Rabbit Catcher’s daughter by Hettie Milne neé Coutts

Hettie’s memories of life at Burghead School during WW2 >>>>>

Burghead 48 King Street Hettie Milne

48 King Street Burghead

Hettie was born in Burghead, Moray at 48 King Street in 1932 and she is therefore proud to be known as a “brocher”. Her mother came from Glenlivet and her Father, James “Jimmy” from Aberdeenshire. His family lived on a small holding in Aberdeenshire. He was the eldest son born in 1907 and he had to leave school at the age of 14 to work on the family farm. There were no tractors and part of Jimmy’s job was to drove cattle. Around 1920 they decided to move to Cullerne Farm, a new bigger farm located between Kinloss and Findhorn. So it was that one day his mother, younger brothers, sisters, 2 cows, a few sheep, chickens, Granny Jeannie Coutts on the cart and all their worldly goods set off. They were led by Jimmy as they started on their journey via Rhynie over the Cabrach, down Rothes Glen and onto Findhorn.

Burghead 69a Dunbar Street Hettie Milne

69 Dunbar Street

By the time that Hettie was born in 1932 her father had left Cullerne farm (at the age of 21) and moved to the nearby fishing settlement of Burghead.  One of her earliest memories is of a small shop in Findhorn. They lived at the top of town at 69a Dunbar Street. Prior to this they lived in 48 King Street. Her first job was “tattie” picking. During September/October the schools closed for what was known as the Tattie holidays (they still do). This break coincided with the readiness of the potato harvest. Hettie along with other local children, (usually aged 12 and over)  waited by the school at Burghead for a tractor and bogie to come and pick them up to start work at 7.30 a.m. each day. They started work at 8 a.m.  with short breaks until 5 at night. The tatties were collected in galvanized buckets and then poured into a wire basket. A young lad held the reins of the horse as older men tipped the basket contents into the cart. Each of the children had brought their own “piece” (snack) or lunch with them. This could be two slices of bread with corned beef or dry sandwiches with margarine and jam.   Occasionally they hunted the hedgerows for brambles sometimes taking them home at the end of the day. Some farms had apple orchards they could pick apples from.  They took or were given cold drinks. Flasks were too expensive and too easily broken.The money made from tattie picking was used to buy them a new winter coat and shoes. Any left over could be used for a bar of chocolate.

When Hettie left school she went to work for the Forestry Commission at Newton Nurseries from 1946-1951 from the age of 14 to 19 years. Her job involved replanting forests in Culbin Sands, Clashindarroch and Roseisle. She was also involved in reseeding young trees. At Heldon Hill Hettie cleared the lower branches from the trees so they could be used for telegraph poles.

Wester Alves farm  © Copyright Steven Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Wester Alves farm © Copyright Steven Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

In 1951 she went to work for Miss Grant, a lady farmer at Wester Alves farm. Cattlemen brought the milk into the dairy and left it to stand. The butter and cream comes to the top. It is then put into a milk churn and the handles are turned until a flopping sound is created when the butter has formed. The butter is weighed out into the right size. Miss Grant took the butter into town (Elgin) to give to her friends. Eventually Miss Grant was taken ill. Her brother-in-law Sir Alexander Murray offered her job in London. as did his daughter, Mrs Robinson in Edinburgh. Hettie decided to say “No” to both and to go back to her Forestry Commission work.

Rabbits_on_ a_fence_source: Hettie Milne

Typical rabbit catch for Jimmy Coutts, Rabbit Catcher, Burghead. Photo Source: Hettie Milne neé Coutts

Rabbit catching
Hettie’s father, Jimmy Milne was a Rabbit catcher. This was a reserved occupation during WW2 as due to shortages of meat and therefore rationing rabbit had become one of the main replacements for the UK population. The shortages were due to the torpedoing of merchant shipping by U-boats. This led to a national shortage of a variety of foodstuffs including corn, wheat, sugar and meat. Jimmy MilneWild rabbits were prolific during this period and farmers were more than happy for Hettie’s Father to catch rabbits on their land. He paid the farmers for using their land. Country folk have always eaten rabbit, hare, pheasant and duck. Each evening he set his traps along the runs, which splayed out naturally from the rabbits’ warrens. The rabbits left a groove where their runs were. Sometimes Hettie would help her Father set the traps using a paraffin lamp to light their way. Apart from using snares he also held a 2.2 gun licence. Jimmy also kept ferrets to flush out the rabbits when the ground was too hard to set snares. He could tell when the rabbits were in their warrens as there was fresh sand outside their holes. Hettie would help her father set the traps by twising the wire and going out to collect the rabbits. He came home with a rattling car and a basket of traps to repair. Her Mother, Christina also helped by winding up a snare wire with a “thraw” hook. James put his rabbits into crates and then sent his rabbits via train down to butchers’ shops in England.

Hettie’s Mother, Christina worked at Gordonstoun when her children were older. It was hard work due to the nature of the stone floors. She also cleaned for a teacher’s wife who had a house on the bus route.

The following morning at about half past four he set off to collect the rabbits from his snares before the local wildlife had a chance to help themselves first.

In the summertime the family went to Glenlivet where her Mother was from. Christina and James had married at Achbreck Church, Glenlivet on 24 December 1931. To get there they went on the bus to Elgin, then train to Dufftown, bus to Tomintoul and then got off at Tomnavoulin. There were no street signs or road signs to take them there. You just had to know the way. The signage had been removed for the duration of WW2 in case of german invasion. Hettie’s Father continued to catch rabbits throughout their Glenlivet trips, taking his crates of rabbits to Dufftown and Glenlivet stations for transport south. In addition to sending his catch south he also supplied local butchers as well. There were poachers operating in the area as well though they had to try to sell their catch door to door.

Memory contributed by Hettie Milne from Elgin

Additional information

Childhood memories of Burghead by Hettie Milne nee Coutts by Hettie Milne

Hettie’s brother was Country singer Frankie Coutts. He had formed a duo with Willie Sutherland in the 1960s and 70s. He was well-known in Moray.

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