Edna Smith (née Mees)
During the last war I was working for the local council in the East End of London and was expecting to be called up for National Service.
At that time, my parents were ill in hospital and my brother was in the Navy and I was trying to keep things going at home. I was worried about being sent miles away from home so I decided to join the Land Army. I went to Hertfordshire County Council to enrol as I knew I would only work in Hertfordshire and would be able to get home at weekends to see to things at home. Had I enrolled at the London office, I could have been sent anywhere in the country.
Near St Albans was a country house that had been requisitioned by the Council and we Land Army girls were billeted there. The attic room I shared with four other girls was rather cramped. The beds were strips of wood (no springs) and underneath was a long wooden box we called our coffin; this held our clothes and possessions.
The girls billeted on farms were all well fed but we were always hungry. We had breakfast and an evening meal but during the day we were supplied with a large lunch box with very little in it– just two sandwiches. As the cooks family was staying quite close we suspected that some of our rations found its way to them.
We went by lorry or bikes to various places to work, sometimes farmers employed us or we worked on County farms. To go to the toilet, we had to squat down anywhere and I found it hard to get used to that.
We wore overalls and would get very dirty, especially when threshing. We wore goggles and a scarf over our mouth and nose to keep the dust out. One day after threshing, I was in the bath when the water turned red. The particles of wheat had punctured the blood vessels in my head. I had my nose padded for a few days but it would not stop bleeding so the doctor decided to cauterize it. It was not very pleasant but it did stop the bleeding. Another time, we were digging ditches and I was down in the ditch when my friend accidentally hit me over the head with a spade and knocked me out.
When on the haystacks we tied string around our wrists and ankles, as we often came across nests of baby rats, all pink and horrible and the men used to throw them at us.
One day, we had to work in the vegetable garden attached to the hostel. After work we were going home when a very irate warden was shouting up the stairs at us. Apparently, we had pulled up all the seedlings as well as the weeds.
One of the girls used to sleep walk and would leave a lighted candle under someone’s bed. This worried us in case of fire as we only had a coil of rope we had to slide down if that happened.
A bicycle crash
Cycling to work one day, a car knocked me into a ditch. Our ganger heard the crash and came back and fished me out of the ditch. I wasn’t badly hurt, just cuts and bruises and shaken up. However, there were no doctors near the hostel so I was sent home to my local hospital.
I felt it was time for me and the Land Army to part company and persuaded them to release me on compassionate grounds because of my parents. I was sorry to leave the girls as we had some laughs together but it was time to move on.
Edna Smith (née Mees), 16.4.1921 – 6.12.2017.
Thank you to Barbara Smith, Edna’s daughter for sharing her mother’s memory with website visitors.