A farm at war

Dad was a horse-keeper and also a Sergeant in the Home Guard throughout the war, out on patrol practically every night, getting home early in the morning and then out again before seven to fetch up the horses for a day’s ploughing or harvesting.

Mum was called to pack parachutes at the local aerodrome, so I was soon in parachute silk petticoats and nighties, very slippery with odd diagonal seams across them.

The village school was overwhelmed with London evacuees, all boys, noisy and streetwise. We were in complete awe of our headmistress so sat spellbound when the largest of the evacuees snatched the cane from her, bent her over the desk and raised the cane. Then, much to our disgust, the master rushed in from the next room.

In the school holidays, young though I was, I had to cook Dad’s dinner on the coal range. He had lots of burnt rabbits and lumpy custard, but never complained.

We had our own hens and vegetable garden and Dad was a skilled poacher. Mum put spare eggs down in isinglass in a bucket. From the village shop came a peculiar cake which, if pulled apart, stayed joined by long stretchy filaments. My brother and I competed to see whose would stretch the furthest without breaking. If Dad shot a deer for the RAF lads in the dummy aerodrome at the back of the wood they gave us a tin of golden syrup in return.

There was great excitement among the men as we were allocated some Land Girls. These brought a frission of excitement to the daily labour and other trouble besides. I wondered why my eldest uncle always took one of them to collect the eggs and biked home down the cartway hand in hand with her. This stopped abruptly when my aunt found out. Some girls had never seen the countryside before, and the men delighted sending them for a load of post holes or a pound of straight staples!

With the Land Girls we had Italian prisoners of war who were mostly great fun. One moon-faced youth known as ‘Oogle’ was very happy to be a prisoner. Dad crowed “We made you run at Alamein”. ‘Oogle’ replied with a big grin “Big victory no good to me when me dead”. The older married prisoners missed their families badly, but the younger ones cut a swathe through the local girls giving them silver rings made of shillings and half-crowns.

On dark nights when the distant sirens sounded we got up, put coats over our pyjamas and shuffled down the path under the dank yews to Grandma’s, then down the cold cellar steps to sit in a row under them among the smell of stored apples and musty straw.

The siren sounded once when I was in bed with croup. Immediately afterwards there came a terrific explosion, rocking the bed and shaking the walls. An incendiary bomb had fallen in the meadow leaving a huge crater with blackened oily grass around the edges.

A whole aeroplane embedded itself in the roof of a neighbouring farmhouse and the hens stopped laying when a runaway barrage balloon collapsed on the hen run.

The siren sounded once in the middle of my cousin’s birthday party. Half-way to the air raid shelter we heard an ominous drone, and standing in the velvety dark we looked up to see a sinister cigarshaped object pass between us and the stars, one of the first ‘doodlebugs’.

One windy day Dad called me to watch wave after wave of gliders on their way to Arnhem.

The end of the war was marked for me by watching the publican’s daughter eating a banana. I’d never seen one before,

Mrs Shirley Bailey