Retiring at 88 after 74 years’ service with same family – ‘Loyalty Les’, of Kirton Holme, calls it a day

Retiring at 88 ... Les Sutton and wife Sylv, of Kirton Holme.
Retiring at 88 ... Les Sutton and wife Sylv, of Kirton Holme.

After a staggering 74 years working for the same family, Kirton Holme’s Les Sutton has decided to take late, late retirement.

Les, 88, joined Tunnard’s Farms, of Kirton Holme, in 1945 at the age of 14 as a ‘boot boy’.

His first duties were to work in the farmhouse doing odd jobs, including laying the many fires, cleaning the windows, helping make butter, as well as several outdoor tasks such as feeding chickens, assisting with the garden, and cleaning the owners’ car – one of the few around in those days – a Wolseley 1800.

After four years, Les was promoted to farm labourer – at a wage of one pound ten shillings per week. Duties included picking potatoes, pulling brussels sprouts, and cutting cabbages.

The standard working week in those days on all farms would have been 48 hours, including regular Saturday mornings, plus several more hours of overtime. A working day of 7am to 8pm would not have been uncommon, especially at harvest time. A large box of sandwiches and flasks of cold tea (more thirst quenching than hot tea according to Les) proved to be the ideal accompaniment for the long hours.

For several years, Les was responsible for operating the grain dryer, an important role during harvest time. In more recent years, he has been charged with tending the large gardens at the farmhouse.

He has seen many changes on the farm over the years, not least of which is the transition from using mainly horses to tractors.

Initially, Les worked with horses to carry out many duties on the land, including drilling and harrowing. He has since driven many tractors, beginning with the early Massey Fergusons and Ford Majors, all without cabs and open to the elements, and then the more luxurious David Browns in later years with their cabs, radios, and air conditioning.

His dedication saw him twice awarded Long Service to Agriculture medals at the East of England Show, one to commemorate 50 years’ service the other 60.

He says, though, it is now time to retire and that he is looking forward to tending his own garden, spending time with wife Sylv and son Paul and family, along with catching up on the many other jobs which have piled up since 1945.

He said: “I have always enjoyed the outdoor life and could never imagine working in an office or factory. My employers have always treated me very well and I have never thought of looking to move anywhere else. However, it is now time to slow down a bit and concentrate on my own garden.”

Les’ first boss was Geoff Tunnard (and his wife Renee), father of his subsequent boss Rick (with wife Suzanne), and grandfather of current boss Tom (with wife Kate). Tom’s son Freddie is the fourth generation of the family with whom Les has worked and he is also now watching the fifth generation of the family grow up.

Susanne said Les would have three Long Service medals to his name if the East of England Show had not come to an end.

“‘Loyalty Les’ should be Les’s nickname as no one else can boast that they have worked for five generations of the Tunnard Family,” she said.

Changes in the industry ‘never fazed him’, she said, describing him as ‘always willing and grateful’.

“We were so lucky to have him,” she said.