- Contributed by
- Leeds Libraries
- People in story:
- Mrs. Betty Olsen
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 September 2004
In 1942 I joined the Women’s Land Army (W.L.A.). A month later I received my uniform, consisting of 2 pairs of cord brown breeches, 2 green pullovers, 2 pairs of knee length brown wool socks, 2 airtex shirts, a ¾ length brown overcoat, an outback raincoat khaki in colour, a velour hat with a Land Army badge, 2 pairs of black leather boots, 2 pairs of brown leather shoes, 3 pairs of khaki coloured dungarees, 2 khaki milking jackets, 2 pairs of puttees and 1 pair of size 9 Wellington boots.
When my papers came through I was told to go North Creake in North Norfolk on the 31st August. It was quite a sunny morning when I awoke on the 31st. I was excited although sad because I was leaving home for the first time. My father took me to Leeds Central Railway Station on Wellington Street. The platform was crowded with thousands of W.L.A. girls from the Leeds and Bradford area. The 8.00am train arrived and my father handed me the two Gladstone bags I had packed with my spare uniform and a few other clothes. The train set off with lots of steam emerging from the engine. I looked out through the train window; but my father had already left the station because he did not want to see me leave. The train seemed to travel faster and faster until we finally arrived in Peterborough where we disembarked onto the platform and crossed the footbridge to the platform on the other side. Eventually the Norwich and Yarmouth train arrived and we bundled ourselves with our belongings onto the train. Unfortunately, one girl’s suitcase opened and she lost everything on the line.
At each station on the way W.L.A girls would alight to go to her farm or hostel to live and go to work at. I finally arrived at Fakenharm station where myself and 39 other W.L.A girls alighted. We were met by officials who welcomed us and told us we were to be taken to the Shooting Box Hostel, which belonged to Lord and Lady Leicester. We were lifted and helped into 2 lorries. Each lorry took 20 girls and held wooden seats and was covered with a canvas top.
Fakenharm was a small market town, which had shops, small houses, a picture house and a dentist surgery. The town also has a lovely small Catholic church. We travelled up the hill and I saw all the field of ripening corn, barley and oats. Further along I also saw fields of sugar beet, potatoes; all good agriculture land. We passed the villages of Small and Large Snoring and I learnt later that all the road signs had been removed in case of invasion.
We travelled for a further 6 miles and passed through South Creake, which had a row of small brick cottages with small square windows. Small wooden doors led to well tended gardens. There was also a narrow stream flowing outside the front of the gardens with stone flags to form a bridge to the front gates. There was a small factory and a red brick village hall with steps leading up to the front wooden doors. Inside the lighting was supplied by large oil lamps hung from six heavy chains in the ceiling. Chairs had been placed along the walls at the far end of the hall and there was a stage where the band played for the fortnightly dance. The band consisted of a fiddle, accordion, drums and a vocalist. I remember the dances were very lively. A few miles outside the village is the Shrine of Walsingham.
On the way to North Creake there was a farm then a long wall approaching a large detached house, which had a W.L.A. logo of a sheath of corn in the centre, which was later stolen. The journey had been very long and tiring. We arrived at North Creake about 6.30pm. The lorries turned into a large open space at the back of the house. We went into the house through the front door and a roll call was taken where it was realised that 6 of the girls had gone on past Peterborough. They eventually arrived very tired at 1.30am. I fell out of my top bunk to show Mary her drawers and wardrobe. We were sleeping in bedroom 9 with 8 of us sharing it sleeping on 4 double bunks.
The house contained a library (lounge), dining room, kitchen and a large hallway with a beautiful oak staircase. We were not allowed upstairs in shows in case we marked the wood. There was a huge landing leading off to the bedrooms and a door in the corner leading to the toilet, which had a wooden lid and a brass handle on the side to flush. Down the passage was another bathroom with a large bath in the middle of the floor and along the wall were separate washbasins. There was a flight of stairs leading up to attic bedrooms, which were quite sparse and were probably servant’s rooms. It was a beautiful house with a fireplace and bell pulls in every room. We had outside toilets that I remember were too cold in winter and a boot room where a day’s work we had to clean our working boots with dubbing and leave them on the racks before going into the house. We usually had a wash then lit the lounge fire if it was out which I remember it usually was. We put the radiogram on which the landlord of the Black Swan gave to us that we used to play our only record — “The lady is a tramp” and danced with each other. Later we had dinner which was usually not up our expectation the back to dancing or sitting quietly to write our letters home and then up to bed because we were early to bed and early to rise except on Saturdays which was dance night when we could stay out until 10.00pm. If we were late the matron locked the door and we had to wait outside until she let us in.
We worked in teams of twenty. I worked with my best friends; little Betty and Mary. We were always the best of friends all the time we were there and were more like sisters. We were out early doing all the field work, which was very hard; but rewarding. We came home tired and hungry. When we working on sprouts, cabbages Gus, our foreman used to wrap harding sacks around our legs and bodies tied with string as the conditions were very wet — we looked like Bill and Ben the flower pot men. We did quite of lot of hoeing. Some of the fields were 100 acres. I remember that when you got to the end of your row you just laid down on the ground with the pebbles and stones sticking in your back waiting for the other girls to catch up then getting up and working back again. We also had to burn the stubble which was the straw left behind after harvesting.
Outside opposite the Shooting Box was a row of cottages finished off in the typical Norfolk architecture. They had small square windows and a wooden door. Further long the road there were more cottages, identical with the ones down the road. In one of the houses a lady sold apples. I went to buy some for my mother when I was gong home on leave. I had never seen so many piled up in the front room, which was full. Next door was the village post office, selling stamps, sweets, clothes, toys. It was a very small shop so everything was cramped in.
Down a small path to the left was North Creake hall where we had the other Saturday dance and evening services on Sunday were held here Sunday nights. It was a bright and cheerful place.
Opposite the post office was a small row of cottages in between which was a small incline called Cherry Hill. Half way up the incline was a well I remember seeing a lady with a yoke around her shoulders. She had filled two buckets of water from the well and was taking to back to her house, as some of the houses in the village did not have water laid on. Up at the top of the hill was Mr and Mrs Arnot’s house. We used to go there for supper of cheese onion and bread on Sunday nights. The lights were from two beautifully decorated oil lamps, which were placed on the table. It was so warm and comfortable with a happy atmosphere just talking, listening and enjoying each other’s company; the Arnots were very good to us.
Along the road at the bottom of the hill the lovely church was on the right up a short winding path, built with the typical pebbles and cement. Some of the girls were invited for supper at the vicarage. They said it was very nice. The vicar’s wife due to bread rationing asked each one in turn how many slices they could eat and they usually said one or two. She would then cut how many pieces were needed. After supper the girls would wash up. The enamel washing up bowl had a piece of rag in the hole in the bottom. It was a lovely evening for them.
Further along the road past the church was the village school. The windows and doors were painted green. Outside the pavement was the red telephone box situated at the end of the Y junction. On the left was the village blacksmith who I sometimes watched shoeing horses. It was the local garage as well. He also ran the local bus too. On the right there was another pub and next door was a small bakery selling mostly bread.
Just around the corner from the junction was the village pond with a few ducks and a further row of older type cottages all the same architecture. This road leads to Stanhoe. My friend Mary married one of the lads who came home on leave from the navy to Creake and they settled in a house on Stanhoe Hill. My other friend Betty met Sid in Creake and they settled in Bognor Regis in 1944. I settled down with my Dick when he came home on leave from the navy. We had 51 years of love and happiness together.
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