Betty Dannatt (née Wellings)
“I joined the Women’s Land Army at 17 years age, on September 6th 1943. That day I travelled south by train to Redenham House, Weyhill, between Andover and Salisbury, Hampshire. There were 5 other girls from Walsall, Staffs, my home town, who travelled with me, all very excited and apprehensive.
Redenham House was large, with a long drive up to its very impressive front doors. I believe there were between 80 to 90 of us who were soon allocated our place in the various bedrooms. Our room held 6 double bunks, bedside cabinets and wardrobes with plenty of space between. Our bathroom was next door.
There was a main Warden and two helpers, plus kitchen staff, who made us very welcome and told us what was expected of us to make sure life was well ordered, such as mealtimes and bedtimes including two late passes each week, otherwise ten o’clock meant front door closed. Breakfast was served around 7.30, we also made our own lunch packs. Then our work leader, Miss Davies arrived, and the coaches and drivers of the various coaches that were to take us to the various farms we were to work at.
At this time it was mostly potato picking. This was hard work at first but we soon adjusted to the bending down and many an evening we would be picked up in trucks and taken to the dances at the many troop camps in the area. The winter saw us picking sprouts, carrots and other root vegetables. Later on we learned to cut hedges, thatch the tops of haystacks and some made the spars which you needed for this job. One of the dirtiest jobs was clearing the chaff away when the thrashing machines came. These came around in turn to all the farms. The sheaves were put into the top of the machine, then after the corn was extracted the rest would be pushed down and we cleared it away causing a lot of dust. We all worked well together and sang our hearts out on our journeys out to the various farms.
We had a rail pass, I think every 2 months so did get home to see our families. The girls from London were always worrying about the bombing, but the people of Canada bought a lovely hostel in Sloane Square, London and we were able to stay odd weekends there in very good accommodation. Our coaches that took us out to the farms belonged to a Bournemouth firm so when the coaches needed servicing we were able to go there and stay in a very nice TOCH hostel, so could enjoy the sea air.
In 1946 there was a fire at Redenham and so we were evacuated to another village and a house called Chute House. It was a more homely house and we all enjoyed being there. That winter after Christmas we had a very heavy fall of snow and so we were not able to work. We enjoyed sledging over the nearest hill and making a good snowman.
I left the WLA in February 1947 as I’d been able to get a visa to visit my ex-wren sister who was living in Rome. Many girls stayed on another year, when the Land Army was disbanded. We had 2 reunions in the 50’s and visited both houses at those times. Was so nice to meet up and recall old times of my life. My best friend and I still meet, she is 90 years old and I am 88 and a half years old. We must be a very hardy bunch as there were so many of us at the unveiling at the Arboretum of the two statues. Was a lovely occasion but a very cold day. We were so glad of our cup of tea and cake and a nice copy of the statues, which I framed.”
First Name(s): Betty
Unmarried Surname: Wellings
Married Surname: Dannatt
Date of Birth: 7.2.26
Place of Birth: Walsall, Staffordshire
Date Joined WLA: 6.9.1943
Date Left WLA: 8.2.1947
Previous occupation: Office clerk
Reasons for joining: Wanted to do my bit.
Family’s reaction to joining: Not too happy but accepted my desire to join.
Reactions of local people: Always treated well.
Treatment by farmers or market gardeners: Good
Reasons for leaving: Gained a visa to visit my sister in Rome, Italy.
Worked for Hampshire War Agricultural Committee at Redenham House, Weyhill, Andover. Worked with Doris Pickett (née Parsons) and Monica Bruerton (née Brady).
Work included all fieldwork, hedge cutting, and hatching on ricks. Liked all jobs except when very cold.
Lived in a hostel at Redenham House. Played netball against several other hostels in Hampshire.
Life after the war
Storekeeper of canteen in M.O.S. Depot, Walsall.
How did work in the WLA effect your life? Just the best years of my life. Broadened my horizons. Love of the countryside. Am still interested in what happens in farming.
Became gang leader. Won hedge cutting competition.
Name: Betty Dannatt