- Contributed by
- Eddie Gardner
- People in story:
- Marion Knocks nee Gardner
- Location of story:
- Ewell in Surrey
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 January 2004
[By Marion Knocks née Gardner.]
In May 1940, I joined the Women’s Land Army. A few years later, in January 1944, I was sent to work on an 18-acre smallholding at Ewell. It was early summer and hot, so we decided to start work early. We began at 5.30am, so that we could cut the cabbages from the fields, weigh them and bag them ready for market before the sun got too hot to spoil them.
Counting the planes in and out
From the fields, we used to count the RAF planes going over to Europe in formation. When they returned we’d count them again to see how many were missing.
On a glorious June morning of blue skies and sunshine, wave after wave of planes flew over. We counted them all as usual and guessed that something important was happening.
Hours later we heard them returning. Some were clearly limping home with damaged engines. Others were missing. We thought of the lost brave men. Were they killed, injured or taken prisoner? We stood in silence with our thoughts.
The date was 6 June 1944, known subsequently as D-Day, the day on which British and American forces invaded northern France.
Doodle-bugs and tin hats
Soon after the flying bombs started they were nicknamed doodle-bugs (after an American flying beetle). They were terrifying. We would hear the roar of the engine and see flames emerging from the back of the plane as it flew over, followed by an ominous silence when the engine stopped. Then down it came and exploded.
We were issued with tin hats and instructions to wear them lying down. Having no sort of shelter in open fields, this was all we could do. The flying bombs came over from June till September, night and day. Then the V2 rockets started. With them, there was no warning sign, only a dreadful explosion as the rocket-propelled bomb hit the ground.
Straight rows of stooks
That year we had double summer time, so it was light enough to work till 11pm while getting in the harvest. We were harvesting a neighbour’s wheat with a machine that cut and tied the bundles of corn. My friend and I set up the sheaves in stooks. The wheat stood four sheaves together, awaiting threshing, the process whereby the corn is removed from the stalks.
We had lovely straight rows of stooks running in a line down the field. Then a doodle-bug came over. As instructed, we put on our tin hats and fell down flat. When we got up again, we felt a bit shaky, to say the least. The lines of stooks we erected after that were much less steady and their direction rather less straight.
In 1946, some 18 months later, I left the Women’s Land Army because of ill health.
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