Then there was the time she and the men were sitting down in the field for lunch. “What you got, Fred?” someone asked an old codger (who was probably younger than I am, come to think of it). Fred inspected the meagre contents of his sandwich sourly. “Piece of bread, cut with a hammy knife,” he said – which entered the family phrase book.
I’m not even sure how long she was in the Land Army, now I come to think about it. It’s a funny thing, she had so many stories about her early life, but they were always the same ones and it’s only been in the last few years – since she hasn’t been about to ask – that I’ve realised how many gaps there are.
Hang on, I can work some of it out. She’d have been 18 when she went in, I suppose, if she was coming up to 16 when the war started, left school the next summer because education had just about come to a dead halt and went to secretarial college for another year, and then volunteered before she was called up. So it must have been two or three years, because I do know what happened next.
As I said, she was stoical about pain, and sympathy for ailments wasn’t forthcoming in any case, so she endured the pain she was in until it became unbearable. As a result of that, by the time she was taken to hospital, her appendix was in a bad state and it was a tricky operation that she took some while to recover from.
And it wasn’t long after that when she caught measles, and I know she was aged 21 then. She was living back with her father then, which was just as well because she was terribly ill. She said she was blind for three days, delirious and very ill indeed, and the doctor called twice a day. Though I’m not sure what good that did, it must have reassured her father. Remarkably, her sight recovered completely – she had excellent sight, far better than mine ever was, and she was well into middle age before she needed reading glasses and never needed them for distance.
This must have been in 1945, if she was born in November 1923. The doctor said that she had to take a long break from farm work while she convalesced, and then the war ended anyway, so she never went back. I suppose her things were packed up for her and sent on – she was surprised to be told to send all her uniform back to *wherever* – the Ministry of … look, I don’t know, this isn’t a carefully researched article, it’s just me waffling as usual. Anyway, I’m not waffling at random, the point is that her badge was missing, and when she’d sent off her rather worn out breeches and belt and shirt and so on, they pointed out that, if she couldn’t produce it, she had to pay for it. She wasn’t entirely thrilled about that, but she refused to pay and they didn’t press the point.
I wish I had some photos of her when she was a girl, but I’m afraid not. In later years, my grandfather lost his sight and he decided to get rid of all ephemera. My mother, who was about forty by this time, was very upset when his housekeeper told her that he’d had a bonfire and burned all the photos and other papers from her childhood and pre-marriage youth, including pictures of her grandparents and parents. I know what her grandmother – her father’s mother – looked like because I have her portrait (one of those portrait-sized photographs, coloured up) but all I know of her beloved grandfather is that his blue eyes twinkled when he was about to tell a joke.