BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

A Landgirl's Memories of WW2

by fredonland

Contributed by 
People in story: 
The Bayford family
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 March 2004

My father, Alfred, was born 29/9/07 into a large East End family of which he was the eldest brother of eleven surviving children .. He became a railway worker straight from school and married my mother Ellen ,on September 5 1931, On the outbreak of war in 1939 he joined the ARP and,was eventually conscripted into the Royal Engineers , Field Park Company 207 , a territorial unit based at Shepton Mallet in Somerset. He was greeted at his recruitment with the instruction , “ Sign here , driver.” On remarking that he was not a driver, he was told “You are now.” He did his basic training at Aldershot and Ashford before embarking for the continent and landing at Dunkirk on the sixth day following the D day landings. He and his pal , Ken Stapleton had the task of delivering purefied water to the allied combattants. He served throughout the latter stages of the war in France, where he was fortunate to survive enemy bombardment of his vehicle at Caen..After service in Belgium and Holland, participating in the evacuation of allied troops from the bridge at Arnhem , he survived another near miss at Nijmegen . He left his truck to search a ruined house when an explosion threw him to the ground . On coming round he discovered, under his hand, a crucifix which he treasures to this day . It hangs on the wall of his sheltered accomodation. He still speaks of the wonderful welcome he received from all the families who were liberated . Finally , he was demobbed after peace was declared in May 1945.
My mother was born in Bow ,East London, on 18/4/07, and named Ellen after her mother as the second child in a family of four . Elder brother Joe , named after his father , was to become a special constable during the blitz.. Her younger sister ,Dora, joined the land army.. After leaving school Ellen worked as a tailoress, a career which was only interrupted during the war years when, with her young son, Donald, she went to live with her youngest brother in St. Albans. There she worked as a fitter on mosquito bombers in a De Havilland aircraft factory until the end of the war when the family was reunited at their home in Dagenham, Essex.

Early in the war years , in the autumn of 1939, Ellen wrote to her mother recounting an experience of the blitz.:-

Dear Mum
Thanks for letter. I have been filling in my ration books. I am going to register at the Coop. I suppose you are too. It's a bit awkward with Doras'isn't it but the farmers' wife has hers, I suppose.
We had some excitement here yesterday afternoon. I suppose you read about it in the newspapers. I was busy, hanging out the washing and Don was in the front, looking out of the window at the children, when the guns started to fire. I knew it wasn't practice as it sounded different and quite near. You could hear the whizz of the shell. We were all surprised and everybody came out in the garden. Somebody started to shout to get in, so we went down the shelter, but by this time the aeroplane was flying away and we saw it surrounded by little puffs of smoke. Don said it's alright to Pat, don't cry,it's only the Germans dropping bombs. We had to laugh. As though that was nothing to make a fuss about.It was so quick, I didn't have time to be afraid and ,being daylight, we could see what was happening. That's the nearest they have been so far and things are livening up.
Do the days seem long now that we have that extra hour? One thing the winter will seem shorter for waiting to put the clocks back. Roll on summer! What say you? It will seem a funny Christmas this year, won't it? I hope Dora will be home with you over the holiday, although , of course, work is also important. This darn war! I shall be jolly glad when it's over.
They are sending some more children away from Dagenham, so they evidently are despairing of evacuation, in spite of the many returning. I bet Joe and Lizzie will miss Roy, although he will be all right. It's the parents who are unhappy and ,perhaps, it's best that way.
Well Cheerio and hope for the best. Love from us all.
Nellie, Alf and Don


Dear Mum
I have just written to Dora. I expect she likes to have letters. I know Vic and Joe are not good letter writers, so I write as often as I can and ,of course, she hears from you.
As you say it's a pity that bomb went off too late in that beer garden, but better luck next time. Anyhow, I bet it upset his slumber for a bit.**
(**There is no context for this remark, but the reference to the "beergarden" and the tone of the remark suggests that it relates to a near miss in an attempt to kill Herr Hitler).
Alf went to his mothers on Sunday morning, but he didn't stay long. He says the children are home again . I expect it is because of the money. Nearly all of the children here have returned.
What a mess your shelter must be. I don't blame you for not bothering any more about it. Ours is quite dry , except where the rain trickles through the cracks, but that is only after a lot of rain, but , just the same, it would be cold.
Mr Bells' eldest boy has just joined up in the Marines. He needn't have gone as he is only seventeen and a half, but he was very keen so his father has let him. I don't envy him in wartime. Danny has been called up but he is 20 and expected it. He has to go this Wednesday. Last time I saw Lizzie, she told me Mrs Creases' John had to go , so I bet she's upset. It does seem terrible after struggling to give them a good start to have it all wasted.
The balloons are up again today. They only put them up now when we get a standby signal. I suppose yours are the same, but we don't mind standing by so long as we don't have to take cover.
Well I must finish now and get these letters posted. Cheerio and keep smiling. We have a lot to be thankful for.
With lots of love. Nellie Alf and Don.

My .aunt. Dora -joined the Women's Land Army at the outbreak of war. She was the only member of the family who never married and nurtured a lifelong interest in agriculture and horticulture, taking several
gardening positions on her return to civvy street after the war.When not working away she lived with her parents.After training at Madryn Castle Farm School in North Wales Dora was posted to several farms in Lincolnshire
Her first posting ,with another landgirl, Alice, was to a farm run in the Sleaford area of Lincolnshire.
The following are selected extracts from her letters to her parents during the early years of the Second World War:-
Her firs posting ,with another landgirl, Alice, was to a farm in the Sleaford area of Lincolnshire.
The following are selected extracts from her letters to her parents during the early years of the Second World War:-

Dear Mum & Dad
.......I have been waiting to hear from you but yesterday(Wednesday)I wrote but I had not posted it when your letter came so I had to tear it up and start all over again. We are getting along fairly well here,finishedpulling mangolds last week. The weather was very good up to the weekend and then it turned very windy and poured with rain. Alice had a bad cold inside and had to stay in bed. Saturday the weather was too bad to work outdoors
The weather is now much better this week.We started on the sugar-beet lifting.Why anyone grows sugar-beet I can't imagine.It's far more nuisancethan it's worth, has to be ploughed out first.Then we go along the rows,pull it up and knock it together to clean the earth off as much as possibl and lay it out in rows.After this we go along and cut the tops off..abouttwo inches from the leaves so that only the best part o the root is left.It is then loaded and taken to the factory.There, we are told, it is examined and tested for sugar content and the parts they don't
fancy are chucked out.They are also fussy about it being clean. They only pay for the beet that they like and the grower has to pay cartage on anythat is rejected, so you can see that they don't make much out of it although I think there is a government subsidy ....its harvesting involves an awful amount of backache, but we are gradually getting hardened to that
I had a little adventure with our cow, Buttercup, last Sunday morning.
Grandpa thought he was being helpful and helped to get the cows in with his dog. It's not a very old dog and gets a bit made them
rather restless...I had not long been milking when Jack got back in the yard... making such a din that Buttercup slewed round to see what was
going on.She planted her foot right in the centre of the milk bucket and sent me sprawling off the stool.Fortunately I didnt have much in
the pail and wasn't hurt myself. You couldn't blame her for wanting to see the fun.Anyway, it is an ill wind that blows no one any good.The pigs
had the dirty milk for breakfast.
...Friday,that's tomorrow, we are going to a Whist Drive in aid of the working party that is making woollies for soldiers,what do you think of
of that for a gay life. I think I deserve a medal, seeing that I can't play whist for nuts.. We received our first weeks' wages last Saturday,
fourteen shillings. Dear Grandpa said that as we were such "good lads"he will pay all our insurance- decent of him , wasn't it? We have had two visitors from W.L.A....Miss Smith came to see if we were comfortable and giving satisfaction.She said she is advertising to try and find us permanent jobs in this district anyway she says she has placed four girls
permanently this week so it may come to something. The boss says he will want us for ,at least, another three weeks....We have no ARP here as far as I know but, as we are on the telephone, would receive a warning through that. We are surrounded by searchlights and the aeroplanes are always buzzing around..We arent far from Cranwell...there are also two other aerodromes quite you see we are well protected.. I hope the shelter at home is habitable by now... thanks for the ration card although I dont think I'll need it as all our bacon and butter is home
produce. We are not likely to feel the pinch yet .I hope you will be able to manage all right..
Thank you very much for your letter.Glad to know you are trucking along ok..glad you have had no more air raid scares. You dont say how the old swimming bath (air raid shelter) in the back yard is going...Did I tell you last time I wrote that we were going to a Whist Drive? know what an expert player I am but seeing that it was for a good cause (winter woollies for the soldiers) we all practised one evening for my benefit.
It was held in the village school.One large room and one small teacher,who,poor soul,had to teach all the village children from five years to
eleven..When the kids are over eleven they are sent to the senior schoolat Horbling where there are three teachers.
Well to continue about this never to be forgotten Whist Drive..Four of us
went. Papa took us in the car. All the local people turned out in force so we had a good opportunity of meeting all the important people hereabouts. I thought I was getting along with
the game rather well until the gentleman of the opposing couple pulled me up for cheating. What do you think of that? I nearly disgraced the
family name! By playing a SPADE which should have been a CLUB and winning a trick as spades were trumps! The next round I spanks down a CLUB which I had had in my hand all the time and so brought down the wrath of the Gods on my poor head. Of course. I apologised very very humbly,but, the cream of the joke is that I won a prize- the booby - a bottle of eau-de-cologne!
....the next bit of excitement was that one of the cows had a calf Saturday afternoon.We call her Poppy because she was born on Armistice Day.. we went to Bourne to see Agnes and Betty....(I) had to buy a pair of gloves to wear
for church because I have used all I had for field work.They took us to see the farm where they are working, picking potatoes. They go every day,don't live at the farm but on the outskirts of town..took us to their lodgingsfor tea where their landlady made us very welcome. They were unfortunate,at first, were sent to bad lodgings.. didnt get enough to eat.. so complained to WLA and were sent to these people who are treating them very well..the man is a preacher in the Salvation Army and both he and his wife are in the
ARP first aid service..some nights are all night at the first aid post. In spite of their serious outlook on life, they are a very jolly pair. The man has a face like Joe.E.Brown and kept us laughing.
Monday we chopped and pulled mangolds. Tuesday we chopped and pulled mangolds.Wednesday hasn't come yet but we shall pull and chop mangolds
again..However we are having extra help this week.One of the men's wife is working with us and there is supposed to be two men coming at the end of the week. The boss asked us if we'd like to stay here till Christmas,come home for a month or so and then return here for next summer.Well, up
to Christmas suits us ,but the next couple of months which follow when we will be home and on the dole don't sound so good to me .Miss Smith
is trying to find us a permanent job.. I would prefer to go to another county...we could not get better employers but the countryside is so flat
and featureless..I should be glad to see a bit more of England,if possible,but you can take it that we are here till Christmas. Love to you both. Dora
Thank you for your letter, always glad to hear from you. I heard on the wireless that there have been more air raid scares this week . Can't you get something done about that old swimming bath in the back garden? Monday evening , while we were in the middle of foddering, Miss Smith called to see us. Funny thing is she has only been to see us twice , each time at the most inconvenient moments.We had to troop into the best room in our muddy boots (good thing the boss is good tempered ). This time she brought us an instalment of our uniform breeches and shoes. Alice's were a fairly good fit ( the waist is only four inches too big) but mine were hopeless, being made for a person five foot six and the shoes were size five and a half. I guess she might think farm work is developing my physique. She took them back and promised to get a better fit but, heaven only knows when I shall see them.
Did I tell you they were trying to get extra help for beet as it is now getting late in the season. It should have been up by now. Last week they had to roadsters (tramps)) but they only stayed a couple of days . Yesterday we had another roadster,only a young boy about eigtheen and today , two Irishmen have arrived. They tell us a lot of Irishmen come over for harvest , travelling round to the different farms and sleeping in the outhouses.They make good money at it,up early in the morning and working by moonlight at night. Today ,as it was a bit frosty, we did some manure spreading instead of beet. We drove the horses by ourselves about a mile to the field,left the carts there and rode home on the horses tonight. You should have seen me riding along a main road (astride) with our lunch basket on one arm and tea can tied to the harness, covered nearly all over with muck. I bet you would have had a good laugh! What price Rotten Row!
I must tell you about our visit to the cinema at Billingborough last Friday.It is held every Wednesday and Friday evening in a large barn adjoining the pub. We went with Connie ,the maid, and her friend Joan.All three of us walked the three miles as no buses run there from the village and arrived there at 7.30pm,paid our ninepence.We saw a varied programme (talkies), a revue picture,silly symphony, newsreel, which included a shot of WLA girls at work and caused much derisive comment from the audience ( you can guess what their opinion of our efforts is) and a cowboys and indians picture.A serial,luckily it was the first chapter, ending with the hero crashing his plane. Just as the plane touched the earth the entire audience rose as one man and made a dash for the exits, climbing over the forms in order to get out first. We just clutched our seat and gasped,thinking the place was on fire. When we got outside they appeared to be standing about in groups ,talking. We couldn't make out the cause of the bother. When we got home we asked the boss and he suggested that they were anxious to get a quick one before the pub next door closed.Mr Scrubbs, the farm man, said they rush to get served first at the little fish and chip bar nearby. What beats me is how they judge the exact moment when the film will end. Apparently , they don't know the National Anthem here or, perhaps, they don't have a record of it.
This coming Friday there is another whist drive, this time for cigarettes for the soldiers.We hope to go and win first prize. All these charities for the soldiers! What about doing something for the Land Army? A few bars of soap wouldnt come amiss.Well, I think I must stop. Alice sleeps beside me . I mustn't waste too much electricity, so will say good night and god bless! Love to you both.Dora.

In December 1939 Dora was transferred to Bulby and stayed there for the whole of 1940. The following was written home on the first August Bank Holiday of the war :-

Sunday Bulby

Thanks very much for your letter. I'm glad the eggs weren't too smashed up and proved useful. I will send you some more to arrive next Saturday. What sort of weather are you getting these days ? It's very hot here. This morning , when we woke, there was a very heavy mist but now the sun is blazing.
We have been invaded by the British Army this week. There are about three hundred RAMC and RASC men at the Hall. They have stirred things up somewhat since they came on Wednesday. Lorries,motor bikes and cars have been dashing about at all hours. The men weren't able to get proper rations for two days. All they got for breakfast was two rounds of dry bread and a cup of tea and the same again for tea. They were told to buy more outside if they wanted's ,at least, two miles in any direction to a shop and the poor devils didn't know the district so they were wandering round in circles. Several different couples ( they seem to hunt in pairs )came to the farm for milk and asked if they could buy something to eat. The farmers’ wife wouldn't charge them anything but she had several in and gave them a good feed. One came across the other morning to borrow an iron to press the trousers. He brought it back this morning! Hot!
They are digging holes and trenches all over the place , even in the farmers’ fields , without asking him and we have seen the manoevring over our farm. It looks like we won't be able to go outside the door without falling over a soldier soon.We are told that the Hall is going to be a field hospital.This will be handy if we cut our finger.
I had a letter from Alice this week. She has a good job. Her boss has been round inspecting farms...they are all being inspected for the Government to see that they are being farmed to the best advantage. She has been going round with him, acting as his clerk.
Well it doesn't seem like bank holiday weekend,does it? I suppose dad will have to work tomorrow.It wont make any difference to me either but I told Frank he owes me a day off as he said he wasn't going to give me double pay for it. We have had runner beans from the garden , today, for the first time. What are yours like? Expect the air raid shelter is nearly covered with vegetation now, isn't it? Cheerio for the present and love to you both. Dora.

Was very glad to get your letter. I had been worrying about you getting home before the fun started on Sunday.. You will have had my first letter by now and so will know that we got back here safely. How are you settling down to work-a-day conditions now? We have had quite heavy snow storms here this last two days. Have you had any in London? I hope the shelter is warm enough these cold nights. I don't remember whether you mentioned it being heated. I suppose you still go there every night? How did dad like going back to work? It didn't go down very well with us here , but we had another little break on New Years Eve. Dot,Billy,Alice,Kathie,Margaret and myself went to a dance at Grantham. Pop doesn't like driving his car at night, so he offered to pay for the hire of one from Grantham. It was a lovely car, a buick. We did feel posh, I can tell you! They charged twenty five shillings to come out to Marston and fetch us and the bring us home again. Although you know I can't dance for nuts, I enjoyed myself, but I was wondering how you were seeing the old year out. Did you have any celebrations in the shelter?
The dance was organised by the Youth Fellowship. There was a parson there and when twelve o'clock struck it was in the middle of a waltz. All the lights were dimmed and he got on to the platform with the band and asked for a few minutes silent prayer. It was very impressive. You could have heard a pin drop. We didn't get home until after one o'clock but the boss and his wife had gone to bed and left the key under a flowerpot in the garden. So we are back to normal again. The first day of the snow I spent helping in the house. Today we had to turn out because there was a large order come in for carrots for the army and we hadn't enough pulled. It wasn't too bad though we took a couple of big yard brooms and brushed the snow off them before we dug them up. Never thought I should come down to sweeping snow off a field of carrots. The boss sent out some boiling hot cocoa during the morning and we made a fire in an old oil drum and thawed ourselves out every now and again. We pulled over five ton between us (six girls and six men) so we didn't do so bad under the circumstances. I think it is freezing tonight so don't know what we shall do tomorrow. Well ,mum, I dont think there is any more news at present so I must stop. Here's hoping 1941 will see the end of all our trials and perhaps we shall start next year together in peace. Love to you both and a Happier New Year. Dora . PS.Just in case I'm too late next time I write Happy Birthday to you both on the 6th and 7th.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

The Blitz Category
Land Army Category
Lincolnshire Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy