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Olive Dorothy Lowe

Woman's Land Army

from:Scottow, Norfolk

I was 16 in 1939, at the start of the war and Coltishall Aerodrome was being built. This consisted of five airfields and a dummy airfield. Unfortunately, for us, the dummy aerodrome was just down the road from where I was working. One night, we were awakened by our beds shaking and a piercing whistle overhead. Next morning we were shown where ten bombs had rained down.

I used to ring the bells in the local churches but, once war was declared, we were not allowed to do that any more. They were only allowed to be rung as a sign that peace was declared and the war was over. Everyone was issued with identity cards and ration books. At the back of the books were some clothing coupons.

I was working as a domestic servant, first in Westwick Hall and later for a lady in Sidestrand for a year. I would cycle home to Scottow once a week. A five mile limit along the coast was enforced, meaning that unless you were actually living within that five mile limit you could not pass the barriers set up by the army. The soldiers were always on patrol at these barriers and I would get halted on the way back about five different times after I had been home. It became a habit for me to carry my identity card in my hand on the handlebars.

In 1940 I went home to live, but, by this time, my family had moved to Ashmanhaugh where my father was an ARP Warden, as well as holding down his new job as a farm foreman. I became a children's nanny for a while before becoming a housemaid at Hoveton Hall for a year.

By then I was eligible for call-up, when I decided to join the Women's Land Army. The position happened to be at Hoveton Hall! I began in the kitchen gardens at first and later worked on the farm with the horses. Jobs included cutting kale during the winter, threshing, hoeing and pulling and topping sugar beet.

Between 1940 and 1943 the war was in full swing and folk were issued with Morrison Air Raid Shelters. These shelters were the flat steel variety. One Sunday evening we were all getting ready to go for a walk when we heard the sound of gunfire and, coming straight towards us was a hedge-hopping Heinkel with machine guns blazing. We all fell flat and luckily he missed us. I found out afterwards that he had made a hole in the wall of the bedroom I used to sleep in at Hoveton Hall. That night was also the night they tried to bomb Coltishall Aerodrome but the bombs didn't reach their target. Another night we heard a terrible noise of aircraft. The aerodrome at Rackheath had Liberator four-engined bombers there. This particular night a German fighter followed the Liberators home, got amongst them and shot some of them down. It was terrible to watch. Coltishall was a fighter base so they were soon scrambled and shot down the German plane over the sea.

The next real scare we had was on hearing a Doodle Bug. The casing dropped first then the warhead exploded in Coltishall by the river. I recall one incident when I was on a train. Two nuns got on and when they got up to get off, one alert person noticed their hands and shoes were rather larger than normal for a woman. That person informed the guard and they were apprehended. It turned out they were spies!

This was a critical time for Britain. Our pilots were fighting day and night for their country and freedom. The German bombers were coming over more and more and doing great damage and destruction to our cities. Several of our local boys were away and quite a few were taken prisoner in Singapore. Some never came back. It was a very cruel war out there. The prisoners were badly tortured.

There were different nationalities all over the place. With Rackheath being an American base, there were plenty of Americans around and they were always popular with some of the girls because they always had plenty of money to spend.

In 1945 VE Day was announced. There were great celebrations everywhere but we still had food and clothing rationing for a very long time after that. At this time I thought it would be a good idea to raise funds for the RAF Benevolent fund as there was to be a "Wings For Victory" week so we had a series of concerts to include "Salute The Soldier" week and also in aid of the Women's Land Army Benevolent Fund. We were all happy with the success of all the concerts.

I had several positions in the next few years and in 1950 I was selected to attend the disbandment parade at Buckingham Palace in front of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. We had to travel to London and slept in the Clapham South Underground Station for two nights.

The morning of the parade we were taken by coach for breakfast and back to Wellington Barracks for the parade at 11.00 am. We were all marched from there into the Buckingham Palace quadrangle, lined up and waiting for the Queen Mother to appear. She chatted to quite a few girls in the front lines. I was in the second row. After the inspection we were shown round the Royal Mews. I had completed nine years in the Women's Land Army!

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