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15 October 2014
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Why the Land Army?icon for Recommended story

by Ian Billingsley

Contributed by 
Ian Billingsley
People in story: 
Marjorie Waterhouse
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
03 May 2005

Marjorie and the CO-OP horse


Because I had always loved the countryside and the animals.


That would be July 7th, 1941 when I was twenty years old.


My first experience, has to be credited to a farm near Carlisle. The start of my years of hard labour. On my first day, I was awakened at 0600hrs and put to work straight away. We didn't even get a drink let alone anything to eat. Then, it was off to learn how to milk the cows; how it made my wrists ache. And after all that, I had to carry the heavy churns to the feeding calves before I was finally given breakfast at 0830hrs.

I, like many of the Land Girls, learned to stay clear of the cow's tail as it swished away at the flies. It really stung when it hit you in the face.

More treats were to come. After breakfast I was given the delightful job of crawling up and down the fields, with sacking tied around my knees thinning turnips; what a wonderful job. In fact the easiest job I ever had, was taking a horse over to the Smithy to be shod. I rode all the way there on the cart.

The nicest thing that ever happened whilst I was there was finding a newly born calf on the pebble bank of the River Eden. I carried it back up to the farm. I was followed all the way back, by its mother. She was continually mooing as we went.

We also had a quite few horses on the farm. One was called 'Old Bones'. The poor thing was twenty years old.

One day, whilst working on the hay turning machine, I had a fright. The reins on the horse that I had been given, were too short. Of course after a while I managed to drop them. I lunged forward grabbing the horse's tail as I fell. I shouted for it to stop. The hay turning machine was going all over the place. She did stop eventually, but I could quite easily have fallen under the machine.

The farmer's daughter and I used to feed the hens with a mixture called 'Croudie'. It was made up of water and meal. I could hardly carry a bucket of water let alone the meal as we had to walk quite a distance to the huts. It wasn't a problem for her though, she was a tough girl.

One day I was sent to clean the hen huts out. I was really scrubbing them to ensure that I got every bit of hardened dirt off, when one of the farm lads said to me. "You're not polishing a piano you know." I hadn't quite finished them by lunch time and was very upset when the farmer's wife called me a 'lazy bones'.

A representative from the Land Army called to see me whilst I was mowing thistles with a scythe, (not a sickle). I was dressed in my wellies, raincoat and Sou'ester as it was throwing it down. She asked me if everything was alright. I said yes, but I really should have told her what was going on.

We hardly had anything to eat and there was never a kind word spoken to us. The two farm lads and myself had two cheese sandwiches wrapped in newspaper to eat whilst we were working in the fields. That was our morning's food. In the afternoon we were given jam sandwiches and a bottle of cold tea. Our last meal was at 1830hrs. There was nothing else until breakfast the next morning, not even a drink. Supper consisted of a ration of bread and veg'. Always the same amount and certainly not enough for the three of us. The lads used to eat very quickly so they could get more. I soon learned to eat just as quick after missing out so many times.

I remember once, after the lads had finished their meal and I was sat at the table finishing my cup of tea, the farmer's wife came in and pushed the bench under the table with me still sat on it. She never even said a word. Thankfully, I was soon to be moved on.

I was sent to an hostel called 'Merrythought', which was situated seven miles from Penrith. The day I arrived it was raining. I couldn't understand why nobody was working. It was explained to me later, that they were 'rained off'. Something I'd never heard of during my time at the other farm. We were sent out to work on the various farms from 'Merrythought'; sometimes by bike and sometimes by lorry. They were great days and we were always singing.

Edna, Marjorie, Edna, Monica on leave.

In Cumbria there is a wind called 'The Helm Wind'. We were still out working in this one day, with sacks fastened around our heads and shoulders. A passing lorry driver remarked that we should all be given a medal for working in such a gale. Even though it was hard, we did manage to have a few laughs. We were sorting potatoes once, the puzzled farmer couldn't understand why the machine wasn't working. It wasn't until he noticed that Doreen was leaning on the button, he figured out why. We used to call her 'Doreen never worry' as nothing ever bothered her.

Two very good pals were getting married. Paula Anderman and Leo Wolffe, (they were Austrian refugees). The ceremony took place at Penrith Registry Office. After the ceremony, three of us went off to use the toilet in the main square and when we came back they had all gone. We didn't know where the reception was being held, so we walked around the town asking people if they had seen a couple, that looked as if they'd just been married.

Two girls coming back off leave told us how they had seen their train leaving the station, so they ran like mad and jumped on. Before they had even got their breath back, they were tickled to find out, that it was actually pulling in. Also, there were two girls who came home one evening, saying that they had been working as scarecrows all day.

Marjorie and the Co-op horse.

On one of the farms, the farmer's wife called us in to her front room saying; "You haven't seen a photo of our Robert have you?" She took us over to a photograph that was hanging on the wall. Apparently it was taken at a show whilst he was leading a horse around a ring. All very well, you might think, but at the time it was taken, he was behind a pillar and all we could see of him was his leg sticking out of one side, and his arm and hand on the other. We could hardly contain our laughter. Even after all these years, I am still in touch with ten of my old mates, which I might add, is very nice.

Marjorie Waterhouse, Harrogate,
N. Yorkshire.

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