In May 1946, Iris Dixon joined the Women’s Land Army. Owing to a poisoned arm, she stayed in the WLA for just 5 months. However in this time, she experienced the joys of wearing a uniform for the first time, close friendships, and lots of hard work. Ruth Wood, recorded the memories of her late [ex] mother-in- law and has shared them with us below. Take a read and follow Iris’ whirlwind 5 months working on the land.
Arriving as a new Land Girl
As the train drew into the station, a big steamer, taking me to what and who knows the adventures yet to come. In my new uniform of the Land Army with the baggie trousers and a big coat, smartly cream shirt and a nice green pullover. Having been told to look for girls dressed the same, found myself smiling at little Gladys, who was to become a true friend, we was to be constantly [at] one another’s side. The journey didn’t seem to take all that long to Suffolk but found myself in a big manor house at Sutton Hoo [famous for the find of Viking treasures]. The rooms of the house were set up with bunk beds with ten girls in our bedroom. I made friends with Joyce and Gladys and a little cockney girl called Pat. [There was also a room] for the boys. The other girls were from Newcastle and Sunderland and I was not used to the accents. How friendly I got with Gladys I’m not sure, but she had no parents and just one brother living in the East End of London.
We had two sort of Matrons that would look after us and it was one of these who sent me home with the poisoned arm.
The fastest potato pickers…
We had some great times together, and we were the fastest working potato pickers, often going to farms on request to help the farmers. By this time, she [Gladys] had met her Wally. He was really in love with her and always asking to marry her but asked my advice as he had a weak heart but happy to say that they did marry and before we lost touch had a little girl called Glynis. I should have gone to the wedding but had come away from Woodbridge, and never ever got to go.
Some of the times on the field were really good, we would wait for the old coach to come to collect us. The seats were taken out so we would have to sit on the floor. All the time we were travelling we would sing all the army songs we had picked up and most of the old music hall ones. We were dressed in brown coloured bib front overalls, wellies turned down and a blouse with a turban scarf or gypsy scarf as it was a hot summer and was to protect from the sunshine.
Jobs on the farm…
We would hoe sugar beet, it taking three rows for cutting out, and about thirty of us would do the fields. When your row was finished you would go behind the other girl. Other jobs we did were stoking, which meant getting the hay when it came off the thresher. Four girls would stand the [stacks] up and would return another day to turn them round.
Potato picking would be working behind a tractor as they turn the potatoes up. You would work in a gang to gather them and put them in buckets then fill the sack. The hardest job I found was pitching with a pitch fork when picking beans.
We would put all our lunch boxes together then discover that they were running alive with ants so we all had a good meal of fresh potatos and carrots. We had a good meal when we got back to the hostel ie the Manor House where we relaxed in the big hall and played games. The RAF men would come in and play table tennis and cards.
We also worked with German and Italian prisoners of war. The Germans were haughty and would look down at you. They [prisoners of war] had a big moon shaped patch on the back of their clothes.
All round the hall were the oak panels and the fire place was so big that you could sit inside. There was a huge marble like one with the fire in a basket [small grate]. A lot of people had carved their names on the fire place.
Our bedroom had a lovely bay window [with a window box] over-looking the grounds.
“You can come out of that lot as quick as you like”…
I didn’t really fit in with this work. I had a poisoned arm and it was so bad that I had to go home on sick leave with my arm in a sling. You can just imagine what my mum said, and dad said “you can come out of that lot as quick as you like”. I had no resistance to not agree. By this time it was nearly Autumn that I came home again. I never lost touch with Gladys for a long time and would write very regular. She would sign herself ‘your little sister’ as we had grown fond of one another. She came to show me her baby while I was still working and not long married. I often wondered if she had any more babies. [Glynis] would be nearly forty now.*
Ruth Wood, written in the 1980s.
Well can you believe we are in October now? October welcomes in the tenth post in our series of illustrations from the front over of The Land Girl magazine. The October editions of The Land Girl for 1944 and 1945 used two drawings by Audrey Wakeford who worked in Berkshire. The beady eyed of you might remember that an ‘A Wakeford’ designed the February 1947 edition, which showed a woman using a scythe. Going back to October 1944, Wakeford draws a common task for a Land Girl, ploughing the fields. The posture of the Land Girl emphasises the strength that women needed to undertake this task. The clear landscape behind shows her progress in ploughing the fields, suggesting that she might be at the end of her work for the day – or ready to start on another field. She portrays the Land Girls as being in control of her horses and able to carry out this farming task successfully.
Her design for October 1945 shifts from focusing on the Land Girl herself to poultry. We see here some detailed drawings of hens and chickens at different stages of the life cycle. Land Girls would often be responsible for looking after poultry, showing another area of work where women developed experience during their time in the Women’s Land Army. It appears that Wakeford used her illustrations to highlight the breadth of work expected of women as the war drew to a close.
First Name(s): Daisy Irene
Unmarried Surname: Dance
Married Surname: (Died in 1968.) Unmarried so far as known.
Date of Birth: 1898
Place of Birth: Downside, Cobham, Surrey
Date Joined WLA: 28 March 1919 at Kingston, Surrey. Working in agriculture.
Date Left WLA / WFC: Not known but presumably 30 November 1919.
Life After War
I believe that she continued working on the land as a copy of the Rules of the Surrey Branch of the National Association of Landswomen was amongst her papers.
Name: Victor Eyles
Any Other Information
I have Daisy’s WLA/LAAS Handbook, Land Army Agricultural Service (LAAS) badge indicating two months approved service, her armband presented after three months of proficient service and her Good Service Ribbon presented to those who had served six months in the Land Army and had kept up a high standard of work and conduct.
The information on Daisy Dance was brought together as part of the Surrey in the Great War project on which our group, Cobham Remembers, has been working.
The magazine editors used the drawings sent in by some individual Land Girls for several issues, which means that we only have one new illustration for the August edition of The Land Girl. The drawing below was first printed on the front cover of the August 1944 edition of the magazine. By September, this was the third month that Patricia O’Toole’s (51097) drawing graced the front pages of The Land Girl.
O’Toole, from Lancashire, has drawn a good representation of the badge of the Women’s Land Army, which acts as a focal point of the drawing in the top right hand corner. Instead of capturing a task (like in earlier editions), O’Toole captures a smiling Land Girl looking away from the landscape. Her hair blowing in the wind, she looks satisfied, likely after a hard day’s work. There appears an element of pride in her expression and her posture appears upright and confident – she is the Land Girl of this issue. Does her signature next to the figure suggest this might be a self-portrait? Was the pride and admiration a reflection of her own feelings of working on the land?
To welcome in August, we have two new front cover designs of The Land Girl this month. August was one of the busiest times in the farming calendar, as women were heavily involved in the harvest, which the first drawing reflects. The detailed sketch from the August 1942 edition shows women out in the fields bringing in the harvest. In the far distance, we see a Land Girl on a tractor. To right, some Land Girls appear to be hoeing. A bit further forward, some Land Girls seem to be holding a lamb in their arms, although it is a bit hard to make out. What do you think? Overall, this captures the range of work expected of women – and ultimately how they had to work as a team in order to bring in the harvest. Look at the women’s facial expressions, particularly those in the foreground. They look focused on their respective activities, showing that they carried out their duties and diligently.
The second drawing is very different in style, with far fewer lines, making for a simpler design. Here we see two Land Girls feeding a lambs in a barn. Again, the Land Girls are seen working together; one feeding the lamb while the other holds the bucket. What particularly struck me about this drawing was the way the artist had drawn the haircuts. Both women have bobbed hair. It was this very hairstyle, along with painted fingernails, that sometimes meant women caused quite a stir when ‘townies’ moved to the country. Who knows, maybe this artist, B.N.L, was one of these ‘town gals’ and was making a point that despite the appearances of a town girl, women could muck down and get the job done!
Both artists used their pencils and paper to bring to life the farming tasks they would have carried out on a daily basis, showing the effective ways they worked with other Land Girls to maintain the country’s food supplies during and after the war.
This month’s images have more of a post-war flavour. The first drawing is of a cow, uncharacteristically without a Land Girl. Around its neck hangs a chain with a Women’s Land Army badge. The cow also wears a hat and looks suspiciously at the reader. Somewhat comically, a piglet appears floating above the cow’s back. Overall, a very humorous drawing for the July 1943 edition that focuses on the personality of the animals which women soon began to understood as they spent long days with them!
Moving forward three years to July 1946 and we see a Land Girl lying on top of hay, pulled by two horses. She looks quite at ease, as two other women appear together, presumably after harvesting the hay. This drawing appears to capture a scene at the end of a working day, showing the product of the women’s labours, often spending long days in the sun. Yet, still after an intensive day on the farm, women put their talents to good use, representing their experiences to the readers of The Land Girl – and now for us as readers today.
My mother was based in Buckinghamshire, I believe at Finmere or Tingewick. She met my father there when he was stationed in the army at Tingewick in 1946. Her name was Kitty Bland and my fathers name was Sydney Freshwater. She came from a children’s home in North London.I would like to also know more about her life. I am attaching a photo, which you are welcome to use on the site. My mother has her face scratched and is only partially visible. I am looking for someone with another copy of better quality…..long shot I know. The other ladies in the photo are, left to right, back to front (I guess) Joyce Charlton, Kitty Bland, Ena Smith, Sadie Brown, Joan Heaton.
My mother used to be a land army girl at Battina House, which I believe was in the Chichester or Brighton area. She passed away a couple of weeks ago. I was wondering if you could put a request on your website for any information about Bettina House or who might have known my mother? Her name was Marie Louise Anne Estelle Holland. It might be of interest that she ran away and joined the land army and lied about her age. When she was found out she was interviewed on the radio by Richard Dimbleby.
Chris Goymer, Marie’s son.