- Contributed by
- Hazel Yeadon
- People in story:
- Joyce Towler (nee Young)
- Location of story:
- Darlington, Co DurhamJOYCE TOWLER (nee Young)
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 December 2005
Joyce and the group of girls she worked with
JOYCE TOWLER (nee Young)
WOMEN’S LAND ARMY
Joyce was brought up in Sunderland, then Newcastle. Her Dad worked on the railways and she had two sisters. At 14 she went to the ‘Dole School’ at Shotley Bridge to train for domestic service. Though trained in baking, she ended up making uniforms for 16s. 0d. a week and remembers there being 28 buttons to sew on a pair of trousers.
I volunteered in December and was called up to Consett on 14 February 1942. Mr Wellam came from Houghall for six volunteers for nursery work at Merrybent, Low Coniscliffe. We left in an air raid, some with him in one car and some with Lady Starmer, the Welfare Officer, and we were taken to ‘Craiglea’ hostel in Uplands Road in Darlington. Here I shared a bedroom with Joan Collinson who has been a friend every since (see P. ). I remember the lounge being ‘unadulterated’ luxury having a red carpet, thought there were bare boards elsewhere. There were no showers, but two baths, one upstairs and one down and sometimes we would get in two at a time to save water. We would also sleep two to a bed when it was very cold, so we could have two lots of bedding on top. At these times water could be running down the walls. We were allowed boyfriends until 9.30 pm. The first year I was in the hostel, John Polworth from the BBC, came to do a programme about the different forces and how they were coping. They broadcast us having Christmas lunch ~ we only went through the motions, as there was no meal until 6pm, when the crew stayed and ate with us.
At first I travelled by trolley bus to Edinburgh Drive, then walked to the nurserv, then I used to ride an ex Post Office bike with a cross bar, which took 20 minutes. There were 56 very long greenhouses growing tomatoes. There was one man and three girls to six greenhouses. The men stoked the boilers to heat the greenhouses. All the soil had to be steamed to sterilise it and we also would shovel it onto a sieve and the stones had to go in a barrow and be tipped out. Some of the men workers were ‘savage’ and wanted to get the women down, but it just made us more determined ~ someone put a frog in a girl’s pocket; they would ask us to go for a bucket of steam and some gullible girls would go; and they would also asked for the ‘tartan’ hosepipe. We got blisters on our hands that burst and were bleeding and one of the men said ‘Those are the only medals you’ll get in this War’ ~ sadly, the Land Army girls didn’t receive a war medal.
We had to deal with bags of lime which had split and I was sneezing and wheezing so instead I was told to go in the propagating greenhouses, watering little plants, which was warm but boring. When the plants were moved, the men did double digging ~ a layer of muck, then one of soil. We had to care for the thousands of plants, removing side shoots. The plants were trained on a wire to go up to the top of the greenhouse and then we had to climb up to collect the tomatoes and we were humping steps around. We tied an old sack around our necks and put them in and I feel that’s why I have a bad neck now. There was a packaging shed and local woman with children would pack them into cardboard boxes. They were graded ~ ‘pinks’ were big, ‘pink and white’ were average and the mishapes ‘blue and white’ and ‘blue’ were sold to cafes to make soup. The nursery belonged to the Co-op and their vans distributed them.
One group of girls had the job of rat catching. They put poison down and went to collect the dead ones. They didn’t like the term ‘Rat Catchers’ and preferred ‘Rodent Operators’.
When we had free time, we would go to The Mayor’s Canteen in Skinnergate for a cup of tea and a chat with all the forces. Sometimes we weren’t allowed in, and at other times we were, but couldn’t have the nice cakes. We used to go to the Majestic Cinema where an organ came up out of the floor. We were all singing at the front one day and the organist came over and said ‘who’s the singer?’. It was me and I was asked to go one Sunday morning for an audition and was told ‘I want to book you for a week’. The boss said he would let me have an hour off a night, unpaid, and I ended up singing twice a night on stage, in between the films. I remember one night when a man climbed on stage and shouted ‘Down with Churchill, down with the King’. He had escaped from Winterton Hospital and six soldiers removed him and I said ‘How do I follow that’!.
Two weeks later I was at a dance at The Masonic Hall when Harry Parker’s band was playing and he asked me to sing with his band and I was with him for four years. I would sing on a Saturday night or when it fitted in with work ~ when it was what we called from ‘can’t, to can’t ~ can’t see in the morning, until can’t see at night’! I would sing songs like “We’ll meet again”, “Silver Wings in the Moonlight” and “How Sweet your Are”. There were five or six in the band, or sometimes it was a full band of 12 or 13. I got paid 10s. a time and never wanted for a dress, as all the girls at the hostel had bridesmaid dresses I could use.
On VE Day we went to the nursery but were told we could go home and have the day off. On VJ Day I remember jiving on the roof of a shelter in Darlington market square and an army band playing.
Edith, my friend, had a boyfriend who was a pilot stationed at Middleton St. George. The pilots would take off and circle round over the nursery until they all got in the air, then do a ‘wings’ roll’. I can remember one time when her boyfriend was putting the gramophone on and Edith and I were dancing ~ it was ‘The song of the rose’ with the words ‘gather me, all though my slender stem you sever, you know I cannot live forever, so take me while you may’ ~ I could never sing the song after the night he didn’t return!
Joyce met her husband after the war and moved with him to York, Hereford, then Stockton where he worked in the Parks Department. She worked in Rembrant dressers after bringing up her family. She retired to Barnard Castle and has been known for her singing with Connie Sinclair and Stan Evans.
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