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Pat Kemp driving the tractor during haymakingWhen I got to the age of 18 I told my stepfather I wanted to join the WAAF but he said he didn't want me to so I mentioned joining The Women's Land Army and he agreed to that. I had to write to the Labour Officer to get permission to leave the garage. I had a reply which stated that I couldn't leave the garage because the manager would not release me. Every week I asked for my "cards" In the end they said it was only fair to let me go. I had to go to my doctor to see if I was fit enough. He didn't examine me he just said "Do you want to join up? I told him I did. He signed the paper I needed and off I went.
I enlisted in The Women's Land Army in 1943 just before my eighteenth birthday. The lady who was interviewing told me I couldn't wear my earrings I just glared at her (Typical 18 year old) and she quickly went on to tell me where I would be stationed which was a house at Totteridge which we were told belonged to Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts. When they were giving us our uniforms I told them I would not wear the corduroy breeches because they were baggy and hung down around the knees so they gave me a nice pair of olive green gabardine breeches. I was given a pair of boots like men's so I wouldn't be wearing those either. But I would wear the Wellingtons. The rest of the uniform was nice. We were given a Cream Shirt, Beige Socks, a Green Pullover and Tie, Tan Shoes and a Mid Brown Overcoat and Hat and of course the Boots which I never wore. We had to buy everything else and pay for our keep. The wages were so low that there was very little left. Lady Denham asked Winston Churchill to pay us more money_but he refused. We were called the Cinderellas of the forces.
After a few weeks we were sent from Totteridge to Oaklands Agriculture College at St, Albans Hertfordshire. We were told we would be there for four weeks but it was changed to five weeks because of a proposed visit by the Duchess of Gloucester. We were taught a lot about farming also how to groom a horse. I was given a chicken to hold one day and I could feel it's bones and it made me feel sick and dropped it. Another time I was told to help put some piglets on to a cart by lifting them up by the ear and tail and when I tried it squealed so loud I screamed and dropped that too. On the day of the Duchess visited there was a Ploughing Match. All the men were lined upon their tractors and I had to be the learner on a Caterpillar tractor. The time came for our departure. We climbed onto the lorry. It seemed that we had travelled for so long and getting further and further from London. I looked out the back of the lorry and said "We are in the wilds I don't think I want to stay here". Other girls looked out and moaned too. At last we arrived and when I saw Rowney Priory. I loved it. We were told it was once a Nunnery.
Rowney Priory, nr. Ware, Hertfordshire.
We had Bunk beds but later they were replaced with single iron framed beds. We also had a small wardrobe each. Among the girls with me at Rowney were, Mary Doyle (Mrs Mary Doidge of Buntingford,) Margaret Callaghan (the late Mrs Margaret Aylott of Buntingford , Eileen Parker ( Mrs Eileen Gordge of Oxford, May Robinson ( Mrs May Odegaard of USA), Joan Tiddeman ( Mrs Joan Nichols) of London) Peggy Knott (Mrs Peggy Bull of London.) Sandy Hensher (Mrs Rackstraw of Acton) Elsie Bell (Mrs Elsie Bartlett of High Cross) who was my best friend for 52 years. Sadly she died just before we moved to Buntingford. There were about fifty girls at Rowney Priory.
Pat Kemp (2nd from right on middle row) and friends, outside Rowney Priory.
Every night we were told by the forewoman which farm we were to go to next day. We had to get up early and get on the lorry and the forewoman would drive us and drop us off at various farms. She would also pick us up at the end of the day. In the Summer time we worked until 9 pm or 9.30 pm. Hay Making or Harvesting, so because all the girls were spread around the countryside it took a long time to pick them all up so it was quite late when we all got back to Rowney. It was a rush then to get to the bathrooms to get a bath if you were lucky. We were only alowed 4 Inches of water for a bath like everybody else. Then we would get something to eat and get to bed. At Harvest time we had to stand the sheaves up in groups of six to dry then we would load them on to the cart and then take them off the field where the girls would pass them to the men and they would build a stack. The dirtiest job was Threshing. It was such a dirty job we wore scarves around our heads and across our faces. The dust would get in our eyes and ears and up our noses. When we were on the thresher feeding the wheat into the drum after a while it would draw you towards it so we took it in turns. Although it was very hard work and long hours I liked Haymaking and Harvest time very much but I used to get so mad if I couldn't get a bath right away when we got back "home" I was working with some new girls and we decided to go to a village pub at lunch time but we had to go across a field to get there. In the field were some cattle and the girls asked me if they were bulls. I said they were and to get across the field they would have to climb over the fence and run for their lives. I watched them running like mad then I walked leisurely across and they realised I had lied to them. They were not bulls they were cows. They swore at me but later saw the funny side of it. One of them said "It will give my mum a laugh when I write and tell her about it".
One day I was going potato picking and when I got off the lorry I looked to see who was with me and I was shocked to see they were new girls. I felt very sorry for them as it was a very hard job to have on your first day. We had a strip each and we had to pick up all the potatoes before the digger came around again. After I had picked up all of mine I looked up to see the girls holding their backs in agony and I thought I would have to help them or their strips wouldn't be finished by the time the digger came around again and the farmer would be no doubt be angry. For the rest of the day I picked up the potatoes on my strip and then went and helped them to finish theirs. I was getting ready to go back to Rowney when the farmer came to me and said "I have been watching you and you have been working very hard" I grinned at him thinking to myself he must have been hiding somewhere because I hadn't seen him. He gave me some money which was very nice of him. He then asked me if I would work for him all the time. I said "Doing what" He said" Milking "And I laughed and told him I didn't want to milk cows and I didn't know how to. He said I will teach you, just give it a try. I said I would as I knew I could leave if I didn't like it. I got on alright, I got to like the lovely Friesian cows.
There was an Italian prisoner of war working at the farm. I cycled to and from the farm, it wasn't very far. It was winter so very dark in the evenings so the farmer told the Italian to cycle back to Rowney with me every night. The trouble was the Italian resented me working at the farm. He moaned at me saying I should not be working there as the job was for men not for women. This continued day after day and one day I yelled at him to stop it. The farmer appeared and said "That's right girl stand up for your self. The Italian was quiet for a while but we were cleaning out the cowshed one day when he started being nasty to me again. He went on and on and he was working just behind me and I got so angry I swung around and punched him in the mouth which began to bleed. He lifted his shovel to hit me, I was scared but I glared at him and said "You dare" He threw his shovel down and walked out. I thought I would have to cycle back to Rowney on my own that night but as I got to the gate the Italian shouted to me to wait for him. Then I began to think he might hit me or kill me in one of the dark lanes. It was pouring with rain so I rode as fast as I could. By the time we arrived we were soaked. I was "home" but he had to cycle back to the farm.
I had three small calves to look after and I was weaning them by getting a bucket of milk and putting my hand in it and then the calf would learn to drink by sucking my finger. I went on leave for two weeks and when I returned to the farm the farmer asked me if I was going to see to my calves. When I got to the shed I saw three big cows. I went back to them and with a look of disdain I said "Where are they then? The farmer was laughing and said to the Italian "I told you she would know they weren't her calves. He told me where they really were I just looked at the Italian with disgust.
At another farm I worked with Mary Doyle. The farmer was very good to us. At harvest time at 5 pm he would bring us tea and sandwiches and every week he would give us a tip. We were there a long time because he had more than one farm and we worked on all of them. I had to go ploughing with one of the men and the plough was to be drawn by a horse. It was a young horse which had not done any work before. I was told I would have to hold him back or he would tear away. It was very hard trying to hold him back as the horse was very strong. He was pulling so hard and his eyes were wild and bulging he was foaming at the mouth. I was so exhausted and relieved when the day was over. My hands were sore and my legs ached so much. Mary became a Ganger which meant if there were 4 girls or more going to Work at a farm she would have to go and work with them and be in charge.
We were hoeing on a farm there were German prisoners of war were hoeing on the other side of the field. It began raining and when it started pouring down hard we rain into the woods at the top of the field and so did the Germans but they ran to where we were. The girls wanted me to say the German words I knew which was only "Ich lebadich mien lielbing" Which someone had told me it me it meant "Kiss me my darling" I said no but they kept on to me so I said it and a German said "Yes please" He then took a book from his pocket and said "Come and sit here with me and I will teach you German" but I wouldn't. I was not going to make friends with any Germans. We should not have spoken to them at all as we had been told not to fraternizse. A long time after we could speak to them as we were working with them. We were threshing one day and there was a German and an Italian. I went to lift a bale of straw but the German stopped me and said "No don't lift anything. We will do it" I was pleased about that as the bales were very heavy.
There were a lot of Americans stationed in the area and we were often invited to the dances at their camps. The dances were held in a hanger and they would put some chalky stuff on the floor and so as we danced it flew all over the place. They would send a lorry for us and would bring us back. When it was time to leave the camp the lorry was stopped at the gate and the military guards would shine their torches and ask if there were any GI's on board and we everybody chorused "No" and when we were out of the gates the GI's would come out from under the seats. There was so much food at the camp and when the women came in form the village to take some of it the GI's would help them pack the food in their carrier bags.
There were some GI's in Hertford and we invited them to Rowney. On the day of the dance they telephoned to ask if someone could go to Hertford and show them the way to Rowney. The girls asked me to go but I said I would not go on my own so Joan Tiddiman said she would come with me. Joan sat with the driver in the Command Car and I sat with the officer in the back and there was a lorry full of GI's following. As we got to Ware crossing we were stopped by a Dewdrop (U.S Military Police) and he told the Officer that they were not allowed to have civilians in a Command Car. The officer told him we were not civilians but he didn't believe him so the officer told him he could ride along with us. The Dewdrop after much bickering let us go. A few weeks later the same Dewdrop came into Ware Drill Hall where the dances were held every Saturday night and asked me for a date. I went out with him for a while and he asked me to write a letter to his mother. I received a reply from her and she said her daughter would like to me to write to her too. That was too close for me. I didn't want to go out with him anymore. I went out with several Americans but I didn't want to get serious with anyone. About eight of us met some Americans and we went out with them most nights. We used to go to a pub named The Green Man at Dane End and we had many good times with them and they always got us back to Rowney by 10.30. They were waiting to go abroad but they didn't know when or where so when they didn't arrive on time one night we thought they had gone and we were very quiet and sad. We got our bikes out to go to the pub and just as we started off we heard the lorry, they had arrived. A few weeks later however they didn't arrive at all. That night there we were very sad and there were tears .We felt so sorry for them and scared fort them. It was D day. The American Military Police were called Dewdrops because their helmets were white.
When the war ended we all put on our uniforms and decided to go to London and celebrate with everybody else but we had to wait for permission. We went and stayed all night singing and dancing. It was such a relief it was great. We went back to Rowney and next day went to work as usual but with a more relaxed feeling.
I had a telephone call from head office asking me to go on a Forewoman's Course. I told them I didn't want to be a Forewoman. The woman talked me into it by telling me I would be paid more money and I would work in the mornings but there were lectures in the afternoon. There were six of us there and we had a great time. I must say though, at the lectures I used to nod off while being told about the rotation of crops and so forth. I went from there to Reed nr Royston. I had to tell the girls which farms they were going to and do the Time Sheets every week and keep everything in check. An elderly man was the lorry driver. I met a few nice chaps there and had some nice times but I didn't want anyone too serious. I had a telephone from Head Office asking me if I would go to a bigger house at Ayot St. Lawrence. I declined and I told them I wanted to go back to Rowney. They said "If you go back there you will be an ordinary land girl again" I told them I didn't care about that and I didn't want to be a Forewoman in the first place. To my delight they told me I could go back to Rowney. It was great to be back.
My eldest sister was married to an American and she wrote to me to tell me they would be home on leave and they had arranged for me to go back with them to the American Zone in Germany for a month but my leave was only for two weeks. I didn't think they would give me two weeks extra but then I was asked to be Forewoman at Rowney. I didn't want to but I said I would if I could have a month's leave. They said yes I could.
My sister, her husband, their little girl and I went across the channel on a cargo boat. They also had the car so we drove through France to Germany. It was very eerie as it was very quiet and dark as we drove all night and I was a bit scared in case we saw any ghosts of soldiers who had been killed in the fields we were passing in the countryside. The Americans had a club there and one day two of the German girls who worked at the club said they were going to Stuttgart and would I like to go with them. I was devastated by what I saw. It had been crushed to the ground. What I saw next shocked me. I saw two soldiers with only stubs left of their legs and they were on pieces of wood and were sort of rowing themselves along. I know our men suffered too but this was the first time I had seen anybody so damaged.
It was time for me to return to England and to Rowney Priory. As we got into the car to go to the station my sister told me all the soldiers in the American club would be on the steps there to wave me Goodbye. I laughed but she said "You wait and see." As we got near the club she told me to stand up with my head through the Sunroof so I did and there they were waving and shouting "Have a good journey Pat and give our love to little old London" My sister told me to get off the train at Paris and go to the bank in the station to get my money changed and then go to another station and get on another train. I got on the train and there were two American girls in the compartment also an English Officer in Tropical uniform. We were chatting and he told me he was going to Turkey. I told him my mother was Turkish. (My father had met my mother in Turkey in the first world war.) When we arrived in Paris he said "Come with me and he took me to the bank in the station and he spoke to them in French and then told me that they didn't change money there. He told me to wait there with the luggage (his and mine) and he would go and fetch his car. When he returned he took me to the other station and I waited in his car while he changed my money. When he came back he said "I have changed your money and booked you a seat on the train so let us go and have some breakfast" We sat outside the cafe and I ate the roll but I didn't know what the thing on the table that looked like one cup on top of another and I just kept on looking at it and feeling embarrassed. He realised I didn't know what to do so he did it for me. I felt so silly but I had never seen anything like it before. After a while he said it was time to go to the station. When we got there we stood on the station platform and I thanked him for all he had done for me and I didn't know what I would have done without him. He put his arms around me and kissed me. We said goodbye and I didn't know his name and nor he mine. I have never forgotten him. He was a gentleman.
I returned to Rowney and as I was to be a forewoman again I had to learn how to drive the lorry. I would have to take the girls to and from work every day. The time came when I thought I had better leave and get a job and somewhere to live as the houses would be closing and I didn't want to go home. Anything would do for a start. I worked in the Feathers Inn for a while. One of the girls boyfriend's was the son of the owner and told me to go there so that I would have somewhere to live too until something else came along. Later on I got a job as a Dental Nurse. I didn't know anything about Dentistry but the Dentist said he would teach me. After a while I was quite pleased when he told me I had learned everything in three months what it took girls two years to learn at the hospital. If I had to do in for an exam though I would never pass as I get too nervous. Once a week we had to go to a Farm where there were "First Offenders" and each time we arrived there they would whistle at me. I always had to wear my "Nurses Uniform" The headmaster would shout at them to help carry the implements that were needed and they scared me sometimes when they would rush to help me.
I had been in the Women's Land Army for 6 years. Although it was very hard work we had lots of laughs and I still have my arm bands also release certificate and the personal message from the Queen signed Elizabeth R. I also still have my Ration Book and Identity Card.
There are families living at Rowney now and I'm sure they must love it there as much as we did.
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