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The History of Kent

Copyright Kent Past 2010

Memories of a Land Army Girl

By Olive Boyes

Until the spring of 1942, I lived with my mother, father, sisters and brothers in a neat little brick council house, in Bellingham, on the outskirts of South East London, and worked at the nearby Chiltonian Biscuit Factory. Originally, I had planned to join the RAF, although before I had chance Pat Reading, an old work friend, told me that she had joined the Women’s Land Army (WLA).

She told me about her work on a farm and how enjoyable it was. I remember, being impressed with the smart uniform she was wearing. I told my three friends Rene Powell Joan Hicks and Ivy (I cannot remember her second name), about the visit and we all agreed to join the WLA.

We filled in the forms and took them up to the London recruitment offices, where a kind matron type lady who thought that as we were applying at the same time it may be possible to post us together, which was a bonus. In the event, we did manage to stay reasonably close throughout the war.

We were all called up at the same time, and met at Catford railway station on the morning of 5th April 1942, to take the train to Ashford where we began our service in the WLA.

At first, we were sent to Mrs Barren who was able to accommodate all four of us. She was a very kind lady, and we were all sad when it was time to move on, particularly as we were split up. Rene and I went to Mrs Dungay in Hamstreet, while Joan and Ivy were posted to nearby Faversham.

Mrs Dungay was in her 30’s, a very attractive lady who had once been the Ashford Beauty Queen. We stayed with her until November 1943 before being moved to Brenzett.

Rene and I arrived at Brenzett hostel on a cold, dark November night. The hostel was deserted, as the girls were out for the evening at the Fleur de Lea, a local pub. We were both tired and cold, so helped ourselves to some blankets, a couple of bunk beds and were soon sound asleep. We were woken by the girls returning, who had not been expecting us, and told us off for using the blankets. The next morning the girls took pity on us, and we all became the best of friends.

The farm that I worked on belonged to Bill and Fanny Paul, you could not meet two nicer people, and although the work was very hard, it was enjoyable, The Paul’s had a sheep dog called Paddy, an old horse named Bill and a young horse Joey. I have always had a soft spot for all animals, and Joey often played on this by leading me a dance. I spent many an hour trying to catch him. I would pretend to have a toffee, which he loved, and rustle a wrapper, unfortunately, he soon caught on and so ran off at the last minute. This would amuse the German prisoners who were based at a nearby camp.

We were based near an airfield, and would often see some terrible things, with young air men being killed, on both sides, and I often cried myself to sleep.

One summer’s day, whilst working in the fields, a plane crashed nearby. We raced over, and lying on the floor, a short distance from the plane, was a young airman with blonde hair and blue eyes. I was unable to move he just lay there staring at me. Then I heard someone calling me away in case the plane blew up. I will never forget that airman’s face, although I cannot remember his nationality.

On another occasion, we were taking a well earned rest on top of a haystack; there were three of us, me, Rene, and another girl, Joan Wildman. Joan had a premonition and told us to get off. We did, and just reached a safe distance when the haystack exploded, and went up in flames it had been hit by a doodle bug. Some of the animals were injured and had to be put down, and we had a very lucky escape. Since that time, I have always believed in fate.

There were many good times, especially when we were permitted to go home and visit our families and friends. One day Rene and me were taken to the American airbase for the evening, they picked us up from the hostel in a Jeep and drove us to their base. We queued up with tin mugs and were given hot drinking chocolate, which was a real treat. The chaps were real gentleman, and made us feel very special. After a lovely evening, we were driven back to the hostel, and given boxes of luxuries like chewing gum, stockings, and soap.

One sight that will always stick in my mind is of the Americans first arriving, and I saw all those white uniforms strolling across the fields.

Rene had a love of apples, and we would nag Bill to allow us to scrump from the nearby orchards. He would park the hay cart next to an apple tree, while Rene and I sat on top of the bails eating apples.

In the winter of 43, the snow lay deeply, and I was going to meet a local Shepherd and help him take food to his sheep. On the way, my bike slid and I landed head first in a ditch full of snow, which was soft, and I could not get out. Fortunately, a local chap was driving his tractor behind me; he stopped, reached into the snow, and pulled me out by my collar, wiped my face with a bit of sack cloth, slapped me on the back, and drove off laughing. I stood in the snow with a red face, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

I had my 21st Birthday at Brenzett in May 1944. The weekend before, I was given leave to go home to see my Mum and Dad. I returned with a large birthday cake made by my mother and a framed picture of me that I still have. I remember walking up the lane carrying the cake that was very heavy. The girls organised a party, and some of the Americans decorated the hostel with balloons. It was a lovely day, ending in a beauty contest, judged by the Americans that I won (probably because it was my birthday).

With so many young people away from home things were always being done to keep up morale. On one occasion, the matron organised a romantic play I played the part of a lady being chased by an American chap, who played himself. A lady from the village provided musical vocals, accompanied by Rene’s boyfriend on the piano. I laughed most of the way through, due mainly to the unusual dress I had to wear, and the fact that the lady sang off key most of the time. Afterwards, the matron gave me a good telling off.

In the summer of 1946, I received my senior arm band, which was similar, to the first except the red lines at the top and bottom were thinner with red crown and diamonds either side, on a green background. Under the crown were the letters WLA also in red. Several of us boarded a train to Canterbury, to find Land Army girls from all over the country converging, and we paraded through the streets in front of the Duchess of Kent. Shortly afterwards I was given a bronze crown which was to be pinned through the arm band over the crown.

I stayed at the hostel until early December 1946, when I returned home, although I went back later in the month with Rene and we rang the bells for the Christmas service at Snargate Church. I understand Fanny and Burt Paul are now buried in the church yard.

I met my husband whilst still a land army girl at Brenzett, and we both made regular visits to the hostel throughout the fifties and sixties, by the seventies the building was slowly crumbling into disrepair, however, many of the girls still left messages to each other on the doors. However, I am pleased to report the hostel has now been repaired and turned into an RAF museum.

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