Following the last issue’s article about the Land Girls exhibition at Brighton & Hove Museum, Agnes Wilson was moved to send The Whistler some first-hand memories of life in the Land Army and other jobs she did during WWII.
I first joined the Land Army in May 1941, after I received a letter telling me to report for duty at Kinoulton in Nottinghamshire. I travelled by bus and arrived to find a rather large country house which was to be my billet for the next few months – or so I thought. My first period with the Land Army in fact lasted for over a year. I was greeted by a bunch of excited girls, about twenty in all. We were all allocated our bedrooms which turned out to be dormitories on two floors, with about ten neatly made-up beds in each. How different it was from my own bedroom at home which I shared with my beloved twin sister, Joan. No one slept that night – we were at war and we knew nothing about farming! We all met up again the following morning at breakfast, with porridge and toast on the menu. Afterwards, we went into a very large room to try on our uniforms, which varied in size from the large to the small. The uniform consisted of a pair of beige dungarees, a green jumper, knee length socks and a pair of stout shoes. We were also given a pair of beige corduroy breeches for dressier occasions. We didn’t think any part of the uniform was very flattering!
The following day we were all taken to different farms. I was impressed with my first farm – it was homely with a lovely and welcoming farm house. The owner was charming and I met two male farm hands who were very kind and great fun to be with. We were able to go home for weekends. My parents were anxious to hear what it was like to work on a farm.
I was posted to another farm and had to say goodbye to all my girl friends. This one was very different and I found it all very exciting. I joined two other Land Girls to become what was affectionately known as ‘Ditch Diggers’. We were given a small car and had to go around the neighbouring farms, keeping the ditches clear of muck. It was great fun but a very dirty job! My next move was to a very large farm in Melton Mowbray, run by a super family. I was lucky enough to have a room to myself which I thought was wonderful. Later I went on to a milking farm in Retford. I have never forgotten my first experience trying to milk the cows. I didn’t secure them properly with the chains, so several escaped back to the fields. When the farmer arrived soon after he found me in a state of laugher! He soon got the cows back into the shed.
In June 1942 I left the Land Army to get married in August. Two years after my wedding, my husband, Joe, was posted to West Africa and I returned once more to the Land Army in December 1944. I worked in Lincolnshire on several farms along with many Polish prisoners. Joe returned from West Africa and was posted to Cornwall to work at Predannack airfield. I worked in a government office that distributed ration books. It was a wonderful period in many ways: we met a lot of brave people and became friends with the pilots at the airfield and they would often visit us after flying and I would make them all hot cocoa. Sadly though, many of these same pilots flew on their missions, never to return.
Joe’s next posting was to the Air Ministry in London. I worked in the photography department of the same Ministry. War-time in London was exciting but at the same time very dangerous. I remember well the time of the Doodle Bugs – the airplanes without pilots. Many times we would go up to the roof tops of buildings to keep a look out. It was a terrible time, with so many people getting killed and buildings destroyed. Joe was often on night duty and I was so scared to be on my own that, unknown to the Ministry, I would accompany him to work. It was hazardous and we would have to leave the building very early in the morning so as not to be seen by other workers. Often we would go to Westminster Cathedral to attend early morning mass.