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Mabel Irene Thomas
On 3 September 1939, war was declared by Great Britain and France on Germany, and so World War 2 started. These were very frightening times. I was 20 years old at the time, and too old to be evacuated from my home in the ship-building town of Barrow-in-Furness in North West England, on the edge of the English Lake District. My father, being a Royal Naval reservist and a coppersmith by trade, was called up immediately into the Royal Navy, holding the rank of Chief Petty Officer.
Early in 1940, German aircraft dropped their first bombs on Barrow. These were incendiaries which landed very close to our home, but the Fire Brigade quickly dealt with them. We were issued with gas masks, which we had to carry everywhere with us in case of gas warfare.
Every home was provided with an Air Raid Shelter, ours was an Anderson and dug well into the ground in the garden. We spent many nights sitting there, well wrapped up, listening to the German planes flying overhead and wondering if the next high explosive bomb would land on us. After heavy rain our shelter, which we called 'Jerry View', would become flooded which meant that we would have to sit there without light or heat, fully clothed and with Wellingtons on, listening to the planes flying overhead, their target being the local shipyards.
Every night we packed a suitcase with our valuable documents and everything else of importance, including a first aid box and flasks filled with hot drinks, and took them into the shelter. My father came home on leave on one occasion, saw the shelter flooded and remarked that we would probably die of pneumonia first than from the effects of the bombing. During daytime raids we would be directed by an Air Raid Warden to the nearest surface shelter, which were usually brick built.
In May 1941, when the bombing was at its height, our home became damaged from the effects of bombs falling on a neighbouring housing estate and became uninhabitable. We were fortunately unhurt, and my mother found rented accommodation in the neighbouring town of Dalton-in-Furness.
During the same year, young women were being drafted into war work, and as a preference to working in a munitions factory, I decided to join the Women's Land Army (WLA) as it seemed to offer the healthy outdoor life which appealed to me. The WLA enabled men folk working on the land to be called up for military service.
I joined on 10 June 1941. Members of the WLA were part of the Ministry of Agriculture and were employed on the basis of a guaranteed weekly wage as laid down by the Agricultural Wages Board, covering a working week of not more than 48 hours in winter and not more than 50 hours in summer. I received a cash weekly wage of 22s.6d. (about £1.12p) after a deduction to cover board and lodging provided by my employer. I was paid for all public holidays and also for my annual holiday of six days, when I was given a free return rail warrant to my home. Members of the WLA were employed in horticulture, general farm work, ploughing, hedging, milking, land reclamation, pest extermination, harvesting, threshing and some even became shepherdesses. On joining I was posted, along with about 30 other Land Girls, to a WLA hostel in Letterston, in Pembrokeshire, a very long way from my home in Barrow.
We had a housekeeper looking after us, and were taken daily by lorry in all kinds of weather, complete with our beetroot sandwiches (which I came to loathe), to work on different arable farms in the area - potato picking, hedge trimming and corn threshing in its season, which was very dirty and horribly uncomfortable work.
Some days, as a change, we had cheese sandwiches, and these also I loathed. Over the days I became very unhappy, leading a life far removed from that depicted on the recruiting posters. Seeing that I was so miserable, Mrs Betty Ladd, the WLA representative in charge, suggested to me that I apply to fill a vacancy for a Land Girl at Pentre Mansion at Boncath, also in Pembrokeshire. This I successfully did, moving at the same time as Mrs Ladd, who was returning there. Initially Mrs Ladd and I had board and lodging in a neighbouring village, cycling to and from our work, but on approaching the tenant of Pentre Home Farm he gave us permission to convert one of the empty farm buildings, and we made ourselves a very comfortable billet. The days of beetroot or cheese sandwiches were now a thing of the past.
I was employed in the horticultural section of the WLA, my work being mainly in the greenhouses, thinning the grapes on the vines, pollinating the peaches and nectarines with a rabbit's foot and making sure that everything was well watered. I also picked the soft fruit, climbed the apple trees in the orchard, packing the surplus fruit ready to take to the shops in Cardigan for sale. The head gardener, together with four other gardeners, was involved in keeping the estate in good order with the digging of the gardens, mowing the lawns, etc, although I did a lot of the planting out.
During the war, Pentre Mansion, owned by the Saunders-Davies family, was commandeered by the Military Authorities to be used as an Auxiliary Hospital and Convalescence Home for sick and wounded servicemen. They occupied one half while the family lived in the other.
The mansion was a beautiful place, with its glittering chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and oil paintings of the family and their ancestors hanging on the walls of each room. The rooms had colourful names - the blue room or pink room, for example - and in them stood suits of armour which had been worn by the family ancestors during previous campaigns. The staff had all been retained - the cook, the maids, Lloyd the chauffeur who would convey the servicemen to and from the local railway station in the family limousine when they were going on or returning from leave. The service personnel were cared for by Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses under the command of Matron, with an Army Medical Officer attending weekly. Sunday morning service was held in the chapel attached to the mansion, with one of the nurses playing the organ and the local vicar conducting the service.
The service personnel in their dress of vivid blue suit, white shirt, red tie and forage cap or beret were not allowed to walk into the gardens, but were allowed in the grounds in the front of the mansion, their discipline being maintained under an Army Sergeant Major.
Miss Barbara Saunders-Davies, the daughter of the family and about ten years older than me, bred beautiful Palomino horses. These were a lovely golden colour with cream mane and tail, and after work I spent many pleasant hours being taught horse riding by her.
Having been at Pentre since early 1942 I had met very many of the patients, socially and through my work, but none had really gained my affections until June 1945, when Royal Marine Stanley Ogilvie came to Pentre as a patient to recuperate from war wounds and attacks of malaria. I realised when I saw him that this was to be my future. Good looking, six feet tall, dark and handsome and resplendent in his dress uniform, and when we became better acquainted, I appreciated his sincerity and intelligence and we got on well together. We became engaged after a while, Stan leaving Pentre in August 1945 returning to his base at Plymouth, before being medically discharged.
World War 2 was now at an end. It had been at a tremendous cost, with enormous loss of life and a great deal of suffering to many more.
I was granted a willing release from the Land Army in January 1947, and it was with mixed feelings that I left Pentre, returning to my home in Barrow, which by then had been repaired and had become habitable once again. Stan came to live in Barrow and was successful in obtaining employment in the General Offices of the Barrow Haematite Steel Co Ltd.
We married on 16 August 1947, spending our honeymoon at Douglas in the Isle of Man, and then setting up home on Walney Island near Barrow. In 1950 our identical twin daughters, Dilys and Glenys were born. In 1965 Stan was offered a post in the Civil Service in Swansea. We moved there and it is where we still live. I am now an 85-year-old great-grandmother, and looking back over my life, I believe that it is the taking part during the growing up of the family which has given me most satisfaction, with us both helping our daughters to get on in life and to become good citizens, just the same as we were taught by our parents. The tendency to reminisce about the past is not just looking back, it's more like living one's youth and life all over again.
My tale has been about Past Times
The Present is with us
The Future is yet to come
Let us endeavour to make the most of it,
To the benefit of those we love and cherish
To the benefit of our fellow human beings as well as
To the benefit of ourselves.
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