- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mavis Young
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 May 2005
I could stand most sights around the farm by now, the calving, a 13 year old cow dying. I'd pulled a pitch fork from a man's foot, and even worse, had helped when another man had fallen from the top of a hay stack and broken his neck. But as soon as I saw the enormous castrators for the bullocks taken out of the large cupboard in the kitchen, or the punch for ringing bull's noses, I had to go and hide somewhere where the poor creatures' bellows could not reach me, and stay there until it was all over. There was one other thing too rats! I cringed if I dug a dead one up with the straw whilst mucking out the milking shed or loose boxes. They would burrow into the straw for warmth, and then the animals would lay on them and they would be suffocated. The roof space of the row of cottages where I lived had no partition walls, and at night the rats would run up and down the rafters, and I would beg the herdsman at intervals to inspect the ceilings to make sure none could make their way through into the cottage. He laughed at me for being a 'townie', but realised my horror of rats when an incident occurred soon afterwards. One of the bulls refused to eat his food from his trough set in a corner of his box, and the reason why was discovered when we found rat droppings in the trough. We started to give him his food in a bucket, and stay until he had eaten it, but one day as I was waiting, the rat appeared through a small hole in the wall and started nosing about in the trough. How it got through the hole I shall never know, as it was an enormous rat, and I fled from the loose box in terror, remembering by a miracle to put the bar up on the door, and ran off to find the herdsman. He came back with me, crept into the box quietly, and before the rat could escape, had grabbed its tail and dashed it against the stone wall, breaking its neck. A true work of art in my opinion. The hole was then filled with cement and we and the bull had no more trouble.
One task I did enjoy immensely was grooming the animals chosen to go to the Royal or other shows, which after the war had recommenced. They were shampooed and brushed, tails combed, hooves cleaned and filed, and generally cosseted, and I would give each of them a kiss and a hug for luck before they were driven off. On one occasion the squire's wife went along too, and as my colleague was nervous of staying alone in the big, isolated house, I was invited to stay with her for a couple of nights. She was fortunate enough to have her own suite of rooms, sitting room, bedroom, guest room and a pale turquoise bathroom. Oh, the luxury of wallowing in hot, frothy bathsalts scented water, which came out of the tap, instead of a stone copper. And the peace of being able to relax and listen to the radio without four young voices chattering or begging me to read to them or play. Yet, strangely enough, after only two days, it began to pall, and I was happy enough to get back to the lively cottage.
I had one week end a month off, but as it was so difficult to get home, it was hardly worth it for such a short period, so with some of my village cronies I would wait for the weekly bus into Grantham. There was always a crowd of us, as housewives would take the opportunity of going to look round the market, the men would go to buy boots, cartridges, have their hair cut or order farm equipment. A few courting couples would go window shopping, and the others, like myself, were just out to enjoy themselves, which in those days meant having a meal in a cafe (always sausage and chips for me), before going to the cinema to see Judy Garland, Betty Grable or Bing Crosby. Sometimes we had to miss the end of the film in order to get the bus back to the village, when everybody would talk and laugh at the same time, relating their 'doings' in town. If the film was too good to leave, we would have to catch a bus to the nearest point to the village, about 3 miles, and walk the rest of the way home. If we didn't go into Grantham, a laughing, joking crowd of us would walk across the fields on Saturday evenings to the next, much larger village, where a dance was held in the village hall. Despite the fact that even in 'civvies' we girls were obviously in the Land Army, with our weather-beaten faces, rough hands and clod hopping dancing, we were never short of partners, as the dances were always well patronised by RAF personnel.
On Sundays, only milking and essential work were carried out, so on occasions I would join the village lads for a few hours to go rabbiting. It was quite a lucrative pastime, as people would willingly pay 2/6d. per rabbit to supplement the meagre meat ration. So off we would go armed with ferrets, spades, purse nets and rifles (I was only allowed to carry one of the guns when we were well out of sight of the village bobby). The best place to hunt rabbits was in the thick woods about a mile outside the village, and we usually managed to bag perhaps 20 or 30, although I could never bring myself to break the necks of those caught in the purse nets I had to leave that to somebody else but I did learn to skin one. In the middle of the woods was a crumbling old hall, which was said to be haunted by a young lady who fell down the stair well when the bannister gave way, many years before. We would often snoop around in daylight as access was simple, the doors rotten and sagging. Inside, the original glory of the grand house could easily be imagined by the tattered silk hanging from the walls, and the dusty, worm eaten panelling. Doors and floorboards were missing, no doubt purloined by some enterprising person for winter fuel it was still difficult to get coal and coke, which were rationed for several more years. Neglected trees and undergrowth crowded the tall, broken windows, giving the place an eerie, gloomy atmosphere. Mice nested in the fireplaces, but I never stayed long enough to discover whether other wildlife made a home of the place. One day I foolishly remarked that I would hate to be in the place on my own, so one of the lads immediately dared me to pay the hall a visit, not only on my own, but at night! A shock went through my body at the very idea, but I was even more scared of being thought a coward and being excluded from their group. And what a laughing stock I would be if it got around the village. I had to do it. A date was chosen, and armed with a torch, my limbs trembling, I reluctantly set off up the lane. To prove that I had actually been into the hall, it was agreed that I should bring a piece of the mildewed wall covering back with me. I had no trouble finding my way through the woods as I had become quite familiar with them by now, but in the daytime I hadn't noticed the creaking of the trees, the whispering of the dead leaves underfoot and the rustling of small creatures in the undergrowth. There were no owls in the daytime either, and their nocturnal hooting jarred my ragged nerves. I crossed the uneven flagged terrace to the door, and as I did so I stumbled. Regaining my balance, I thought I momentarily saw the flash of another torch, but put it down to the reflection of mine on a window. I paused in the doorway to summon up my fast failing courage, and saw the flash of light again. This time I wasn't mistaken there was someone there! For a moment I was frozen to the spot, then seeing the light moving towards me, I yelled, dropped my torch, and ran across the terrace, feet clattering and giving away the direction in which I was running. Just before diving into the woods, I heard other feet on the terrace and terror speeded me on, stumbling over tree roots and catching my face on brambles and foliage. By a miracle I found the right path, but it seemed an eternity before I was tearing down the lane to the village, gasping for breath, my heart hammering. To my horror I could still hear footsteps behind me on the tarmac surface of the lane, and I pounded along until I felt my lungs would burst, but even then thinking that whatever was chasing me wore either boots or shoes. Reaching the sanctuary of the herdsman's cottage, I threw myself at the door, slamming it shut behind me, before collapsing on the kitchen floor. The whole family quickly appeared to find out what the commotion was, but I was too breathless to speak, and as they were bending over me, gazing at my scratched face and tangled hair, there was a loud hammering at the door. Convinced that the ghost, ghoul, creature or whatever had chased me had followed me home, I watched petrified as the door was opened and one of the village lads poked his head round the door before entering. Over a welcome cup of tea he explained that to make sure I didn't welsh on my bet he had followed me, successfully keeping out of sight until I had reached the hall, but then giving himself away. He had then run after me, hoping to catch me up and identify himself to allay my fears. Of course we were able to laugh about it afterwards, until I realised that I hadn't brought back any proof of my visit, but the lad said he would confirm that I had carried out my mission. For a short time afterwards I was accorded VIP treatment, and even got free 'pink pop' at the pub for a week. Thankfully the secret never leaked out that I had been chased by a 'ghost'.
Although the war had been over for nearly a year now, it never occurred to me what I could do with my life when the Land Army was eventually disbanded. Perhaps I didn't !want! to think about it and hoped that things would stay as they were indefinitely. Then, one day, an inspector called from the Milk Marketing Board, together with an official from our headquarters in Sleaford, and brought the subject up. I had got to know the inspector quite well during her routine visits, and she must have passed on some favourable reports about my work, as my Land Army boss informed me that when the time came for me to end my associations with the Women's Land Army, there would be a place for me in the office of the Milk Marketing Board if I was interested. If I was interested? I was delighted to think that I would still be able to continue my contacts with dairy farming, as, although I was still besotted with the animals, I had become very interested in all aspects of my work, devouring the 'Farmer's Weekly' and 'Farmer and Stockbreeder' as soon as they were delivered. (It was whilst reading one of these publications on the train going home one weekend, that I struck up a conversation with a sailor, who in civilian life was a farmer, but I lost interest very quickly when I learned he was a pig farmer!!) The herdsman would kindly spend a lot of time explaining the finer points of breeding, feeding, equipment etc. and I began to look forward to a whole new career in time.
However, it was not to be, as soon afterwards my mother was taken into hospital for a serious operation, and, after visiting her, it was made plain to me by both my parents that I should be required at home to take care of her. Indeed, plans were already afoot to obtain my release from the Land Army. I returned to my work with a heavy heart, and although I knew I had no option, I was shattered when my release came through. I kissed all my friends goodbye, with the usual promises to write and visit, which I was able to do now and again. The adjustment to city life was long and painful, and when my mother finally recovered her health, I went into secretarial work, but I was only happy when I was able to escape to the countryside and wide open spaces at weekends and holiday times.
I am now a member of the British Women's Land Army Association, and when I attend the Reunions, together with hundreds of other ex Land Girls, nobody stands under the Union Flag and sings 'Land of Hope and Glory' more lustily than we do. And I think, given the chance, we would all have marched off to the Falklands during the crisis to offer our help. And it isn't the hard work, long hours and early rising we talk about most, but the humour of the many situations we found ourselves in, the friends we made, the patriotism, and most of all, of our pride in a job well done.
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