The Land Army – anything that men could do

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You're going to tell us about where you went to work after you left school and then what it was like in the Land Army?

I worked for Bally and Haldenstein's where they made shoes, and I was happy there. And then I had to join up when I was 20, and I joined the Land Army. From there I didn't go back to Haldenstein's no more. I kept on the land.

Well, tell me a bit more about Haldenstein's before we go on to the Land Army. What kind of hours did you do there? What was your working day like?

That was quite reasonable. Eight in the morning it was then when I first left school and sometimes that went on till 6.

That's quite a long day.

Yes, that is.

Did you get an hour for lunch?

Yes.

And did you get breaks other than that?

We had a break for lunch and for a cup of tea in the morning, I think, about 11 I think that was, something like that.

So what were you doing? What kind of work were you doing?

That was in the ladies' shoe department, and they made the shoes in the making department, where the men worked and they gradually passed on where they were assembled to finish it off as a fancy shoe for a woman. Like doin' the bows or laces or anything. It went from there, see, till the shoe looked finished. And then they'd spray it and make it all shiny.

They were leather shoes?

Yes, they were. There was no authentics then, no.

So, were they all colours?

Mainly black and brown tan, and then they brought beige out for the summer. Summer beige and white.

Did you do sandals as well?

Sandals, they did sandals, yes.

Whereabouts was the factory – where in Norwich?

Queen's Street. That's where they were finished off.

So they came in from somewhere else and you finished them off?

Finished it off to make it look shiny and smart. Any bows to be put on, they were stitched on. Laces were out in, see.

So, ready for the shop.

Yes.

So, how long did you stay there?

I was there till I had to join up in the War. I joined the Land Army.

So tell us a bit about the Land Army.

I was 20 then, you see, and I loved it. Loved bein' outside.

So, you said you went out into the countryside . .

I went to a farm .. . I forget the name of it now .. . it's a long while ago. .. .and I used to work for them.

Can you remember where it was? Which village was it?

That was … whatever was it now, I forget . . . that was just outside Norwich. It wasn't very far away.

So what kind of work did you do there, outside?

Anything what the men used to do, we used to help them. That was hard work but we didn't notice it ‘cos I was strong. If you were on the weak side that would be hard work, but I was strong enough to do it and I still am. So I was grateful that I joined it because I enjoyed it. I liked it.

So you got a choice about doing that?

I had a choice, yes I did.

Tell me what you did through the year. I mean, you drove a tractor did you?

I drove a tractor, yeah. They sat me on the seat and showed me how to work it and I had to do it on the fields. That didn't matter too much, but as soon as I knew that I had to take it on the road and to another farm then I had to have a proper …

Well, you'd need a licence for that wouldn't you?

Proper tuition, yes.

Had you ever driven anything before?

No (laughs). I enjoyed doin' it. It was a tractor, you see. If it had been a car I don't think I would have done. That seemed as if it was stern, and that was strong and that didn't matter, you know.

I should think you felt reasonably safe.

That's right, yeah.

So would the tractor be pulling a plough sometimes, or what?

Not a plough. I used to pull the carts along what were being filled. I was sat on a tractor and that was pullin' this big container that they'd fill. Then I had to take it to where it was emptied.

So what kind of things were going into the cart?

Any summer crops. All sorts. And in the autumn that was beet.

That went to Cantley I suppose?

Yes. They did all sorts of things then what they do different now. That was harder work really ‘cos they used their hands more.

Can you remember what some of the other … I mean, was there wheat or barley or . . what sort of things did they grow?

All that sort of thing. All the foodand beet, big beet, yes. For sugar. That was one of the main things of our area.

Were there things like peas and beans or did you not grow that kind of stuff?

I loved doing it, yes.

Were there any animals?

Yes, they helped us to a certain extent. Made us see that we were doin' a good job.

And were there things like horses and pigs?

Horses, yeah. Horses.

Did the horses work the land?

Yeah. Horses was there. They pulled some of the carts for us. Petrol was rationed you see, so they could only use so much. And farmers were allowed extra to what the others were.

But even so if you could use the horses that would save the petrol, I suppose.

Yeah, yeah. That was good. I was glad I joined, yeah.

So did you stay there for the whole of the War?

Yeah. I loved it, yeah.

What happened after the War?

Well, I stayed in the Land Army till that was dispersed, and then I just kept on at Mr M's of Eaton. That's where I was when it was finished, so I stayed there just the same.

That was his farm was it?

Yes, that was his farm. He had all the beet and that.

So you enjoyed being a farm worker so much that's what you did. Right. So how long did you do that?

I was there till I had to give it up when I was .. . I forget now how old I was. I wasn't that old, but I had to give it up because I was going in for having a baby, you see. I married and that's when I gave it up. Can't remember exactly when it was now.

So presumably in the farm you were out in all weathers.

That's right. I was used to all weathers – sharp frosts anything (laughs).

So what were you wearing?

Woollies. Vest, shirt, along sleeved V neck pullover and in the summer that was a sleeveless one.

And you'd have a heavy coat over that in the winter?

Well, in the winter we had a coat, but not a heavy one. We used to have one what was warm enough, that was all. But you were able to move.

And did you wear trousers?

That's right, yeah. I loved the work, and I kept on even when that was dispersed. I kept on at Mr M's of Eaton. That was when the Land Army dispersed, but I stayed there, and I still had my uniform to wear if I wanted to, which I did. You were allowed to keep it.

They were hard-wearing weren't they, those uniforms?

That's right, yes. Nice warm overcoat in the winter… Able to move, though.

They weren't waterproof presumably?

We had a waterproof top coat, yeah. A thin one that was waterproof. You had that over a thin top, like. Yeah, like jacket.

I loved the work, yeah. I was proud I enjoyed it.

I'm sure you were. Growing food was really important then, wasn't it? Your contribution to the War effort.

The War effort, yeah. That all went toward it didn't it. That was bringin' food to us all. And sugar beet was one of the main things they grew, and that was necessary ‘cos of the sugar.

So did you have good rations?

We were allowed so much extra because we were in the Land Army and bringin' it to everyone.

So because you were manual workers you needed a good diet to keep you going?

They liked to know that we were being paid with a little extra sugar or something, you know.

Can you remember what you were paid as a Land Army girl?

I mean we needed it because we were using so much energy.

Can you remember what you were paid?

Can't remember now. Just over £2 I think. £2 something, I think it was. It's a hard job to remember.

£2 something a week that is?

Yes. I remember it was worth it, it was worth the effort.

And did you make good friends?

Yeah, made good friends.

You met other young women who'd volunteered?

I was very friendly with a lot of people, specially those workin' round me.

Did you live on the farm?

That's right.

So did you sleep with the other girls or did you have your own room?

There was so many girls that were employed by the farm and they were part of the farm, and they were the girls from the farm.

Did you have your own room there?

Oh yeah, my own room, yeah.

I wondered if they had like a dormitory.

Oh no, we had our own rooms. We were quite happy that way.

What kind of things did you do in the evenings and at weekends? How did you enjoy yourself?

No. no. I stayed on after the War finished for a little while and then I gave up because I wanted to have a family. That would be too much hard work, wouldn't it? (laughs)

I managed very, very well, I think. I was strong. I still am in my arms. I had a lovely time, yeah. I enjoyed it. I'm glad I joined. I loved it.

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