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Hilda Richards

Land Army

My Mum was recently asked to recount her memories of her Land Army days which she did and jotted them down. I typed them up and she is happy for them now to be passed on to you. She was Hilda Richards then and joined in the spring of 1943 working on the land of Richard Dennis on the Haverholme Estate near Sleaford, Lincolnshire until November 1946. She had moved from Nottingham where she had worked in Roughton's drapery shop before the change of life style...which - as with other ladies who have related their memories, was obviously a time of great camaraderie and satisfaction!

Congratulations to all the 'girls' that they will at last receive their recognition and I'm sure,wear their badges with pride!

During the war, boys were called up for duty at 17 years and three months - and quite a lot of girls were too! Some were sent to the ATS, WAFFS and WRENS but mostly girls were sent to work in munitions. My two older sisters had joined the Land Army and I followed suit when I was old enough.

Quite a lot of the girls had been shop assistants or office workers and were much happier to work in the country than be shut up in a factory. I was sent to Ewerby, near Sleaford in Lincolnshire and it was the first time I had been away from home in my life!

There was no bus into the village so I was met to continue the three miles or so and I imagined that another land army girl would meet me but I was in for a surprise. A real country chappie with horse and dray helped me up onto one side of the dray and off we went. As we passed the field the gang working on the threshing machine all waved and shouted “hello”…everyone seemed so friendly.

Ewerby was a pretty village and the big manor house was where one of the foremen lived with his wife and his son in one half of the building and the six land army girls lived in the other half. All the girls shared an extra large bedroom which housed six camp beds and three chests of drawers for all to share. The foreman’s wife cleaned and cooked for us and would shout for us when the evening meal was ready. We had the big room beneath for meals and relaxation. My first cooked meal I couldn’t finish half of it, it was such a plate full but the next day was a different story. After working hard all the day – well, I ate everything that was served!

My first job was with the thresher that I had seen coming in. Men were forking the bales up, some men on top to catch them and then another putting them into the machine. The corn went into boxes and when full was changed for more empty ones and stacked up. The chaff was collected on big sheets under the thresher and carted off…these were the girls’ jobs.

There were three of us called to take a horse and cart each and deliver and collect stuff. I had never been with a horse before but it was taken for granted that we knew how to go on. I soon got used to the way of things although nearly took a gate post off the first time out!!

From then on everything was to do with potatoes, setting, picking and riddling. For the setting, two girls worked together facing each other a ‘chitting’ box between them filled with spuds. One hand on the box handle and one hand taking a spud out. You took a step and slid the box as you set one spud in the groove and you if you had a good partner as I did, it was ‘one, two, one , two’ down to the end straighten up then fill your box again and down the next groove…cor my back!

When all setting was done we went on to the graves of old potatoes the men had done from the year before. These had to be riddled – two sizes of riddle, small beneath and larger on top. The potatoes that stayed in the bigger riddle were flicked into a hopper on the scales (sack bag fitted onto a hopper) and smaller spuds would drop into the bottom riddle and went into another bag for pig potatoes.

One girl would work on the shovel putting potatoes in the riddles (two girls on the riddles) and one girl taking the bag off the machine. When the weight was right, sewing the top of the bags and then putting in piles with three, two and one on the top. Later two girls lifted these onto lorries putting a strong stick under the bag so that we could throw them up. Is there any wonder that we became strong and big muscled girls?

When the picking season came on, it was very back-breaking. The tractor came and spun the spuds out and you had a round basket called a molly between your feet and grabbed potatoes with both hands as fast as you could; emptied into a hopper and ran across the other side to do the same. You each had your own stint and if you didn’t hurry, the tractor would be behind you waiting to do the next row. We all found this job the most tiring.

Mr Richard Dennis who was our boss (Dickie to us when he couldn’t hear us) was known to be the biggest potato grower ever. Much less time was spent gathering hay, singling beet, hoeing etc. I did manage to get a lovely job now and then with the horse and dray delivering the chitting boxes to different fields.

The way we had to learn things though was often by our own mistakes. A prime example was when I first yoked the horse up after being shown how to put the collar on upside down first, then turn it…only thing was as I reached up the horse nodded his head and the collar fell over my head instead. The first time I had to turn a horse and cart at the end of a field, I turned the horse towards me “Ouch! Ouch!” he trod on my foot so I learned - NEVER turn a horse towards you …always AWAY!! I was always delighted to work with horses especially Perky …we became the best of friends.

Land Army days were happy and hard working and it was wonderful the friends I made amongst the girls and the hardworking Irish lads who worked alongside us - one of whom became more than a friend, in fact a loving husband for 48 happy years until he sadly died in 1993.

It’s done my heart good recalling these old times.

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