“Jean Hulatt left her office job and joined the Land Army during WW2 when she was 17 ½ on 2nd January 1942 and after her 6 weeks training went to work at Appleby Farm, Renhold, Bedforshire. The family that owned the farm were the Kerrison’s. Dorothy Kerrison was a renowned artist who specialised in Lino and Wood Cut.
Coincidentally, she was also a friend of Sir George Clausen who had painted Jean’s Mum ‘Lily’ one summer when she was a teenager. Lily went and spent a summer living with Sir George and his family while he painted. The painting was called ‘Gleaners coming home’ which is currently on show at Tate London. Jean loved her time at the farm and formed a very close friendship with the Kerrison’s and kept in touch with Dorothy until she passed away in the early 90’s.
Amongst Jean’s paperwork there were 2 pages relating a story of her first day at the training college she attended when she started her Land Army Journey. I have typed the pages out again as they were rather crumpled.
Jean (my Mum) loved her time at Appleby Farm and there are (now it is too late) so many things I wished I had asked about her life, her family, what it was like growing up in her generation and her time in the war. I didn’t realise how that would haunt me until now.
Unfortunately, it seems that when we are young, we are so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t have enough interest in other peoples. Its only once you get older that you realise that you have never really known your Mum and Dad as anything other than parents and that is such a shame.
There are a few little things that I do remember my Mum saying about her life as a Land Girl. She never went hungry for a start. That was one very positive thing about living and working on a farm, fresh eggs daily and enough food on the table when we know that food generally, became rather scarce.
She also had a favourite Cow whose name I cannot now remember. This particular cow was considered very difficult and grumpy and everyone else was really nervous with her but she loved my Mum and would follow her around and more or less let my Mum do anything with her.
At the farm, Mum also had a farm cat that liked to drape itself around her shoulders. She did always have a way with animals and I remember how she used to talk to dogs in a certain way telling them how handsome/beautiful they were and that they would be totally mesmerised by her and they would start talking and wailing/singing back to her. A true gift.
One time when her sister Muriel went to visit her at the farm, Mum gave her some buckets of feed to carry to the cow field. As she got nearer to the cows and they started coming towards her, she panicked and started running away complete with the buckets. The cows naturally started chasing after her as she had their food. Eventually , my Mum managed to get her to drop the buckets to stop them chasing her. I think Mum found it rather funny afterwards, but not so sure about Muriel did.
Another thing I remember being told is that a plane (warplane) came down close by the farm and Mum cradled an airman in her arms as he died. I have another recollection that she spoke about a decapitated airman she saw in another crashed plane or it may have been the same one.
Bedford had many air bases so there were thousands of planes coming and going to and from the various airfields throughout the war and many crashed as they limped home with bits missing and engines failing and on fire. I believe there are still the remains of a US plane at Appleby farm so maybe that was the crash that she spoke about.
Mum had to leave Appleby Farm in 1944 after suffering a detached retina. My cousin has recently said that she thought it happened when Mum was milking a cow and the cow knocked against her. She was taken to Moorfields eye hospital in London where her eye was operated on. She said she could feel the eye ball on her cheek as they were sewing at the back of her eye.
I remember her saying that she was the first patient of a young Dr Jardene/Jardine. Following the operation, she had to lie still with bandaged eyes for 6 weeks on a diet of soup and mashed potato. She was only 19 at the time and she always said that was the longest 6 weeks of her life. All the time of course she was in bed in London where there were air raids and bombing going on and she wasn’t able to get up and go to an air raid shelter but just had to lie there with her fingers crossed, so I can only imagine how scared she must have been.
After we had moved to Wick she read somewhere that a surgeon by the name of Jardine was in charge of the Bristol Eye hospital and she was going to write to him to see if he was the same one who had carried out his first operation on her but I don’t know whether she ever did. Her sight was saved although I don’t think it was ever 100% afterwards.
Mum was discharged from the Land Army on medical grounds in October 1944. She would have dearly loved to have gone back and worked on Appleby farm again and Dorothy would have loved her too as well but she was told that she must avoid any sort of heavy work otherwise her sight would be at risk so she was never able to.
Just by chance, on the front cover of a book entitled ‘More memories of Bedford’ there is a photograph of a parade of Land Army girls and we spotted that my Mum is there in the picture. We have a copy of the book on our bookshelf.”
By Stacy Baldwin, Jean’s daughter.
Land Army College: the pigs
By Jean Hulatt
He ploughed steadily through the deep snow whistling at the top of his voice the then popular song ‘I get along without you very well’ and we, six giggling newly enrolled Land Army girls followed behind, nudging each other. No doubt we all thought in our own way that life at the Agricultural College was not going to be too bad if all our tutors were to be so tall and handsome as the one in front of us. How we deluded ourselves! By reason of our grammar school educations, we had qualified for a six-week crash course at the college to have specialised training in all aspects of farming – although what our previous education had to do with it, I really can’t imagine. But those were the conditions laid down, so here we were. Our small group of six had been allocated to this handsome pigman to learn as much as we could about pigs in the stipulated 4 days.
‘Call me Mr Donelly’ he had said when he first met us and then, ‘follow me’. So Mr Donelly he was from then on which to us seemed rather odd as he didn’t seem to be so much older than us.
At that time, I think all I thought about pigs was that you fed them, gave them water and that was that. How wrong I was! However, follow him we did just after 7 o’clock in the morning through the deep snow, him with his whistling letting us know how little he cared about us and all of us having romantic thoughts about him. For half an hour we trudged and I remember thinking that by the time we reached the pigs we should be passed doing anything about them, that I was hungry as breakfast was not until 10 o’clock and how silly I was giving up my comfortable office job for this. For a start I was never very good at getting up in the morning, also it was bitterly cold and having only met the day before none of us were completely at ease with each other.
However, in the half darkness there loomed in front of us a number of sheds much to our relief. I really can’t imagine what gave me the idea that we should be looking after eight on nine pigs but this is what I thought. Anyway, first we were led into one shed and told how to mix the pig food. Even this was a lot harder than I had imagined and all thoughts of having an easy time were quickly dispelled. First of all, the quantity we had to mix. It seemed to take ages. I began to revise my opinion about the number of pigs before we had even seen one. I began to think maybe twenty or thirty pigs.
At long last our My Donelly decided we had mixed enough food. We were told to put it in the numerous buckets ready to put it in the troughs which we had seen lying about outside. My idea of pigs was that they ate a large amount of food, smelt to high heaven and scratched. The amount of food we had mixed strengthened this idea as I still wasn’t prepared for what followed.
Following Mr Donelly’s instructions we half dragged, half carried a bucket of food in each hand and began to tip in in the troughs going back to refill the buckets when necessary. He just leaned against the shed watching us. After about 10 minutes he said ‘Now you and you let the pigs out’. We all stood still where we were while two of our friends went warily to the other sheds from whence by this time came a lot of snorting. Still, it did not enter our heads that we should move at all until they lifted the latches of the sheds. None of us were prepared for what followed.
Before they could swing the doors back themselves the doors went crashing back and talk about a stampede. There were hundreds of pigs charging out of the doors making for us as we thought who were standing by their troughs. We just couldn’t believe our eyes. In seconds we were running, pigs everywhere making an unbelievable noise. Those who had opened the doors were aghast – We were terrified -the pigs couldn’t have cared less and our Mr Donelly – well – he just leaned against his shed killing himself with laughter.
At that moment all romantic notions were dispelled – we would all have cheerfully strangled him given the opportunity. After the first momentary shock we realised that far from charging us the pigs’ only interest was food, food and more food. We slowly calmed down and were able to observe once we got over our fear that really the pigs were quite friendly creatures.
Thus our first experience of life on the land ended with My Donelly, still with a smirk on his face saying ‘Time to go’. So we started our long trek back to breakfast this time in silence until he said ‘Hope you liked the pigs’. We all looked at each other completely at a loss for words until Josie, a tall willowy blonde who had been a dancer and done some modelling and who in the weeks to come was to keep our spirits up with her rich views on life, looked him slowly up and down and said’ You swine’. There was dead silence for a moment and then everyone, including Mr Donelly just roared with laughter.
Jean’s WLA record from Stuart Antrobus’ Roll Call of Bedfordshire Land Girls
|Name||Hulatt, Jean Marion|
|Date of birth||6 April 1924|
|Place at enrolment||Bedford, Bedfordshire|
|Joined WLA||25 January 1942|
|Left WLA||30 October 1944|
|Further information||Former office worker, aged 17. Left on medical grounds.|