Iris Wilson (née Warren)
First Name(s): Iris Muriel
Unmarried Surname: Warren
Married Surname: Wilson
Date of Birth: 17 December 1923
Place of Birth: Aldershot Hampshire
Date joined WLA: Soon after the WLA started recruiting.
Previous occupation: School student
Reasons for joining: Iris was enthusiastic about ‘doing her bit’ so I think this persuaded her and Evelyn to join as well. Iris’s birth mother had died when she was 7 and her father, apparently, was a domineering personality and, I think, both Iris and her sister (Evelyn) wanted to get away from that environment (they were 16 at the time)
Family’s reaction to joining: lris’s father was, apparently, against her and her sister (Evelyn) leaving home and had told her that, if they joined the WLA, they need not bother ever coming back. I gather there was a reconciliation sometime later.
Reactions of local people: Initial hostility due to them being young town girls knowing nothing about the habits and norms of, very conservative, country people. Deep disapproval when the WLA girls socialised with soldiers and later, the Americans. Accusations of “being no better than they ought” and being “trollops”. Slowly gaining acceptance and a grudging respect of the valuable work they were doing.
Treatment by farmers: As per the local people’s reactions, initial hostility and suspicion, especially as the Land Girls were mostly young from a city and the remaining male farm workers were mostly older and set in their ways. Later on there came an acceptance of the value of the work they were doing, and the WLA girls were given more responsible jobs, like driving the tractor. There was, apparently one male farm worker who was “creepy” and when mum (Evelyn) and her friends discovered him hiding in a tree and spying on them, they set fire to the underbrush and when he fled from the tree they grabbed him and “debagged” him
Reasons for leaving: As far as I know, Iris stayed in the WLA until the end of the war. I do not know when she left after that.
Farm Name, village and county: Essex
Type of work undertaken: All types of farm manual labour. Iris spoke about digging, hoeing, planting and harvesting crops, loading the wheat thresher, feeding chickens and collecting eggs. She also mentioned dealing with cattle of different breeds, milking the cows, driving the tractor and ploughing /seed drilling behind 2 Suffolk Punch heavy horses.
Work liked most and least: Ploughing and seed drilling behind a matched pair of Suffolk Punch heavy horses was (l think) her favourite. Iris was always a cheerful personality and never spoke, at least to me, about the bad times.
Any accidents: Not as far as I know.
Best and worst memories of time: Best memories were a feeling of having done something worthwhile towards the war effort, and good times/laughs with her twin sister (Evelyn) and the other Land Girls they worked with. Worst memories (I think) were her father’s hostility when she left home, and having to stay on in the WLA when her twin sister (Evelyn) was invalided out due to appendicitis. I think this meant that Iris learnt to live independently on her own resources, and not depend on having her twin sister always there.
Life after the war
Did they return back to their pre-war occupation? No (Iris was 15 at outbreak of the Second World War so would have been at school )
What was their occupation after the war? Secretary – Stationery trade in London
Did they stay on the land? No
How did work in the WLA / WTC effect their life? Iris joined the WLA at the same time as her dissimilar twin Evelyn (see other relevant questionnaire). I think Iris was the driving force behind this although both Iris and Evelyn were keen to escape their domineering father’s influence. Iris always had a strong Christian faith, and I think this helped her through those times. She lost her sister’s (Evelyn’s) companionship when Evelyn contracted appendicitis and was invalided out of the WLA. Iris learnt how to be independent and make her own decisions in the WLA.
Land Army Girl
My father said I need not come back home,
The day I went away to join the war,
And in the train I cried for all things past,
I’d never been out on my own before.
The years that followed, working on the land,
Under the vast and wide East Anglian skies
Gave me a brand-new view of life, and made me
I know, more tolerant and wise.
The times I’ve cringed before the cruel east wind,
My sleeves adrip among the winter kale,
Or stooped for hours over the sugar beet
And hoed until I thought my heart would fail.
But oh! To step beyond a matching pair
Of bright brown Suffolk punches, while the seed
Trickled into the crumbed spring earth — and felt
That everything was made by God indeed.
I’ve wept to see the patient, barren cows
Trip quietly up the ramp which led to death,
And stolen milk to feed the skinny cats
Who took my gift, and swore under their breath.
I’ve bounced upon a tractor seat in frost,
In layered mounds of mittens, socks and sacks,
And streaked across the harvest field — and tried
To drown in song, the labouring engine’s clacks.
And sometimes in my office now I feel
When petty things appear to try and test me,
That life has passed me by — it isn’t so,
Life took me once, and for all time, blessed me.
How I Won the War
Things were not going well for us in 1941
And I realised that something, really drastic, must be done
I saw these posters saying “It all depends on me”
And so, I went and volunteered to join the land army
They asked me if I’d ever done hard manual work before
I said, “it didn’t matter”, I must help to win the war.
First day. potato picking, I could not have been keener
What a twit! I rushed at it like a supercharged hyena
Next day I could not leave my bed, everything was sore
I wondered if I stayed away, would it slow up the war?
We worked in rain, we worked in snow & when the day was done
I must confess I asked myself “how this could beat the Hun?”
The troops in the ack-ack battery said they thought that we should
eat our lunch in their dugout and then they would
make us tea and later, we could go for walks and take them round the farm
It would help them win the war and could do us no harm.
The villagers, surprisingly, did not share this thought
They said that we were hussies, and no better than we ought
We could not make them understand, this is what the price is
If you want to win the war you must make sacrifices
At harvest time we worked till dark and evening strollers said
“I envy you” as they walked past, enroute to pub and bed
For, by this time, my will to win had faded to a blur
So, when the GIs came to town, it didn’t register
They were new to war and keen, homesick too no doubt
So how could we old veterans refuse to help them out?
One of our girls was twenty-one, so we went to the pub
Had several gin & peppermints and very little grub
The foreman said he’d sack us, but we were well past caring
And so, we pulled his breeches down to give his brains an airing
Once he spied on us with ‘bins’ from treetops in the wood
Until we fired the undergrowth and barbecued him good
But mostly it was all hard grind, with little variation
And if I didn’t win the war, I finished my education.
Keith Waight, nephew.