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Keith Toule remembered

Updated: Jan 2

Retired farmer Keith Toule, one of the last locals to remember wartime RAF Skellingthorpe, has died in a care home aged 89.

Keith was born in 1934 to a single mum, Margaret, and grew up as part of her farming family at Blackmoor Farm just inside Doddington parish. Two aunts, an uncle and a grandmother all lived at the farm and helped tackle the workload in various ways.

In wartime, it lay alongside the south-western runway of the RAF Skellingthorpe Bomber Command base.

From the farmhouse they could see much aviation activity including the fuelling, arming and take-off of aircraft.

Young Keith would wave at Lancaster crews as they took off over the fields in their bomb laden planes. Invariably, he said, someone aboard waved back.

He retained vivid memories of wartime crashes and incidents and also, while out in the fields with his Uncle Raby, being buzzed by a Junkers 88.

Keith first went to Doddington school as a five year old in the week war broke out in 1939, and was soon allocated his own gas mask and identity card for his two-mile walk to school. He had to pass through various checkpoints in what was then a semi-militarised zone.

He loved to tell the story of the schoolmistress who would venture out on to the ice of the Doddington pond to see if it was safe for the children to skate.

And how, in 1940,  the family hid their supply of coal (for the farmhouse range) in case the Government wanted to requisition it. They covered it under a huge pile of horse and cow manure.

Keith’s memories are recorded in the documentary ”The Farm in WW2” which can be streamed on Vimeo. Its part of a two-hour plus DVD of Keith’s stories and memories called “A Farmer Looks Back.”

The Toule family arrived at Blackmoor Farm in 1903 when Keith’s grandfather, also called Raby, rented it from the Doddington estate. The family bought the farm when the opportunity arose in 1949. They lived by firelight and oil lamps until electricity arrived in 1952.

Keith enjoyed an idyllic childhood and saw cuckoos, nightingales, red squirrels and frogs and toads on the farm. He would snare rabbits to sell to a local butcher and also catch moles for their skins.

He loved to contribute to the running of the farm and eventually, after leaving the City School, began working there full time.

He was excused National Service because of his importance as a stockman and became noted for his beautifully built haystacks.

At the weekend there was football and particularly cricket for local teams. Keith’s strong hands….. built, he said, by having to milk cows from the age of six.….. helped him progress. He was a batsman for Lincolnshire in the Minor Counties, once playing against Geoff Boycott who turned up in a Yorkshire second eleven.

He also represented Lincolnshire at golf and became well known in county farming and golfing circles.

Eventually, after the death of his Uncle Raby, Keith took over the farm. As mechanisation increased, Keith embraced the new era and achieved such high yields of potatoes and sugar beet that he was featured in the farming press.

He diversified into strawberries and took great pride in the quality of his crops. He became known as “The Strawberry Man” among the families who visited his pick your own facility.

Years of heavy work took a toll and Keith had to have five knee operations. Eventually there were complications and an amputation of one leg below the knee brought 75 years of farming to an end in 2015.

From then Keith continued to try his hand at invention, seeking patents for various innovations in agriculture, horticulture and healthcare. His "Redcam", a device enabling invalids and wheelchair users to strengthen their limbs while recumbent or seated, was particularly admired.

Keith, a divorcee, thought he had no surviving relatives and wanted his memories and stories to survive him, thus the collaboration with Blow by Blow Productions in “A Farmer Looks Back.”

Resulting coverage on BBC TV’s Look North programme led to two distant relatives, not known to Keith, to get in contact.

Sisters Nikki Harrington and Michele Maloney, whose father was Keith's mother's cousin, made their way to the farm, founding new friendships and delighting Keith as they unrolled their complex family tree to show him present.

In 2023 Keith spent many weeks in hospital with infections and then awaiting a care package. Finally, more constant care was needed and he left Blackmoor Farm Cottage, bringing to an end 120 years of family association with the site.

He entered the Eccleshare Court home opposite the entrance to Hartsholme Cricket Club where he spent many happy years as a player and supporter.

Keith will be missed by friends who loved to drop into his cosy cottage to discuss the old days, fishermen visiting the lake he created and stocked, friends from his sporting days, and the farming community.

At his funeral at Lincoln Crematorium on January 2nd, conducted by celebrant Helen Millington, Keith's friend Paul Truelove recalled the best strawberries he had ever tasted, and Keith's role as a conservationist.... planting a wood, creating a lake and feeding birds. Also, Keith's stark warnings about climate change, made as he noticed incremental changes on the farm he had known all his life.

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