Members of the Women's Land Army worked on Crich farms during WW2. Annie Holmes worked on Edge Moor Farm with Mr and Mrs George Allcock; no doubt there were others.
The organisation was founded in 1916 for the recruitment of women to work on farms during World War I. At its peak in September 1918 it had 16,000 members. It re-formed June in 1939, before the outbreak of World War II the Land Girls joined up to help the war effort.
The Women's Land Army (WLA) filled many of the jobs left vacant when men went to fight. It was was started by Lady Denman and by 1943 there were some 90,000 young women employed on the land.
Work on the farms was very hard. At harvest time they worked during all the daylight hours, 7.30 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. and in winter it was very cold. Farmers at first doubted whether they could do the job, but many proved how useful they could be – even beating local men in horse-ploughing competitions.
Land Army Girls work included: milking cows, digging ditches, mucking out livestock or sawing timber. The work was hard and outdoors in all weathers. What they wore varied, but it was all practical and hard-wearing. Some wore wellington boots and others had sturdy shoes. Some wore corduroy trousers and others had overalls. They wore cotton shirts with a green tie and a green jumper. All had a thick working coat. They wore a smart felt hat (with the W.L.A badge pinned on) when they were wearing their smart overcoat on parade, but while working they would wear their hair tied up in a scarf, to keep it out of the way of farm machinery. They were only paid £1 2s a week after paying board and lodgings.
Some 1000 young women trained as rat catchers – a very useful job – a rat could eat about 50kg of food.
When World War II began in 1939 young men and women at the age of seventeen years were called into the armed forces. Miners and farm workers were exempt from the call up, although this group did volunteer. An alternative to the forces was to work in a munitions factory . I chose to join "The Women's Land Army". This army of young women valiantly took the place of absent men from farms, horticulture and forestry; they came from all walks of life.
So on 6th March 1944, I became an enrolled member of the W.L.A, and was scheduled to work in dairy and arable farming which was my choice. My uniform duly arrived at my home, it consisted of:-
One dark beige knee length wool over coat
Beige felt hat with badge
Beige vertex working shirts
One light beige cotton dress shirt
Two green wool v-necked jumpers
Two pairs of khaki knee breeches
Three pairs of beige knee high wool socks
Two cotton twill dungarees
Two long sleeved cotton twill overalls with detachable buttons
One pair of Wellingtons with a thick tread
One pair of very stiff leather ankle boots
One pair of very hard heavy leather walking shoes with steel caps
One green tie and green arm band with a red crown embroidered on it.
I was sent to work to a farm in Nottinghamshire along with two other land girls. An appointed representative was to supervise our progress periodically; we could contact her anytime with any problems.
Two brothers owned the farm also, the adjacent farm. They were also haulage contractors and lived some six miles away, near to their haulage business. A farm manager ran the two farms and lived in the main farmhouse. He was a jovial Scotsman with a young family. He had farmed in Britain and Australia and under his direction the land girls were taught their daily tasks.
I lived in with the family mostly, cycling home whenever possible. The other two girls lived in the village. The farmhouse was bleak and cold. Heating came from the large coal fired black iron cooking range in the kitchen, which was let out at night, and a fire put in the sitting room. Often there was a newborn suckling piglet in a box in the kitchen, which needed a little nurturing.
The hours were long and arduous beginning at 6.00 a.m. tumbling out of bed at 5.30 a.m. in the winter shivering with cold. I'd hurriedly struggle into khaki knee breeches jumper and wellington boots and splash my face from the cold water tap in the kitchen. Then race outside to the bucket lavatory with a board over it with a hole in it. The farm manager brewed tea and quickly gulping it down, then outside whatever the weather to begin the day's work.
The girls were given their allocated tasks of the day. Milking cows was the first job. A corn feed was put into the mangers. Calling the cows in for milking meant traipsing over hills and through muck and sludge often in pouring rain, fog, and thunder and lightning. We were given hessian sacks to fasten around our shoulders and head for protection. We washed and dried the cow's udders and teats before milking. Milking was done by hand and machine. The milk was then poured into domed buckets and carried to the dairy to be filtered and cooled, fridges weren't thought of. In hot weather the churns of milk were stood in the water trough in the farmyard to keep cool. When milking time was over we ate a hearty breakfast of porridge, bacon and eggs prepared by the farmer’s wife.
After breakfast the daily work was to be done in turns. All buckets, churns and milk coolers were rinsed in cold water first to prevent a greasy film forming. The next stage was thorough washing in hot soda water using brushes of various shapes for tubing, bottles etc. The utensils were then put into a steam chest and sterilised. The cow sheds then had to he cleaned out, the manure swept in a heap and barrowed to a dung heap, which was used when well rotted for land fertilisation. The sheds were then hosed and brushed clean. The same procedure in the evening after milking.
There were also pigs, poultry and calves to be fed. Then horses and pigsties to be cleaned and barrowed to the muck heap.
In between milking, there was fieldwork to be done, type of work as to the season of the year. We were muck spreading by fork from a horse drawn cart, clearing thistles, hoeing and singling turnips and swedes, treading grass and molasses in silos for cattle winter feed. Also harvesting the hay when cut and dried by forking it into hay-cocks and lifting it up on to horse drawn carts and drays, also by tractor when petrol allowance allowed, raking the field afterwards. Planting potatoes in spring walking along the ridges, dropping a potato into it one shoe length apart, cutting hedges and cutting kale for the cows.
The cutter and binder drawn by two shire horses cut the corn harvest. The corn sheaves were stooked up with the corn heads pushed together to form a wigwam shape and left to dry out for a few days. Bare arms were badly scratched; we soon learned to cover up. The stooks when dry were lifted and stacked in the stack yard to await the threshing machine which separated the corn from the straw stalks and corn husks (chaff). The threshing machine travelled from farm to farm during the winter months. The engine which operated the threshing machine was a huge, coal fired steam engine. Threshing was an extremely dirty, dusty job. The string from the sheaves of corn was cut and the sheaves fed into a drum which separated the corn from the straw. Bags of corn husks and chopped straw were collected from one end of the machine and the ripe corn poured down a chute at the other end into two hundredweight hessian sacks. We tucked our dungaree legs into our socks as there were lots of mice running around.
In October crop of turnips and magols needed to be pulled topped and harvested. Times the ground was so hard we had to kick at the roots to loosen them. They were then taken and put into clamps near to the farm buildings for winter feed for the animals. Cartwheels were often bogged down in deep ruts, shire horses needed all their strength to pull the loaded carts clear, and the Fordson tractor also got stuck. Potatoes were also earthed up and picked in October and clamped.
During the winter months between milking, feeding animals and clearing out sheds potato clamps were opened, potatoes were then put through a potato riddle, bagged and weighed. The smallest ones, which fell through the riddle, were boiled in a coal-fired copper then mashed into pig corn and fed to pigs. one hundredweight sacks of spuds where then carted and then stored in a shed for sale. It was very heavy work, the weather was usually frosty and snow on the ground, never the less we worked up a sweat. A good thing there was a hot meal ready in the farmhouse and hot drinks. One would have to have good wholesome food to tolerate the weather condition and heavy work.
Throughout the winter months the cows were kept in their stalls and of course there was a lot of work involved in caring for them. Straw was laid down daily and harrowed to the manure heap. Calves loose boxes were strewn with straw daily on top of previous days and continued until it was two feet deep and rotted, this was called deep litter. Hay racks and mangers were filled daily with hay. Hay having been cut from the haystack with a long cutting knife with a long horizontal handle. We carried the hay on a fork on our shoulders to the byre. Turnips and Swedes harrowed from the clamps had to be chopped for the cattle. They were put through a chopper ran by a small "Lister" motor driven by a wide belt.
Mixing of corn was done daily to mix with turnips and swedes and given at milking time. So busy were the days, time just flew by. I had alway plenty to write about to my fiance serving in the RAE He once visited the farm and wanted to help. I asked him to fetch the bull in from the paddock and get behind him and keep him moving, he knew where his shed was. Well he tried and was terrified and fled; must have thought his end was nigh.
Milk delivery was another task, milk in ten gallon churns were put on an open-sided truck, then poured from the churns into a bucket and delivered to people’s door measured from the bucket into a jug. On the way picking up the daily newspapers from the shop for the farmer and the nearby cottages. I took the liberty of reading the "Daily Mail" in a quiet spot needless to say I have bought that newspaper ever since.
I learnt how to drive tractors and vehicles, which proved very useful in the years to come. I was transferred to horticulture, I didn't find so interesting as dairy or arrable farming and quickly transferred back.
German and Italian prisoners of war were used to work in farming and horticulture. You can't work alongside people and not talk to them. I befriended a German boy who had spent most of his life in Holland and spoke excellent English. He eventually married a Dutch girl and now lives in Belgium. After the war we became pen friends and he still writes every year at Christmas.
By working hard, long hours my colleagues and I were always too tired for much of a social life. The pay was a mere pittance and we couldn't afford to go out on the town. Nevertheless, we laughed and sang "I'll be with you in apple blossom time", "White Cliffs of Dover", "The Sailor with the navy blue eyes" etc. I went to the pictures once a week with a farmer's daughter and an odd dance. My fiance was posted to the Far East and I didn't see him again until the war ended.
All the ladies of the W.L.A. made a wonderful contribution to the war effort and helped to bring an end to World War II. On release from the W.L.A. all members received a personal message from Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) expressing her appreciation for the service given to the country.
CLAMPS - Heap of turnips, potatoes etc., covered in straw and earth, for keeping during winter.
This memory first appeared in the CACN magazine in 2001.
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