"There had been fun on Sunday afternoons, so when we’d go into Market Harborough [a small market town] and spend our meager pay on anything that we could find to eat."
I joined up when I was 16. You had to be 17 and a half to join the other services, but I did not want to wait. So I’d gone with a group of volunteers to Northampton [England]. We had been issued our uniforms before leaving London and I’d be proudly self-conscious of this first airing of our smart dress uniform and had done a considerable amount of swanning about.
The outfit consisted of beige ripcord breeches or riding breeches, warm weather cream coloured wool golf stockings to the knee, and brown oxfords, a cream coloured airtech [netting-like fabric] shirt under an emerald green woolen long sleeve V-neck pullover. A fawn coloured knee length overcoat; and the coat was known as a bum warmer or more politely, a British warm [short, thick overcoat]. And we wore fawn coloured pork pie hats with a dark green band and the badge.
The first morning we went out and we were sent out on bikes. Old hulks of bikes and we made big jokes that they were leftover from the last war. And we wore our working clothes now. We wore bib and brace overalls, and black army boots. We had been told in London that we’d only work for half days for the first week or two, so as to become accustomed. But things had not worked out that way. I think it had been the end of August or September, possibly September, because of my birthday. And it was unusually hot.
Our group of about six or eight had been taken to a large field full of stooks, as they called the large bundles of flax that were scattered on the ground. The purpose of the exercise had been to pick up the stooks and stand them in groups of four or five, each stook supporting the rest. This would allow them to dry. And flax is like a bramble bush, impossible to work with without getting scratched. We had worked until about 5: 00, then cycled three miles back to barracks in a more sober mood than when we had started in the morning.
And then there was threshing to be done. We, the ‘land girls’ [British Women’s Land Army], were usually put into the dusty hole between the stack and the machine. And it would be our job to supervise the chute down which flew the chaff after the threshing had been done. There were four hooks around the bottom of this square chute, upon which hung a large gunny sack. When the sack was full, it had to be quickly ripped off the hooks and replaced with an empty one. The full one was then hastily tied with a length of twine and thrown onto a big pile of ones. All this had to be done before the other sack began to overflow. That’s one of the jobs.
As in all armies, the old hands got the cushy jobs. Some of the land girls even lived in the farmhouses with the farm families, getting smashing grub and all the home comforts. Myself and the rest of my crew had to make do with the horribly ruined food that was thrust at us by some slatternly local women who worked in the kitchen. A new meal was packed for us and had consisted of a thermos of tea, two very dry sandwiches, one scabby cooking apple for dessert, the apple having to be watched for little wormy heads popping up. And breakfast had been porridge every morning with the addition of an egg on Sunday. And the evening meal had usually been a dish of ‘twice’ cooked ground meat mixed with vegetables, a horrible version of shepherd’s pie. We would wonder aloud who had been served the original roast, whose leftovers had supplied the ground meat for those poisonous casseroles.
There had been fun on Sunday afternoons, so when we’d go into Market Harborough [a small market town] and spend our meager pay on anything that we could find to eat. Often that evening, we would cycle over to the nearby ack-ack [anti-aircraft] battery, that’s an artillery battery, where we would join the young lads in their common room. There we would dance to a gramophone, talk and drink tea. Later, we would walk home in a straggling mob down the dark country lanes. The lads gallantly pushing the girls’ bicycles, while we all sang nostalgic songs about war and peace, and love.