She was sent to a farm not too far from Weymouth – I never thought to ask her how much she got home to see her father or other friends. Why does one only think of this sort of thing when it’s too late?
It was a family farm and the son Bobby was excused Army call-up because he was an essential front line worker. There was a second son and he was called up for a time, but I think he returned to the farm later. Other workers on the farm were older men, past the age to be called up, and Land Army girls. When Jane turned up, they assumed she’d be wet behind the ears and only able to throw food to the chickens, but she was determined to do anything they could, and so she could. No tractors because of fuel rationing, but they had a big heavy horse, a cob and, rather oddly, an ex-polo pony called Monsieur de Talleyrand, who was very quick on his feet and lively, but I’ve no idea what work he was actually capable of. The heavy horse, which I think was a Shire, pulled the wagons and heavy machinery. My mother learned to drive him – she was already an experienced rider – and prided herself on her abilities. Such as going at a trot to an open gateway, pulling a laden cart and carrying on through it with inches to spare. She also proved her worth when it came to harvesting root crops. The men chose the big tools and she was left with the smallest one, but she bent down to the job and it was far quicker. She also learned that, if everyone was working together side by side on the rows, it soon became a competition. So you stopped, took a swig from your water bottle and stood and stretched, and soon everyone was in a different place and unaware of who was quickest.
Once, she was sowing wheat in a hillside field near the road. She got to the end of the day, marked the place and went home. Next day, she realised that, whilst she knew where she had stopped, she hadn’t marked the line of the drilling. So, that whole summer, there was a place where the rows went off at a different angle and she – and the farm owners – were teased thoroughly. Everyone thinks they’re the first to say the witticism that the recipient has heard a hundred times. It palls.
Later, other girls did arrive from towns and cities and they were pretty clueless. The old farm workers had various jokes – sending them to shut the five-barred gate to cut out the draught in the middle of the field, going to buy a left-handed pitchfork, that sort of thing. I’m not sure how long any of them lasted and she never mentioned any friendship she had with any of them. She was always drawn more to the company of men, in a completely non-romantic way. She thought of herself as one of the blokes. Yet she knew she was attractive – slim, with curly brown hair, she was sometimes likened to Deanna Durbin. But she was uninterested in having a boyfriend and rather despised the girls who were known to be “easy.”