Winifred Hayes (née Stevens)
Thank you to Glynne Hebbern for sending in her mother Winifred’s memoir of her time in the Women’s Land Army, which is shared in its entirety below.
“During the war, when you turned 18 years of age, you were ‘called up’ to do your bit and sent to any services the powers-that-be wanted you to go. I wanted to join the Land Army so signed up before my birthday so that I could choose. I still waited several months before my papers came.
I departed Brighton by train for a station called Lavington in Wiltshire and territories unknown, to be met by a Land Army rep and introduced to three other girls who had travelled on the same train but unknown to each other. We were then driven to the village of Market Lavington and billeted with a Mrs Williams for our four weeks training. They were three nice girls and we got on well together.
This village proved to be a good mile from Dauntsey’s Farm at West Lavington. As we had to be at the farm at 6am the next morning (and every morning) to learn and help milk the cows by hand and clean the stalls etc., then go back to Mrs Williams for breakfast, then return to the farm for the rest of the day taking sandwiches for lunch, we soon became very good walkers. Mrs Williams fed us well but her food gave me terrible heartburn.
What we most disliked, though, was bath night. We four mucky girls were expected to share the war-time water restrictions of just four inches of bathwater so, of course, we took it in turns to be first. Water also had to be carried from one tap, usually in the kitchen, to wherever and then emptied. A lot of heavy lifting, so grin and bear it, there was a war on!
I enjoyed the farm work. The farm was a mixture of animal and arable so there was always something happening – all had its seasons, lambing, harvesting etc. The main difference was that the farm was also part of a boys school that had a class especially for boys learning the farming business, both theoretically and practically. Some were farmers’ sons but not all. Their teacher, Mr Thomas, a Welshman, was a very well-qualified and talented man.
On the farm we learned how to look after the animals, which was mainly feeding and cleaning out.
Then there was the field work. Planting the crops, weeding the rows of potatoes, carrots, beet etc. and harvesting the same. Wheat, oats etc. planted and harvested and as it was September we were there for the corn harvest. Good fun!
Of course we were expected to be there for only our first four weeks of training so could not possibly have done all that work as it’s seasonal but we did enough to know what it was all about. I enjoyed everything and knew that I had chosen well.
The farm had one horse called Violet and one morning we four girls were handed a small bowl of oats, a leading rope and told to fetch her from her paddock. Ha! Ha! Violet was quite a big horse and stood watching us advancing on her in a sort of half-circle and let us get quite close to her when she suddenly turned and kicked up with her back legs. You never saw four girls scarper so quickly in all directions in all your life, head first through the wire fence! I was absolutely scared stiff, as were the others.
On getting our breaths back we could see Mr Thomas and Dorothy laughing their heads off. It was a set up, they knew exactly what would happen. I never did like Violet and she did have a temper but I learned to drive her and the wagon about the farm, although I needed help to get her in the shafts.
The War Years
At the end of our four weeks training, one of of us was going to be kept on to join Dorothy, the permanent land girl and that turned out to be me. Dorothy was the tractor and small open-back van driver and lived in a cottage a field away from the farm with easy access. I moved in with her and we looked after ourselves and got on well together.
As I had already met the soldier, the man I was destined to marry who was stationed in Market Lavington at the time, my wartime placement was good. During term time, the Dauntsey boys worked on the farm between lessons but all disappeared for the holidays, so then our workload increased, although there were two older men also working on the farm.
I had charge of the chicken pens in which the chickens were free range in an open field, not closed in as today. They were locked up at night otherwise the foxes would have them. Each pen had its own pen house. Dorothy had the pigs.
Mr Thomas lived locally with his family and Dorothy and I had to go weekly to his house for bath night! The cottage I shared with Dorothy had no bathroom. Hay making and corn threshing were two of the busiest times but good fun with many people working together.
My first effort at loading a hay wagon for transport back to the farm came to grief. A few layers up and the whole lot started to slide off to the side and being on top, I went with it! Start again. I did better next time amid the advice of ‘how to do it’ and ‘how not to do it’ being flung at me by my co-workers!
Another time I came to grief was when coming back to the farm after working the outlying fields, Dorothy was driving the turn into the farm gate a little too fast. I was standing on the back of the tractor behind Dorothy and I went flying, finishing up in the hedge, winded, bruised and battered but no lasting damage. Hold on tighter in the future!
A bonus for being at the school was being able to attend any entertainment the school put on. Although the amount was limited, we had some good musical evenings. I even went to tea with the Headmaster and his wife and daughter.
First Sighting of American Soldiers
All this time the war was raging everywhere although we had seen little of it at the farm. This particular day though, I had loaded a hay wagon and was riding on top of it back to the farm when, nearing the farm turn, I became aware of a lot of traffic noise.
Sitting up, sure enough, there was a convoy of American soldiers passing by and I gave them a wave as we turned into the farm. Later I realised they were on the way to the coast as it was the summer of 1944, the Normandy crossings or invasion and I wondered how many of the men in that convoy would return. We had also noticed more military traffic on the roads.
Regarding my own family and Bert’s, we didn’t lose anyone really close during the war although my brother, Leslie, became a prisoner of war but eventually returned home. I did lose an aunt and uncle in the London bombings as a result of a direct hit on the bomb shelter they were in. As a child, I had spent many a holiday with them.
Village Life and a Soldier…
When we four girls first arrived at Market Lavington for our Land Army training we soon learned that there was a Village Hop (dance) on Saturday nights in the Village Hall. So along we trotted and had an enjoyable evening. There were plenty of soldiers to dance with as they were stationed in and around the village.
The following Saturday night the Fish and Chip shop opened. Opening times depended on the rationing of fats for frying and if there had been a delivery of a catch of fish from somewhere. Unfortunately, we girls were a bit short of cash by then and it was a toss up between eating or dancing. We couldn’t afford both. Stomachs won and my, those fish and chips went down a treat!
On the Sunday I went with Pat, one of the girls, to chapel. This was Pat’s choice. Some soldiers arrived and sat a few rows behind us and one of them, seeing my half turned face at some point in the service, turned to his friend Harry beside him and said, ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’ This was repeated to me by Harry at a much later date. Love at first sight!!!
The following Saturday saw us once again at the village dance and that particular soldier was also there and proved to be a very good dancer. I later learned he had done competition dancing before the war. He had also been told that I was a good dancer but not that good as he said I’d danced with too many sailors! There were plenty of those (sailors) in Brighton but that didn’t stop him dancing with me through the evening. By that time he had a name, Bert Hayes.
Harry, Pat and Bert contrived to get me to make a foursome on the one or two evenings left of our training session, which I was reluctant to do as I was already engaged to a boy I’d known a long time while back in Brighton. He was a conscripted sailor by then. So the door was wide open for soldier Bert and obviously by then, I had a growing attraction towards him.
Land Army training came to an end and I had been picked to remain. Pat was the only one I kept in contact with for a few years but as so often happens, eventually that contact was lost.
1943 – a Momentous Year
1942 became 1943 and proved a momentous year, both good and bad. In the February, very sadly, my Dad unexpectedly died – he was only 59 years old. Home I went for the funeral etc. My brother who was serving somewhere on a submarine, was not able to be there.
In March, Bert and I went to Weymouth to meet his parents and family, me for the first time and to get engaged. I had already met his older brother, Stan, as he was in the same unit as Bert in Market Lavington. The engagement party went off very well.
The good was followed by the bad again as my Mum in Brighton, was bombed. She was caught in the blast of bombs dropped either side of her and taken to hospital to recover from her injuries and eventually discharged.
I went home again to try and clear the house as it was in such a mess. The house was not structurally damaged but crockery, ornaments, anything loose lying around, had been broken and dust was thick everywhere.
Bad news followed bad. Whilst in hospital, news came that my brother Leslie’s submarine had been sunk in the Mediterranean Sea with some survivors, but who? Eventually, through the Red Cross, we learnt that he was a survivor, albeit a prisoner of war in Germany but safe till war’s end. Not the news to help towards a bombed Mum’s recovery.
The year ended on a much happier note – Bert and I married on the 18th October, 1943, at St Paul’s Church, Weymouth. By that time though, Bert’s unit had been posted to Wyndham, Norfolk – a little too far to walk to meet up! It was unfortunate but in wartime you got on with it like everything else. We’d had quite a few months together at Market Lavington and West Lavington beforehand and we’d had our marriage to plan and look forward to.
Farm work dictated the times when we planned anything, even our marriage. It had to be in October after the potato harvest and the boys were back at school. As summer and winter are extremely busy times for farms, my marriage to Bert could not take place until the middle of October, when all the crops and hay had been harvested and the boys had returned after the long summer holidays.
Following our marriage, we went on a week’s honeymoon to Bristol and then back to the farm for me and back to his unit for Bert, who was stationed in Wyndham. So Bert departed for Wyndham and would come back on leave, although I had to leave him at the cottage every day to go to the farm unless I could get a few days off, if it was school time, then we would go to Weymouth to see Bert’s parents. That was how it was to be for the next one and a half years. When he did stay at the cottage our roles were reversed. I was the one to get up early in the morning (the cows still had to be milked) and Bert stayed in bed!
I made a very good friend in Market Lavington, the village schoolmistress, Sybil Baker, a lovely- natured girl. Her mother was also a school teacher and she and her husband welcomed me to their home and it was there that I first tasted home made wine! Only a small glass as I had to walk back to the cottage at Lavington. Our friendship lasted until Syb’s death at 90 years.
Syb was engaged to a soldier who was, unfortunately, a prisoner-of-war having been captured at the Dunkirk evacuation. On repatriation at war’s end, he was a changed man and the engagement was mutually broken. Later, she went on to marry another village man which proved a happy marriage and I went to the wedding. They had one son who I never did meet.
Friends and acquaintances were very much appreciated after Bert and his unit left the village as another unit did not replace them. Until they left, Bert and I walked the lanes and fields around the two villages (Market and West Lavington) with the occasional bus trip into Devizes.
Those bus drivers were great and would just pack everybody in, especially at night, to get all back to their units etc. How the buses ever got started let alone travel was a miracle. Cheek by jowl wasn’t in it, but good nature was – the atmosphere was lively and companionable.
That was how it was until I realised I was expecting my first child. At the end of March 1945, I left behind my Land Army days. I had enjoyed every bit of them, come rain or shine, whatever the job, the people I had met and I had no regrets for my choice of war service. I returned to Brighton and stayed with my mother who, being a widow, was glad to have some family around again and so we waited until my son was born. My husband was demobbed in January 1946 and I left Brighton to settle with him in Weymouth so that he could return to his pre war employment.”