And did those feet…

A pair of Women’s Land Army shoes at the Staffordshire County Museum at Shugborough. Stafford has a long history of shoemaking, and the “Lotus Shoes” collection is a great resource at the museum.

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!

Receipts for fundraising for the Borough of Walsall War Aid Fund, 1941

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:

Joining the Land Army

….And describing her bed and uniform:

Beds and uniforms….

My mother, (far right) and her best friend Betty Green, (far left), lean out of the window of the Land Army Hostel in Lynn Lane, Shenstone – 1948

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 first, hard, days…

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!)

The girls have a tea break at Swinfen Hall

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.

Marie Sheldon and Ted Horton outside the Land Army Hostel, Lynn Lane, Shenstone. 1948.

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

At Owlett Hall Farm, Lynn Lane, Shenstone. Mom, left, and Aunt Mary.

Mom says that she later got loads of wear out of her nice fawn Aertex shirts.
But whatever happened to that warm overcoat, and those lovely shoes?

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11 Responses to And did those feet…

  1. ROSALIND COOPER says:

    Just gone all tearful seeing our lovely young Mums !!!!! Gosh but your Mum looks like a supermodel, so willowy, and lovely bone structure and my Mum looks as if she could be me OR Josephine-Ann! That was the gate from the farm yard that I remember the cow escaping over in the 1947 winter, she bolted down to the woods and was isolated by the subsequent blizzards and Dad used to have to walk down daily with fodder… fortunately the stream was still running and unpolluted … I used to scuttle after him in the track in the snow with the drifts either side higher than me and then I got a lift home on Dad’s back in the feed sack. The building on Mum’s left was a fowl shed.

    Are some of the pictures missing ? 

    Oh it is all so nostalgic, I am SO glad you are doing these.

    Much, much love XXXXX Ros

    ________________________________

    • Thanks Ros! Glad you like it. You admired Mother’s looks – although she thought herself far too thin then, of course. She complained bitterly of the “wrinkly” picture I put on the last blog post. Hmmm – I have my mother’s height, but the strappingness of my dad too!! Not sorry really – I can reach things from high shelves and push large barrows of dung round the garden, effortlessly!

      Black and white does not, of course, reveal the glorious deep copper barnet of your Mum.

      The “missing” pictures might be the audio files?

  2. ROSALIND COOPER says:

    Yes!!! Managed to hear it, she was getting into the swing of it by the time she started enthusing about Swinfen Hall !!!  Do you send these to Jo’s daughter who is interested in genealogy ?? don’t know which one it is ……

    XXXXXXXXXXXXX R

    ________________________________

  3. Pingback: The secret army | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

  4. Clive says:

    Nice one, thanks for sharing your memorys with me.

  5. It gives me much pleasure that you are interested.

  6. I love reading this, & seeing photos of Mary as the feisty young woman who always shone though her. I also think your mum was very elegant. Further impressed that Ros has managed to write a blog comment!

  7. Aunt Mary was FANTASTIC. Thank you for your kind comments.

  8. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I
    clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyway, just wanted to say great blog!

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