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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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by saxonwood

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Dorothy Gulliver; the Downes family
Location of story: 
Astley Grange, Shropshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
19 May 2005

As a student in wartime, I was urged to undertake in university vacations, "work to help the war effort". What young woman aged 19, would today need parental consent for such a task? After my experience in a munitions factory, I was at last allowed to work on the land if a local farmer would employ me. My parents had themselves been evacuated to Shrewsbury, and in August 1942 the local Agricultural Office sent me to Astley Grange to help with the grain harvest.
In those days few farms had a tractor, and combine harvesters were quite unknown, so my job was to 'lead home' the carts as they were loaded with the cut corn. Farm workers had set up the sheaves into stooks, or mows, as they were called locally,and when the grain was sufficiently dry they tossed the mows up onto the cart which a patient horse was pulling. When the cart was full, I led the horse from the cornfield back to the barn, where other men transferred the sheaves to a growing stack; threshing would take place later in the year. Meanwhile I took an empty cart out to the field, where the men had begun loading a third cart.
People were usually cheerful, although the men did grumble about badly made stooks, "Eyetie mows" , which I eventually translated as stooks set up by Italian prisoners of war from a nearby camp. Back and forth I trudged, my legs scratched by the stubble of corn stalks, cheered occasionally when the farmer sent me out with refreshment for the workers - that's when I learned to drink from a bottle.
For the lunch break, I was invited to eat with the Downes family in the farm kitchen, but first I must unharness the horses and lead them to the stable for their meal. A perilous job it seemed at first; the horses weren't malicious, but they were huge animals with great hairy feet dangerously near mine!
If work lasted till afternoon, the men were called back for milking, and I was given the glorious job of gleaning, riding high on a horse-drawn rake, that combed up remaining ears of grain; nothing must be wasted.
As a Londoner, these experiences were all new to me, and I realise now it was picture-book stuff, the horses, the stacking, and being invited to ride on top of the loaded cart for the last journey of the day. Today when I see the great rolls of cornstalks and know that the corn has been cut, threshed and stored all in a few hours, I realise farming has made progress, but I'm glad to have known how it was for countless generations in the past.

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