The family story – part 12 – the Land Army, part 2

When I said “more another time”, I didn’t mean “in six weeks.” Sorry. For anyone who hasn’t been following the story, Jane was my mother.

I don’t think Jane ever had any romantic attachments at this time. She liked Bobby, who owned the farm, but just as a friend. He sometimes found it hard to be one of the few young men around who was not fighting for his country, but he had very poor eyesight and farming was certainly part of the war effort. There was one very sad story involving Bobby, though.

A young woman was visiting the farm and wanted to go for a ride. She was an experienced horsewoman and she and Bobby went off across the fields. When they were some distance from home, her horse, galloping, was startled by a rabbit, shied and she fell. Bobby went to help her and wanted to walk her home, but she laughed off the fall, saying she was fine, and insisted on remounting. Bobby did, at least insist that they walked the horses and made for home. But after a while, she paled suddenly and fell off her horse. “I do feel ill now” she said and fainted.

Bobby had no choice but to leave her and gallop back for help. She was taken to hospital, but she died. Her skull had been fractured in the first fall.

At the inquest, the coroner was critical of Bobby, saying that he should not have let her remount. He felt dreadful, remorseful and blamed himself – but, as Mummy said, what else could he do? It was too far for her to walk and she would have collapsed anyway. Of course, in hindsight, he could have ridden with her on his horse, holding her in front of him, but she was insistent that she was fine. If anything could have made it worse, she was an only child and her parents were bereft.

No riding hats in those days of course.

In the 1940s there were a succession of hot summers. Jane must have found that hard as she hated the sun. She had a fair skin and burned easily. She was strong, but she was not robust. She never gave in or complained of physical pain or fatigue, but she found the farm work pretty hard. She suffered badly all her life from migraines, but a ‘sick headache,’ in those days, didn’t gain you much sympathy. On the other hand, she liked the country life and would not have been suited to the hierarchy of the forces or the wearing of a uniform.

There was a good social life. They used to hold dances (‘hops’) in the local village halls. There were plenty of young men, many of them from the American Air Force stationed nearby. My mum always felt sorry for the local lads as they didn’t have much money, whereas the American boys had plenty and they could get treats like silk stockings, cigarettes and chocolate too. Jane didn’t care for the sort of girl who was tempted by that sort of thing – we all know the disgruntled description of American servicemen at that time “Overpaid, over-sexed and over here!” Poor lads. Still ready to die, thousands of miles from home.

One evening a young black man asked her for a dance. She was embarrassed and refused – she knew that her reputation would be in big trouble, even with just a dance. It was on her conscience all her life though. She really regretted it.

I suppose the lads had a few beers, but she never drank at all. They all had a whale of a time though and would walk back across the ploughed field, her dance shoes swinging from her hand, one foot on the ridge and the other in the furrow, giggling helplessly.

This all came to an end suddenly. She had been suffering from serious abdominal pain but, typically, said nothing about it for some time. When, finally, she went to the doctor, he told her she had acute appendicitis and sent her straight to hospital. The appendix was on the point of bursting and she was very ill for some time afterwards. It was decided that she could not return to her farm work and she was sent home to her father for recuperation.

Not long after that, she came down with measles. She was already quite run down and she was extremely ill and delerious. She went blind for several days. The doctor visited night and morning and ordered that she be kept in a darkened room. How lucky she was, however – and how thankful her father must have been; again, she was an only child and he was otherwise all alone – because, in the end, she made a full recovery. Her eyesight was superb (far better than mine!) and she didn’t even need reading glasses until she was into her sixties.

The measles came when she was twenty-one, so that must have been in 1945. So, by the time she recovered, the war was coming to an end and she was able to think about her future.

6 comments on “The family story – part 12 – the Land Army, part 2

  1. Dandelion

    I’ve got a question about The War, z. D’you know how people were doing things for the War Effort, not just being in the army? And women drove buses and worked in factories and dug for victory? Where did having children figure in all that? I mean, was it considered like shirking your war effort duty, or was it considered part of it?

  2. Z

    I don’t know, Dandelion.

    Off the top of my head, I wouldn’t think that a woman would be thought unpatriotic for having a baby (within wedlock, natch). After all, birth control was a bit hit-and-miss for most people and if your husband was home on leave, pregnancy was pretty likely to happen – but if it didn’t you might not have another chance for a long time.

    Pat, I know you were just a child, but have you any thoughts?

  3. PI

    Looking after your children was certainly not considered shirking but working class mothers like mine worked in a slipper factory full time, with the help of neighbours and grandparents. Keeping the ‘home fires burning’ was all important. The point is everybody did something. It was all part of the War Effort.
    Even we kids raised money for the Spitfire Fund. Feeble old ladies knitted scarves and balaclavas for the Forces. I can’t knoit so I ‘d be useless but I would enjoy going round telling people to ‘Be like Dad – Keep Mum! and ‘Turn that light out!’

  4. Z

    My grandad was an ARP Warden, Pat!

    I should think children were especially precious, weren’t they? Families with their men away fighting, fear for them, fear of bombs, rationing…

    It must have been awfully painful for the parents of evacuees. To start with, London families were evacuated here. Later in the war, children from here were sent somewhere safer. My mother-in-law took her children to Wales, though her husband had to stay for his work. My husband was the youngest of three and he remembers the War.


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