P is for Poacher

April 18, 2014 at 9:21 am | Posted in Family History, History, Philosophy, Society, Ways of Living | 9 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE-000 [2014]



No, not that poacher. The one I’m talking about isn’t a gadget that cooks eggs.

I mean real poachers, the people who nick (pinch, steal) animals that don’t technically belong to them.

But I don’t mean poachers who take endangered wildlife, kill them and cut off their horns or tusks, and leave their bodies to rot either. Nothing like that!

The poacher I am talking about is the one who takes animals that are abundant, like rabbits and hares, pheasants and partridge from the estates of a wealthy landholder in early 20th century England.


My grandfather, Teddy Thompson, was a poacher, and a very good one. He knew the countryside – the woods and the moors – and the animals and plants that lived there better than most people.

He netted rabbits and hare, and snared or shot the birds. He made his own nets and was a champion clay-bird shooter. Throughout the Great Depression he fed his own family – and others too – when they would otherwise have been in dire straits. He kept the larder stocked and he didn’t get caught.

ER Thompson, Ern,Eddie,Edna

Teddy kneels behind his daughter. My dad is the eldest son, on the right.

Legally, he was breaking the law. Morally, he considered what he did justified. The wealthy landowner didn’t hunt these animals for food – only for sport. Also, the notion of privilege that the game laws embodied was abhorrent to him. The wealthy didn’t need a permit to net or shoot rabbits, whereas the lower classes had to purchase a licence, and at a significant cost, given their meagre income. They also had strict limits on where and how many they caught.  Teddy considered it wrong that people should have special rank and privileges just because of the station they were born into.

Dad told me many stories about what Teddy did. Among them are a couple I will share.

He used to catch pheasant and partridge and sell them to well-off  and eager businessmen in the town. Sometimes, the man would pay in cash, which helped pay the rent. At other times, Granddad would ask if the fellow had meccano or electrical stuff his son might no longer need. Dad always had plenty of parts to make crystal radios, which he then sold. He also made things for his parents, as well as his younger brother and sisters.

One time, a farmer asked Teddy if he would catch some rabbits to put in his fields for his son to shoot. Teddy netted the twenty animals the farmer had requested, and went to collect the money he’d been promised. But the farmer reneged on the promise. That night, Teddy went back to the farm, caught the twenty rabbits again and set them free elsewhere.

Edward&EdwardR Thompson &dog Abt 1946 (2)

Granddad may not have been law-abiding in some ways, but he was a very moral man. He was willing to go against laws or customs that he saw as unfair. My father also learned to hate the injustices of the class system that he grew up in, and always admired and respected his father for standing up against them.

One example where this is evident was at the interview Dad had on completion of his flying training. This interview was in front of about five senior officers “all showing off their medals and gold braid”, and would determine the rank that each man would be given before being assigned to a squadron.

Dad said the interview went well, as he’d gained high marks and shown a lot of talent as a fighter pilot. Indeed, he was at the top level of the group that was passing out, and had better results than most of the upper class men – those who would automatically be given an officer’s commission.

RAF pilot wings

The last question of Dad’s interview came from the biggest brass at the end of the row. “What does your father do for a living?”

Dad was incensed that what his father did would have any bearing on the rank he would be given. Teddy was a fire beater (stoker) of a steam engine in a cotton mill, but that isn’t what Dad answered.

“He’s a poacher, Sir”.

Dad didn’t receive an officer’s commission. He was given non-commissioned rank instead.

What do you think of traditional social divisions? Is it morally right to prevent someone from feeding his family just because he comes from a lower level of society?


© Linda Visman 18.04.14  (715 words)


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