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15 October 2014
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The Swing of a Lanternicon for Recommended story

by Ian Billingsley

Contributed by 
Ian Billingsley
People in story: 
Kay Riddell
Location of story: 
Herne Bay, Kent.
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
03 May 2005


My earliest memories of the war is trying to sort out my kit. There was an assortment of green jumpers, dungarees, cord jodhpurs, socks, great-coat and all sorts of other items. They were all spread out on the floor of the dining room. Great excitement! Then came the journey.
The next day, I was heading for London en-route for Herne Bay. I remember how I panicked when the chap who had taken charge of my suitcase during the train journey, refused to hand it back to me unless I agreed to go with him to his flat, (all this in the gloom of Kings Cross Station). In the end he relented I'm glad to say. My pleas must have got to him. This was the first time I had travelled on my own and I must have been greener than my W.L.A. jumpers.
The hostel at Herne Bay was a pretty grim place. Most of us, (all rookies) were assigned to a trainee farm run by a Miss Smith and a profoundly deaf young girl called Daphne.
As we cycled to the farm on that first morning, we were almost overcome by a powerful smell of gas. We later found out, that one of the girls had gassed herself because she was having a baby to a married man. She had been one of the hostel elite; a rat catcher. They always seemed to look glamorous. Maybe it was the Gabardine breeches they wore?
Life at the trainee farm wasn’t so bad. Miss. Smith and Daphne enjoyed a fairly tempestuous relationship and when Daphne ran away - for reasons unknown — Miss. Smith asked me to have tea with her in the big house. Happily Daphne returned and I was spared further attention.
It was here, we learnt how to care for the cattle and I learnt to smoke. Oh that first heady breath amongst the newly lain straw of the cow sheds. It was so wonderful to go home on leave. Trains were absolutely packed with soldiers and other members of the Armed Forces.
I was then sent to St. Mary’s Bay and lived with Mr. and Mrs. Caffyn and their daughter Mary in an isolated cottage, literally in the middle of nowhere. I have memories of the hard snow crunching under my boots, and swinging a lantern as I walked from the cottage to the farm, in the dark of a winter's morning to begin the milking.
Mr. Caffyn was the head cow-man. At home he was the quietest and gentlest of men, but in the sheds he was someone else. Harsh treatment was metered out to the cows for any small misdemeanour. One cow was beaten to her knees for going into the wrong Byre. How she bellowed. I hated him! My crying was to no avail. In spite of forming a friendship with Mary Caffyn, I wasn't happy at this place and left after only two months.
My next place was with the Brightling family in a small village near Ashford. Mr. and Mrs. Brightling were in their early thirties, and had two young sons, Richard and Godfrey. Both were destined for Public School.
The work on the farm was divided between a farm labourer, myself and several German P.O.W.’s. Mr. Brightling himself, seemed to be here, there and everywhere. It was during this time I became very proficient at milking. It really was gratifying, as at first I found it very difficult.
At some point, the family began taking paying guests into their very large attractive home as a result of the farm not doing so well, (no C.A.P. then). Neither of them, it seemed to me, were suited to farming. In retrospect, I had a lot of fun, mostly with Mr. Brightling who was always teasing me. One night he came into by bedroom but I pretended to be asleep and he left.
Richard and Godfrey were quite upset when Yorkshire C.C. beat Kent that year. I hope I didn't crow. And then there was Reg, a neighbouring farmer with whom I made love too under the moon of that long hot summer. Mmmm... When I left, he said he would never get over it but I'm sure he did.
The last period of my Land Army days, was spent in the South of England in a hostel in New Romney. I shared a bunk with Joyce from Middlesborough. We both worked at ‘Rooklands’ Farm which was a seven mile cycle journey away. It was a free for all with the bikes and if you had no experience of maintaining the machine you grabbed, you were in trouble.
I have biked along with inner tubes hanging out, no rear lights and even remember on one occasion, stripping off both wobbling tyres and throwing them into a dyke. I then cycled on the unclad rims. I remember the time we all got nits in our hair, lying awake nights, stiff with horror at the thought of them patrolling our heads.
Here are some scraps from my diary.
October 24th 1945.
Among other things, helped Syd catch a horse, assisted Bert in sorting sheep, littered the calves, loaded sugar beet tops and drove the tractor for the first time. It’s hellishly cold. My hands have started splitting. The Germans joined Joyce and myself round the boiler fire at dinner time. Much laughter.
That Evening.
Joyce, Maureen, Ginger etc, (and me) biked nine miles to a dance at the army camp in Hythe. Enjoyed a good time and had supper. The dance ended at 0100. The bike ride back nearly killed me. I thought I’d never make it.
November' 30th Saturday.
Went over to Newchurch with Pete, Les and Podge, bailing straw. They had me up on the threshing machine band cutting. I cut my fingers to ribbons with the knife.
Cycling back to the hostel, it poured down and I was soaked through.
December 6th Friday.
Lil, one of the cows, broke her neck trying to get to the calf she had been separated from (it was calling to her) She lay there half frozen in the field. I felt very sad all that morning.

Kay Riddell, Leeds, Yorkshire.

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