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15 October 2014
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Tractor Driving in the Land Armyicon for Recommended story

by sanders

Contributed by 
sanders
People in story: 
Mary Henson
Location of story: 
Lutterworth area
Article ID: 
A2054774
Contributed on: 
17 November 2003

By Mary Henson

I joined the Women’s Land Army in May 1941. I was seventeen and living at home in Ashby Magna, Leicestershire with my family. I wanted to join the WAFS but I needed my parent’s consent and they wouldn’t give it, as they didn’t want me to go away from home.

I had to go to Leicester to sign on and get my uniform — corduroy breeches, green jersey and bib and brace overalls, and smocks for work. When I got home I tried on the uniform but the breeches were so stiff that I couldn’t sit down for a start.

The next week I was sent to work for the Leicestershire War Agriculture Executive Committee, the ‘War Agg’, in the Lutterworth area, which covered all the villages within a ten mile radius of my home. We were given bicycles to get to work, most of us could already ride but there was a hostel where the girls from outside the area stayed and some of them had never ridden a bike before. It was quite funny to see their first attempts. Although I did not live at the hostel I did attend some of the social events and remember the dances well, sometimes dancing to an accordion band.

For the first few weeks I was planting potatoes for a local farmer but I was very disappointed, as instead of learning to drive a tractor I was
carrying out the tedious, back breaking job of setting potatoes by hand.

At last I got my tractor, a Fordson and after a quick lesson from Ted I was ready to tackle anything. We had to maintain our tractors and implements and were continually going round with grease guns making sure all parts worked smoothly.

That summer we ploughed and worked some parkland ready for sowing in the autumn. In the beginning there were only 3 girls but more girls joined us until there were eleven. In the summer when all the cultivating was done we went hoeing and then threshing in the winter. We worked in a gang, girls and men together and so we had some high old times.

It was a good life on the whole, of course it was hot in the summer and the flies were a nuisance. We worked very long hours in the harvest time and one summer we had double summer time, so we couldn’t get started until lunchtime because the corn was wet so some days it was 9 o’clock when we finished. Some winter days were so cold we had a job to start the tractors. There were no self-starters, they had to be cranked up with a handle, and there was no antifreeze, so we had to drain the water out and fill it up next morning and sometimes we had to carry the water quite a way from the nearest farmhouse.

A typical meal during the day would have been fishpaste or cheese sandwiches, no sliced bread in those days. Sometimes there would be a piece of home-made cake. For drinks, often we would have cold tea or coffee in a bottle, which we would stand in the radiator to heat up.

Obviously working in the fields there were no facilities available so we had to make do by hiding in ditches and hedges. One day we were in a big field with no hedges and Jean had the tractor parked, when several of us girls were doing what comes naturally, squatting behind the tractor, when Jean, with the devil in her, moved off leaving us exposed desperately trying to pull up our dungarees.

I was sorry to have to leave before the end of the war, to look after my mother who was ill. I liked the outdoor life and the freedom, the companionship of the other workers; we made a lot of friends. I met my husband whilst working on his farm and we were married in April 1945, ten days before the end of the war in Europe. I remember V.E. day well we had been working in one of the fields and when we came back to the village everyone was outside shouting that war was over. The next day all the villagers organised a party in the village hall with the children wearing fancy dress.

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