The family story – part 11 – the Land Army, part 1

If the farmer had expected a landgirl who would feed the hens and not know a cow from a bull, he received a pleasant surprise. Not only was Jane a knowledgeable countrywoman, she was determined to earn the respect of the men by working hard and well and expected no concessions. She was of medium height, slender, with curly brown hair … I have no photos of her when young, but she was told she looked like Deanna Durbin. She loved horse riding and enjoyed working with the horses – there were cart horses and an ex-polo pony. Nearly all the farm work was done with horses or by hand, rather than with tractors or other machinery. It was a family farm run by two brothers and the other workers were older men, beyond the age to be called up. Other Land Girls did come along, but they were all from the city and were teased – not unkindly – for example someone would rub his arms, comment on the draught and ask the girl to run and shut the five-barred gate.

Jane prided herself on her skill with horses. She could judge to an inch how to take a load of hay through a gateway and, small as she was, she could manage the biggest cart horse. The cows liked to be milked by her as she was more gentle than some of the men and took into account their personalities. However, she told of one time when a particularly cussed-natured cow, known as a kicker, waited until the pail was almost full before lashing out, tipping out all the milk and knocking Jane flat on her back. “You sod” she exclaimed, to the great amusement of the men, who had never heard her swear.

She found aspects of farming hard. There was one pig kept for the farm each year, which was bought in as a weaner and fed all the household scraps, boiled into swill, the leftover buttermilk and grain as required, and then slaughtered in the autumn to feed the household during the winter. She avoided the pig, as she felt she could not eat any animal she had looked in the eye – but one summer day, it was standing in its sty, front trotters on the gate, and looked hopefully at her. She went to greet it, scratched its head, talked to it…she said she went very hungry that winter. She couldn’t touch a mouthful of the meat and the farmer’s mother, who thought she was ridiculously sentimental, would not give her any alternative food. You would think she would have been allowed to fill up on potatoes and bread; it was a farm after all, but she was strictly rationed.

My mother was passionately opposed to identity cards as a result of her Land Army experiences. She said that they were more nuisance to the law-abiding than anyone else and – well, quite a lot else that this place is irrelevant to put. She told one tale of a blistering hot day, when she, on her own with the sheepdog, had to move a flock of sheep from one field to another a mile down the road. This was going well until PC Jobsworth stopped her and asked to see her ID card. She hadn’t got it. She hadn’t thought of herself as going off the farm and she was in her lightest summer clothes. She pointed out that a) he knew her and b) it would take an unusually determined spy to drive a flock of sheep to disguise her tracks. Constable Jobsworth gave her a lecture on ‘there’s a war on, you know’, which she had to listen to as, in despair, she saw the sheep wandering off in all directions. It took a long time to round them all up again.

The worst job was pulling up the various beets – sugarbeet, mangle wurzels, turnips and the like. You had to pull them up, chop off the leaves and toss them to the side to be loaded onto a cart. This was an autumn job and muddy beets are hard to get a grip on, for pulling and for chopping. It was often cold and wet and standing at one corner of a field, seeing acres of beet stretching ahead of you, is a daunting prospect. On the other hand, she enjoyed hoeing carrots. She had a short hoe that she had to bend to use – the men had all rejected it. She found that she could put her back into the job and work quicker than any of them.

This is too long to go in one post, more another time

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