WW2 Land Girl: Daphne Mary Banks (née Webb)

Daphne Mary Banks (née Webb)

In the course of my work, I read many farming magazines. How different is the farming scene from that I faced in 1939 when I joined the newly-formed Women’s Land Army. The recruiting office was in Portland Terrace, Southampton. I really had little idea of farming, only enthusiasm inspired by romantic pictures such as ‘The Gleaners’. Poor farmers, I can imagine their horror at the idea of employing girls like me.

Fortunately, by the end of the war many land girls were appreciated for their willingness and enthusiasm for hard work. In fact, some farmers even married them!

I mostly thoroughly enjoyed my farming years, though sometimes extreme tiredness led to boredom and a desire for fresh surroundings and I would go to fresh fields and pastures new.

Firstly, though, I spent two weeks at Stockbridge. Faint, derisive smiles appeared on my colleagues’ faces when I arranged this August’, ’39 holiday. However, the weather was glorious, and I returned to my desk with a gorgeous tan.

Two months later I was ‘called up’, this time to a farm in Farringdon, near Alton.

Daphne (centre) with Paddy (right) and another friend
Daphne (centre) with Paddy (right) and another friend

The first winter of the war was fantastic. I remember a thaw that was stopped in its tracks by a sudden massive freeze. I should have had a camera, that day. Icicles hung from just about everywhere, and the roads were lethal. Getting the cows to and from the milking sheds was almost impossible. We tied sacking over our boots so we could stay upright. Visually, though it was a beautiful a sight as I shall ever see.

I have a shocking memory for names, but two other girls I remember there were Gussie and Paddy, the latter last heard of in Lasham.

Then there was a spell in the New Forest at Minstead, where I was taught by my landlady’s husband to shoot and was introduced to poaching. This wasn’t successful, as whereas I excelled at hitting tins in the back garden, I just couldn’t kill a rabbit or anything else that moved, nor did I really want to. The fields at that farm were covered in wild daffodils in spring, an unforgettable sight.

Hurstbourne Priors, Martyr Worthy and Longparish, all such lovely villages, where we milked by hand, spread muck with horse and cart, hand-trimmed hedges and built hay and corn ricks; few combines about then.

The dust when we threshed was diabolical, but we were young and enthusiastic, and above all, patriotic.

I have such treasured memories; of fetching the cows at 5:30 on a misty morning, standing by the gate hollering until the lumbering shapes appeared out of the mist, each one known by name. Of bread and cheese lunches in the hayfields and hedgerows, keeping ourselves mentally alert with the Daily Telegraph crossword. Of a steamy hot day during a bad harvest rescuing sheaves, green with shoots and disturbing a wasps’ nest, a 100 yds. sprint to the nearest tree and quick strip-off saving me from hysterics.

Daphne with Paddy out in the fields
Daphne with Paddy out in the fields

At Martyr Worthy, my landlady took me to a nearby copse one April evening to hear the nightingales; unforgettable. I wonder if they still sing there?

More names come to mind. Delphine (Stockbridge), Dorothy (Alton), Elizabeth (Longparish). Ah, Longparish; I met my husband there. He is a Londoner, loves towns and all their amenities, and thinks the countryside is only for visiting.

We made our home in Buckinghamshire, then Oxfordshire. Only recently have we come back to Hampshire to live. It is till a lovely county, but it was as a land girl during the war years that I saw it at its best.

Published in Hampshire Life, April 1979, pp. 5-6.

Daphne Mary Banks (née Webb)

General Information

First Name(s):  Daphne Mary

Unmarried Surname: Webb

Married Surname:  Banks (widowed 1989). Second husband Edmonds.

Date of Birth:  11/5/1922

Place of Birth:  Slough

Date Joined WLA: 1939

Date Left WLA: Either 1945 or 1946

Employment and Accommodation

Employment

Daphne with a cow
Daphne with a cow

Pre-Work Training: Farm in Hampshire – Stockbridge (mum can’t remember the name)

Employed by?: Private farmer. 

Dates with employer?: c. 1916 – 1918

County: Hampshire

Farm Name: Farmer’s names unknown.

Farringdon near Alton

Minstead

Hurstbourne Priors

Martyr Worthy

Longparish

Dairy work on all of the farms.

Accommodation

Accommodation in: Private billet. Always on my own in farmhouse (with the family).

The elderly couple Daphne lodged with
The elderly couple Daphne lodged with

Life After War

Did you return back to their pre-war occupation? Met my husband – married 1947

What was your / their occupation after the war? Housewife

How did work in the WLA / WTC effect your/ their life? Wonderful memories

Further Information

Previous occupation: Office work

Reasons for joining: Patriotism

Family’s reaction to joining: Parents very happy with my choice.

Type of work undertaken: Dairy farming

Work liked most and least: All of the work.

Best and worst memories of time: No bad memories – I loved it all

Reactions of local people towards WLA / WTC: Supportive

Treatment by farmers or market gardeners: Treated very well.

Reasons for leaving: I met my husband and married.

Contributor Details

Name: Irana Dawson

Relationship to Land Girl: Daughter

Daphne with brother-in-law Reg
Daphne with brother-in-law Reg
Daphne Webb on right with her sister and cousin
Daphne Webb on right with her sister and cousin
Daphne on her way back from milking
Daphne on her way back from milking
Daphne (right) with Paddy
Daphne (right) with Paddy
The 'gang' having lunch
The ‘gang’ having lunch

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