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Phyllis Rutherford

Land Army

After reading the article in the current Practical Family History Magazine, I connected to your site. I feverishly read all the contributions from former Land Girls but was disappointed to find no names or places to link them to me. I am 85 and it is perhaps too late to hope to find any of my colleagues, who included Sylvia Farrow, Pat Strange, June Hetherington, Madge, Kath, Vera, but my story may be of interest. I was trained in Stithians, Cornwall and spent the next three years in Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire. I seem to have missed out on any distribution of certificates in recognition of my service but I have always said they were the best years of my life.

In 1942 I lied to my mother that to avoid direction into factory work I would have to join the Women's Land Army. I attended an interview in Oxford Street and when questioned on suitability I had to admit to none, except that I had read a lot about the countryside and it appealed to me. "What books have you read?" the lady asked. Er, that stumped me and I mumbled something about, "Man and his furry friends". In spite of that I was accepted and in due course dispatched to a farmer in Cornwall. I was a nuisance to my farmer straight away, as I had brought my bicycle and he had to arrange for it to be collected the next day. I found I was one of four or five Londoners off that train and we were all green as grass. As we walked into the farm buildings one of the girls said, "Oh what a dirty yard." The farmer glared at her and said, "Yes my girl, and your first job will be to clean it." Before the end of the month's training I helped to concrete that yard.

Somehow, the farmhands, with the support of a wonderful Head Girl, managed to teach us the rudiments of milking, hoeing, digging ditches, and there was one horror day when I held the squealing piglets for castration. I know one girl didn't last long and the farmer muttered angrily that these city girls couldn't stand being so far from Woolworths.

But I loved the life, though I didn't get on with the farmer. I was first sent to after training. I think it started when he complained about my having one hand in my pocket while turning the handle of the separator. It reached the stage where I wanted my mum and I left in a hurry, the local taxi proprietor lending me the train fare to London, me leaving my bicycle as security. Years later, while on holiday, I visited this farmer and over a cup of tea apologised for the trouble I had caused him, offering the excuse that if I had beeen a little older I might have been able to cope better. The Women's Land Army was very cross with me but I was transferred to Hertfordshire, where I settled happily for the next three years, being able to go home on my days off.

It was a dairy farm, there were eight other land girls, a delightful village, and it was really the best time of my life. We had rosters, so no job became monotonous. I liked best the early morning milk-run, first catching the reluctant pony, then making sure I had my bottle of cream off the top of the Jersey milk churn-no wonder I got fat.

The gentle meander through the village and down the lanes on a snowy morning, not another soul about, was sheer magic, in spite of having to leave the pony at the foot of a too-steep and slippery hill, and carry a heavy crate of bottles to the top. I got into the habit of buying the pony a currant bun on our return through the village, but it caused a problem on Sundays when the bakery was closed. Spot would stop, drag the float across the pavement and plant his feet on the shop step. I can't remember how this problem was solved, but I know some of the other girls were not pleased when it was their turn for the milk-run, especially if they were hurrying for their half-day off and Spot wouldn't budge from the bakery.

We were billeted out to homes in the village and I was with a dear old couple, the husband still working as a gardener. He came home on the train and his wife dare not miss hearing it, as he expected to see his meal on the table while he was taking off his boots and gaiters, so that it would be cooling to the right degree. There was no bathroom so I had to wash in my bedroom. One day I carried up a kettle of hot water and jug of cold, poured half of each into the basin and started with the dirtiest bits. I poured the rest of the hot into the cold, then had to empty the basin to start again. It wasn't until my landlady called up the stairs for the kettle to make the tea that I realised with horror that it was now filled with my dirty soapsuds. She was furious!

Another memorable day was my 21st birthday. I went into the cowshed and found a golden key tied to Buttercup's tail with a satin ribbon, and I moved the key from tail to tail as the milking progressed. While I was weighing the milk from my last cow someone let out the whole shed and my key went up into the meadow on Marigold's tail. I looked for it many times but it was never seen again. A highlight was the annual Harvest Home when the farmer treated his staff to a feast and dance in the barn. The farm secretary wrote little sketches for us girls to perform; I once had to wear a frilly apron and cap, knock on the door and say, "If you please ma'am, there's Miss Thurlow to see you." Just that, but it took hours of practice to get it right. Needless to say, after appearing day after day in our dungarees, we dressed to kill on these occasions, and one young man went through the whole affair in his best suit, heavy boots and bicycle clips.

There was an interlude when I went into a hostel and we were driven out by lorry every day to wherever needed, but I found no joy in picking up potatoes day after day, or brussels sprouts in the freezing early hours. I soon returned to my beloved cows and stayed with them until we were no longer needed. I went back a few years ago, and whilst the village was much as I remembered it, the farm, sadly was now a housing estate.

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