when they started they were quite nationalistic and flowered partly as a result of the German pressure from the South when in 1864 all of Schlesvig Holstein became German. They were essentially started by Grundvig, a prominent priest, and also a prominent Danish Nationalist. He felt the Danish culture had to be appreciated more. The schools were for adults offering courses usually for 5 months for boys in Winter and 3 months for girls in Summer. My mother had attended one and it had influenced her greatly. There was no entrance qualification needed nor was a certificate issued at the

end. The subjects were Danish History, Religion, Arithmetic, Danish Language, Gymnastics, Singing, and Community Knowledge all mixed together. The schools were residential with 2 or 3 persons in each room. The Folk High Schools were also split down the middle. There were the puritan or Inner Mission oriented and the more liberal Grundtvig oriented. The school had an enormous influence on the rural Danish culture and on the ability of Danish Agriculture to quickly adapt to new challenges like the change from being a corn-exporting country to a corn importing one from the 1860s as a response to railway and steamships transporting grain from mid west USA to Europe. They also had a great influence on the cooperative movement with, for example,  the construction of creameries and slaughter houses.

It was quite an experience for a peasant farmer boy to arrive in the great capital Copenhagen to do National Service in the supply troops. I was chosen for the supply troops because I was not thought to be a good runner and therefore not of infantry quality! A peasant from the poor rural West of Jutland with  minimum education I was thrown into a regiment of which most had a higher education than I had and many were from cities. I felt like a peasant too to start with at least. It was cold and rough. In the morning we sometimes had to get up for parade dressed only in gymnastic clothes. It was tough for the first six months which was called basic training. I was number 228478 and usually called 78. The number in the regiment of 110 was according to size. I think I was number 101 i.e. at the smallest group and in my room of 12 we were all quite small. If it is physically tough for those of us from peasant background it was even tougher for the city boys to crawl through ice cold mud in an early morning exercise and they sometimes needed help from the peasants! The corporal and sergeants used foul language. I recall one corporal shouting “78 get your feet out in front, you walk like a pregnant duck!” We had a lot of theory on how cars and lorries functioned as well as guns and here I had no problems in competing with the well educated city boys. In fact I found myself sometimes teaching the others the names of gun parts. In fact the sergeants were thinking of recommending me to stay in the army as sergeant for another year. I could not face that and in our physical test I pretended I could not lift myself up by my arms! Consequently my physical marking made that impossible. Had I been selected I could not have refused as this was part of the national service. The first six months were tough physically and I have

probably never been so fit in my life as I was in the spring of 1955. Socially I went to YMCA in Gothersgade and made friends there but I suppose I was still suffering somewhat psychologically from being a poorly educated peasant, spoke with a pronounced west Jutland dialect, I was small, and I could not dance. I did not dare to ask anybody to dance with me as if I stepped on their toes it would be my fault. We sometimes drank beer but mainly at frequent visits to the Tuborg brewery which was very close to the barracks. The trouble was we had to tour the brewery each time before we got a free tasting of the different products Tuborg produced at the end. ‘We could have been guides after a while!’ While I am sure the official guides knew we were frequent visitors nobody ever objected! Probably  because the guides knew of our wages, about equal to £1 sterling per week in 1959.

Since we were in the supply troops we had to have driving skills and I got a licence to drive motorbikes, light and heavy vehicles. Though I had a civilian licence before it was not accepted by the army.

On one occasion I chanced to see on the notice board that English tuition would be given in evening classes. This was for 10 evenings. I cannot remember much of it except that this was until now my only formal education in English!

While the first six months were physically tough this could certainly not be said for the last six months. What a difference. We were moved from Svanemollen to Østerbro. We became drivers. During the first months we drove the first 500 km of vehicles imported by the army. Since we could not cross to the island of Fyn it meant that we got to know the island of Zealand very well! On some days there was virtually nothing to do. From the point of view of my future I must relate a trip I had to do with English RAF Officers. They were planning an exercise with the Danes and it was my job to transport them around with telegraphic morse codes etc. We stayed with them day and night and became good friends though my English was only that  derived from 10 evening classes. I spoke about my interest in agricultural schools and they actually gave me my first introduction to Reading University as a place for agricultural education in the UK. I found them exceptionally nice people. Though

they were officers I was treated as their equal. They tried to teach me a few more words in English. I wish I had kept a diary then.

We also spent some time at the port checking imported Bedford lorries from the UK. These lorries also had an inventory of tools which had to be checked. On one occasion I recall we had six lorries and in two of the six there was a box of screws but not in the other four. I then suggested to the officers that it was hardly worth recording and that I could make good use of them on my farm at home. I was told of course that this was absolutely not on. After a while one of the two officers went for lunch and the other one saw a box of screws and gave it to me on the condition that I never told the other officer. When he in turn went for lunch the other officer saw the other box of screws took it and put it in my pocket. Do not tell the other officer! So I ended up with 2 boxes of screws which came to our farm in Fjelstervang!

Another event which was important as it influenced my future direction was that again by accident I found a notice on the board one day from the Danish Ministry of Agriculture that exchange visits by agricultural students to UK were available. Application forms to be obtained from Axelborg Ministry Headquarters. I gave some consideration to this but I was undecided. I actually went twice to Axelborg and the first time I gave it a miss. How could I, a peasant from Jutland with 10 evening classes worth of English parade to ask for such a visit which was from six months to one year working on a farm in UK. The second time I got there I asked for an application form handed it in and expected not to hear from them again.

To my surprise, a month later I was offered six months training on a farm near Lincoln in Mid-England with a Mr and Mrs Large at Timewells Farm, Washingborough. I had taken a step that I might regret. How could I manage with so little English?. When I left the army, therefore, I went home and prepared only 10 for going to England, I think November 20th 1955. My mother on the one hand was proud that I dared to do such a thing yet somewhat anxious. As for my father, I do not know but I suspect he would boast about it. It was a rather unusual thing to do at that time nobody else we knew had done anything like that. Father and mother took me to the station in Kibaek. I still remember vividly my mother waving farewell to her son who

was embarking on a new life. I got the ship to Harwich and from there a train to Liverpool Street Station, I was nervous, I held my passport, visa and ticket all the way to Lincoln. I had to change from Liverpool Street to Kings Cross. and when I eventually got on the Lincoln train the conductor asked for my ticket. I gave him all my papers I did not know the meaning of “ticket” such was the state of my English!