They don’t seem to have had a lot of wear, these sturdy but rather smart Women’s Land Army shoes, which are on display in the Staffordshire County Museum at Shugborough Hall. Peering into the glass case, Mother remarked that her pair, of similar vintage, didn’t see much service either. She wore her Land Army gumboots or hobnail boots for field work, and during leisure hours, that practical tan leather footwear was far “too clumpy” to be worn with her cotton print dress, or tweed skirt and jumper. That left only the odd parade on which they might see the light of day. I didn’t quite agree, as I looked down at my own flat brown lace ups – a version of which I always seem to have had in my wardrobe – and I regretted that Mom had saved none of her Land Army uniform, with the single exception of her badge.
Mother and her best friend Betty Green took an early interest in the war effort. These receipts from the Mayor’s office in Walsall are for sums they raised together for the fighting fund and date to before her 12th birthday!
The war was over when Marie (pronounced “Marry”) and Betty became old enough to enlist in the WLA, but their efforts were urgently required in an agricultural industry still woefully short of male labour. The organisation remained in existance until 1950, by which time over 100,000 women had served. Most, like Marie and Betty, were volunteers.
Following a brief interview at the recruiting station in Wolverhampton they were issued with a rail warrant. Shortly after, they were installed in the relatively newly erected small complex of temporary huts off Lynn Lane in Shenstone. This Land Army Hostel was to be Mother’s home from home for the next 13 months.
Here is Mom talking about joining up and arriving in Shenstone:
….And describing her bed and uniform:
Whether Mom and Betty had been motivated by a burning sense of patriotism or a thirst for adventure coupled with sneaking admiration for the WLA uniform, the first few days were a trial for their soft young hands. Here she is telling me about her blisters:
The hands toughened up, and the winter of ’47-’48 wasn’t as harsh as the legendary one which preceded it, but it was still hard labour to pick frozen sprouts from frozen stalks and to lift and chop icy root vegetables with a vicious hooked blade. Mom says that the sharp stink from piles of steaming pigmuck on the frozen fields was not an altogether unpleasant smell, and certainly one that sharpened the appetite.
Appreciation for the sterling efforts of the girls wasn’t unknown among the farmers they assisted. Here, Mom remembers how Colonel Swinfen Broun, in the last months of his long and interesting life, invited them into the kitchen at Swinfen Hall for their tea break. Here Mom is describing how he made an impromptu song request: (With apologies for my flippant remark!)
Accommodation in the hostel might have been Spartan, but standards did not inevitably slip. On the piano in the corner of the common room, “Big Iris”, (as opposed to her colleague “Little Iris”), played Chopin nocturnes “beautifully”. The Warden, Mrs. Brand was a sophisticated lady, popular with the girls she was responsible for, and continued to “dress” for her dinner, which she took secluded in her own little sitting room. Mom can remember her sweeping along in floor length gowns, which must have seemed like a relic from another time.
From Lincoln House in Shenstone, a contingent of Ukrainian Prisoners of War enlivened a dance organised for the girls in the local hall. News of this event was greeted with disdain by my future father, who had enjoyed the recent evening he had spent in the Boat Inn at Summerhill with Marie, after she (rather amazingly from my perspective) agreed to hop onto the back of his motorcycle when she was out for a walk with another Land Army girl. It was not much more than a mile round the lanes on the Ariel from Keepers Cottage to the Land Army Hostel. On foot, across the fields of Owlett Hall Farm, farmed by his sister and brother in law, it was only a 10-minute stroll.
Ted Horton found that he happened to be passing that way more and more frequently.
By November 1948, Marie and Ted were married, and mother’s Land Army britches were still doing the job they were issued for, clothing a hard working woman on a Staffordshire farm, Mom’s new sister in law, Mary Cooper