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15 October 2014
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KEEPING THE COWS MILKED IN CAMBRIDGE: Women's Land Army

by cambsaction

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
cambsaction
People in story: 
Miss Frances Walls
Location of story: 
Cambridge
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A4139200
Contributed on: 
01 June 2005

[This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Frances Walls and has been added to the site with her permission. Miss Walls fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.]

I was in the Land Army. I took after my father who had been a groom, and loved animals. I was sent to Bristol first of all. It was a large farm with 200 head of cattle and we had to milk them all by hand. There were still some men there and they put me in charge of the young stock. We sat on the boundary of four counties so I had a lot of trouble getting a ration book. Each place said I wasn’t in their area.

The farm took a direct hit with a bomb, being near Bristol, and most of the cattle were killed. I had to bury the dead cattle. There was one left alive in a hedge and when I tried to get it out, it went for me…it was so frightened. It took six men to get it out.

After the bomb, I was sent to Cambridge. There were about 26 of us — we all had to meet up at Victoria Station. When we were on the train, going past fields, we passed cows and I said, “We’ll soon be milking them.” Some of the girls who were from London said, “Are they cows? They’re big!” When we got to Cambridge, they gave in their notice. It was a pity because there were other jobs they could have done in the country, apart from cattle.

At first, I worked for Dr Houghton and lived at her house in Adams Road. She had asked for help with her two home cows and some other small animals but there wasn’t enough work so she found me a job at the University farm nearby. It was where they trained students to be vets and they had to learn to use the old-fashioned equipment as well as the new stuff.

The calves were taken away from the cows at two days old and it was my job to rear them, as well as orphaned pigs and lambs. We also did the milking and lots of the girls got ‘kicked out’ by the cows. But I was taught how to hold the cow’s leg - here [under the armpit]. We used to cut up the turnips and parsnips for feed, and had sharpening wheels for the knives.

You had so many different jobs. If you were muckspreading, you had to follow the horse and cart around and shake out the clumps and spread it about. When the corn was cut, you had to spread it out to dry first, before it could go through the threshing machine. It was old fashioned, not like the big machines now.

You used to pile the hay into ricks but when you took the hay away to use it, the rats would be nesting in there and the Land Army girls used to have to kill them. You put elastic around your ankles to stop them running up. Some of the girls wore shorts - you weren’t supposed to but it was out in the country so no one said anything.
I still have my Land Army tie- it’s all worn out now. I wore it for a long time because I was in the Land Army for all of the war and they didn’t give you new ones.

Dr Houghton took in refugees; we all lived in her house. When the war ended, I got a job at the King’s College Choir School which was just along the road. I stayed there for 28 years.

I hadn’t grown up with my family - I grew up in a children’s home. My father was killed in the First World War. My mother had 9 children and couldn’t keep all of us. My sister was 13 or 14 and was looking after us but the Stepney Board of Guardians [East End of London] thought she was too young. They took us away. I was only 3 months old… but we all kept in touch over the years.

I never went to school because I had bad anaemia. You didn’t have a choice where they sent you after the Home - I worked in the laundry at a convent. From the convent, I went to a mission in the East End [of London] and when war broke out, the cook said to me, “Join the Land Army, and get away!” I never regretted it… I loved animals.

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