Glebe Farm, Shurlock Row
10 October 1942
10 October 1942 to 23 August 1945 Glebe Farm, Shurlock Row
Here we use extracts from Mary’s diaries and writings, illustrated with her own photographs and drawings, to tell her story of daily life as a land girl on this, her longest war-time farm placement.
Still in this same village in the parish of Waltham St Lawrence, slightly nearer Maidenhead than Reading, I changed to work for Mr Bob Murless, the local vet at Glebe Farm. He owned 120 acres, ostensibly for his hunters and race horses, plus a house cow and free range poultry, but, like everyone else, he had to do his bit for the war effort. Some of the paddocks were ploughed for cereals and the number of cattle increased ... I remained with the vet for nearly three years, from October 1942 to after the end of hostilities in the autumn of 1945, working during the evenings on an agricultural correspondence course and running the village Girl Guide company.
Some key events and typical days in the life of a land girl at Glebe Farm:
Tuesday 5 January 1942
Woke to a world white with snow which persisted all day although there was a slight thawing in the afternoon. Going to work first thing I noticed countless numbers of rabbit tracks on the undisturbed roads and banks of the yard presented a network of blackbirds, sparrows and/or chaffinches and cats. Sky heavy with snow clouds and no glimmer of sun. Increasing numbers of gulls were to be seen flying over from the south (no doubt retiring from a weather-beaten coast to more sheltered spots inland) … Walking down to the geldings paddock I was impressed by the number of moles which had been working since the snow fell as indicated by the number of fresh, snow-free mounds abounding on the newly harrowed turf. The flock of sparrows in the Dutch barn were accompanied today by another, almost as large, composed solely of Great tits. While watching these a Green woodpecker came ‘looping’ over from the direction of the house, yaffling noisily, and perched in the next tree.
Vet and I had a very jolly little ‘set to’ this morning and have, I think, got things straightened out at last. I succeeded in making it clear that I wasn’t going to stay and be sworn at for things that never happened and he, in the best of moods, remained the ‘perfect gentleman’ all through my ‘offensive’ which brought in a number of points. We parted the best of pals apparently (until the next time our opinions differ.)
Thursday 26 November 1942
My 21st birthday on November 26th passed uneventfully on forestry work, my mail at Shurlock including a book token for 7/6 from the vet. The evening I spent at the gym class, finding muscles I seldom used in my daily tasks. My diary says ‘stiff for 3 days’. Only one of these was at work as I was off at the weekend to catch up with more mail at Ealing, meeting Pa at Twyford, homeward bound from Henley.
Guests to my party included 5 Gillhams: Fred, Maud and Eric, Rose and Will – the only other and one seldom seen ever, being ‘Lil’. Also 2 Husbands, Frank and Marjorie, and friend Mollie. We enjoyed talking, games and written competitions and Ma produced a wonderful tea and supper spreads despite food rationing.
Saturday 30 January 1943
[Back at home in Ealing for the weekend] Went to [best friend] Mollie’s 21st birthday party at Mills Restaurant, West Ealing. Grand do, 29 present, waitresses, kitchen staff, etc. Dinner at 6.30pm, soup, meat, veg, trifle, peaches, cream, biscuits and cheese, coffee, drinks of all sorts and tremendous chocolate birthday cake. Speeches, all sorts of competitions, games, beetle drive, sweets and drinks on and off.
Thursday 4 February 1943
… Roper’s half day off so was alone in the afternoon. A horse box arrived soon after 2pm (unheralded and unexpected) for Goblin, the Northolt Derby racing pony. I cycled up and down the land several times before I found Robert who, after expostulating because Roper wasn’t there, told me to get him in and brush him down. The lorry driver came with me when I caught him (almost up by the cottages) and the journey down was a success until Bones came in to attack evidently not liking the stranger. He charged Goblin who in turn charged me and laid me out banging my head and elbow on the ground. I tried to keep hold of the halter but Bones was still attacking from the rear and Goblin was all over me so I had to let go. I rolled in to a heap until Goblin had got clear of me and let Bones go over and got up when they had passed, quite unhurt except for 2 bumps and an amazingly large quantity of mud all over me. Funnily enough I wasn’t a bit scared though I should have been two years ago. I managed to recapture him and then began the job of boxing him.
Sunday 7 February 1943
… Mrs R told me that she is starting work tomorrow at the RAF depot at Cedar House on the Mile, working 3 days a week from 8.45 to 5 so I shall have to find a new billet (also present standard rate of 22/6 [paid by WLA for board and lodging of a land girl] not enough). Know Miss [Margery] Warren regretted not having me for company so am hoping she is still of the same mind about it.
Wednesday 10 February 1943
… Just before 8pm George Gulliver arrived with a note saying would I go and see Miss Warren at the Old School House? I went and stayed about an hour. Everything is settled and I am moving in next Sunday afternoon. I think it should be a success. So far, excluding Millards’, each billet I have been in has been better than the previous one, Rances’ heading the list, so maybe I shall carry on with the ascent.
Sunday 14 February 1943
Managed to get the work done before breakfast but did not get home till ¼ to 11. Spent the morning packing and took my stuff down to Warrens’ on Mr Rance’s barrow (in 2 loads). Had dinner and coffee and left Holcombe House about 2.30 … Spent the early part of the afternoon settling in to my new billet and putting my things away. Everything seems perfect – people, house, catering, garden. Outlook etc and I have a feeling that once again I have stepped in to a billet a great deal better than before.
Tuesday 23 February 1943
E. Went (with Mrs Rance, George and Barry) to a whist drive and dance at the West End School. Whist from 7.30 – 10 and dancing till midnight. Danced with more males than I ever remember (have not had 1 male partner at 2 previous dos this year). Charlie Stone set the ball rolling with 2 after which came RAF (in the plural), Army, ATC (Jim Hesse), AFS and an ordinary civilian. Cannot imagine how it happened. Various raffles, auctions, refreshments, etc. Home as church bell struck midnight.
Saturday 6 March 1943
… Heard that in yesterday’s paper it was stated that the WLA minimum wage is going to be 45/- instead of £2 as at present.
Tuesday 16 March 1943
[Mary’s later comment in diary: Tribulations of working with lime]
… Spent all day until 4pm with Roper carting lime out to the field (6cwts at a time) and bagging it up as quite half the bags (paper sacks) had burst and the lime was all over the floor … Mr M would have nothing to do with it – after laying awake all night coughing he didn’t want to set eyes on any of the damn stuff again and Roper wouldn’t have any if they paid him for taking it. He looked a pretty sight with blood all over his face where his nose bled from constant bleeding and smothered in lime yellowing round the lips. My own nose was bleeding and my throat sore with sneezing (I already had the beginnings of a cold) and I used up dozens of handkerchiefs. Added to my tribulations were (a) a 1½” long split in my nearly new 11/6 fort Dunlop tyre, for no apparent reason other than lime, not discovered until 8pm and quite unblowupable, (b) the cats pinched my lunch (which included a slab of homemade treacle oatcake) out of the steel case when my back was turned, (c) chain came off and got tangled up as I got on to go (probably the result of chucking it up in Webb’s cart), (d) my feet came up in painful blisters on the toes as a result of lime sweat and friction, and (e) the inevitable results of having nothing to eat or drink between 12.30 and 8.30.
Tuesday 6 April 1943
p.m. My half day … Went to WLA HQ where I was presented with a special 2 year armlet, new Wellingtons, 4 prs new socks and 3 prs old ones to fill up the gumboots.
Sunday 11 April 1943
E. Went to the Shurlock church with Miss W and the Gulliver boys (received many interested looks from the Rev Blackmore who has no doubt heard that I propose to help start the guides).
Tuesday 13 April 1943
E. Mended belt, diary, wrote home, called to see Joyce Hesse about guides but she was out so came in to see me later and we sat in the dining room chatting about our plan of action for the new village company for nearly an hour. [Mary’s later comment in diary: She the local policeman’s daughter. We ran the company together.]
Tuesday 20 April 1943
E. Went to first guide meeting with Joyce (Guide uniform arrived by post in the morning). 25 present, all very keen and thriving. [Activities included: Morse code, whistle signalling, games, taught the girls ‘Taps’, etc.] … Talked to Joyce – she delighted as she has done no guiding before.
Saturday 29 May 1943
A.M. Maureen bulling – spent the greater part of the morning taking her to Ody’s bull (a new one this time) who, instead of being in the yard, was in a field on the Ruscombe road. She went well on a halter except that she kept regarding me as another cow and jumping on to my back causing a nasty bruise and graze on my leg at one such attempt.
Monday 28 June 1943
Dry and mostly warm but cloudy.
A.M. Took bulling heifer (Beauty) to Ody’s jersey bull in large field on Ruscombe Rd. Robert was coming up to help me but, of course, did not turn up till too late and missed me. Had to go to far corner of field and had an awful time coming back. (Heifer was served 6 times on the journey.) Bull kept charging me and instead of being brave and charging back I nipped behind the cow (who was on a halter) each time and poor Beauty got terribly knocked about. He butted me several times but luckily didn’t knock me down. I doubt if I could have got out with one and not the other but I spotted a man in the shed and yelled to him to keep the bull back while I got the heifer out. (Was applauded as a hero by Mrs M on my return.)
P.M. Yard, trimmed grass in bantam’s pen.
Friday 30 July 1943
Cycled to Twyford to catch 7.20pm train to Ealing for 9 days’ leave. Took bike on train. Arrived home at 8.15pm. [Away with family for most of this time – day has notes of long cycle rides and walks, beautiful countryside along the Thames, a visit to Oxford, etc. Back to work Monday 9 August]
Friday 27 August 1943
P.M. Left home at 2.45pm for Arborfield. Cycled to Wokingham, via Hurst. Shopped. On via Barkham to Arborfield, ‘tea’ on way. … [Visited folks at Tanner’s Farm where she used to work, catching up on gossip] Watts have decamped with a lot of Pyle’s stuff – general opinion is ‘good riddance’ … Spent an hour talking to Mr Pyle. He very pleased to see me (is always asking Lawtons and Sales about me and wrote to Pa a while back). Says he has kicked himself ever since I left because he didn’t keep me on free of board and lodging not to do any work but just ‘ride around and look at the cattle’ and ‘do the books’. Since he discovered (by my two successors) what the Watts were like he marvels at what a ‘brick’ I was to stick it for a year and not say anything. … Nice to know, rather belatedly, how much I was appreciated at Tanners, Arborfield, but glad I moved on.
Thursday 23 September 1943
Heavy frost, hot and sunny later.
Spent all day driving the tractor in Diligent Field (did all the driving including reversing in and out of the drill and harrows, etc, while the Austrian (Herr Weiser from a village 3 miles east of Vienna) rode the drill. He has been here for 6 weeks now (longer than he has worked on any farm since he came to England in September 1939. His 18-year-old nephew came September ’38 and is now a farm manager!) Robert watching my manoeuvres all afternoon, almost all twisting and turning up and down valleys and round spinneys, trees, briars and well. Went on driving until 5.30pm (7 acres and headlands twice). Did not finish milking till after 6pm.
During this time Mary was leader of her local Girl Guide pack. She led the weekly meetings, kept the company accounts, completed a log book, handled the various items of correspondence, and reported on progress to Guiding HQ. She also arranged occasional outings for swimming and gymnastics, plus the occasional Guide camp, and she went herself to Ranger Guide training sessions.
October and November 1943
Almost every evening was spent making stuffed toys of all descriptions, rabbits, ducklings and teddy bears, as well as male and female rag dolls, hot-water-bottle covers, patchwork shopping bags, etc. The Guides and Brownies were similarly hard at work, all in aid of a Bazaar they held on Saturday 11 December to raise funds for their local troop. It was a huge success and Mary wrote a jubilant letter home to her parents:
Thank you for parcel. Now, hold your breath and read on. Total profit from our sale after all expenses were paid £44 4s 6d. Nothing of the kind has happened in the village for over 20 years, even with adults, let alone children. Congratulations are being poured on me from parsons, magistrate, land agents, school masters and hordes of Women’s Institute, Red Cross and other nonentities. The representative of the Reading Mercury and the parish magazine are besieging me for accounts and – as you have no doubt realised by now – the whole affair was a howling success.
Far from coming to the country and burying myself alive, I have raised myself from being one of hundreds of London office girls to being a person of note in a thriving community.
Thursday 13 January 1944
[Visited the local vicar to begin confirmation classes]
Wednesday 19 January 1944
Awake all night with bad toothache so took afternoon off to go to dentist. Cycled to Waltham. Caught 2pm bus to Maidenhead … Went to Mr Christie Rae, St Ives Rd. Abscess on root so could not have cocaine. Had gas – my first – wholly to be preferred to cocaine. Excellent patient – did not feel any ill effects.
Thursday 23 March 1944
Thursday 18 May 1944
Work until 10am. Rest of day off to have 9 teeth out. Miss W went with her. Gas. Effects, wobbly at knees, headache, sick feeling and pale but slept it off by 5pm.
Tuesday 30 May 1944
Work until 10.30, then to dentist for 2nd batch of teeth out – 8 this time. Not nearly so badly affected as last time but probably had less gas as these teeth not so bad.
Tuesday 6 June 1944 INVASION DAY
Cool and dull.
Work until 10am. To Maidenhead with Miss W to have last batch of teeth out. Shopping, dentist (10 out – front ones – only a few bits left). Quite well again this time.
P.M. Home at 2.30. Small eats, laying on couch doing Guide a/cs and odd jobs. Evening: Completely cut out flowered pyjamas trimmed with pink. Read.
Thursday 16 August 1944
Had wisdom tooth and 1 bit extracted by cocaine – whole face ‘killed’ – new stuff – nearly pulled jaw out
Saturday 9 September 1944
[Start of summer holiday, first week with mother in Teignmouth, back to weekend in Ealing, then started work again on 19th.]
Wednesday 27 September and Friday 29 September 1944
[to dentist for impressions]
Friday 6 October 1944
Received dentures today.
Tuesday 20 February to Sunday 25 February 1945 Exams!
E. First Diploma exam (Mr W acting supervisor). Book-keeping. (Could not balance up but have some of it right – costing a/cs, labour book, contra-entries.)
Wednesday 21 February: 2nd exam, veterinary science. Excellent, probably about 90%. Wrote 11½ foolscap pages but this is my ‘subject’.
Friday 23 February: 2 hour livestock paper in aft (pretty stiff, 1½ hrs) and dairying paper in eve (got some temps and acidity wrong but am alright on both).
Saturday 24 February: Did 1½ hr Manure paper. Comprehensive but possible.
Sunday 25 February: 1½hrs farm crop paper. Again comprehensive but possible. Exam much stiffer that I anticipated but I feel safe on all papers except the book-keeping.
Joyous freedom after 3 years of living under a cloud (not swotting – attempts have been too scattered).
Monday 16 April 1945
75° in shade. Eloquence foaled (colt). Yard work, oiling, assisting with foal, crushing, etc. 3-week-old Shorthorn calves arrived, 2 red and 1 roan. E. Started typing ‘The Twins of Teddingfold Farm’. [Typing this novel features frequently in subsequent evening diary entries. Mary tried unsuccessfully to have her work, the name of which later changed to 'The Round of the Seasons', published - the manuscript can be read here. ]
Monday 7 May 1945 VICTORY OVER GERMANY ANNOUNCED
Yard, hedging on mile. Peace news at 3pm.
Tuesday 8 May 1945 Official VE day
E. Listened to Churchill and King.
Saturday 30 June 1945 WINDSOR RALLY
Whole day off. Barry milked in morning. Left home 9.50 and cycled to Windsor for grand Berkshire WLA parade and county fair. Rehearsal for leaders in morning. Self 1 of 6 leaders. Each had 120 LGs, I in charge of squad no 1.
Ma and Pa down by car. Met them at 12.20 and had picnic. March started at 1.30pm. 2 miles from GWR through town and Long Walk to ‘field’. Queen and two princesses came to present 5 year armlets. Going we were led by band of Royal Horse Guards, then armlet party, then me. On march past royalty I led and armlet party came behind. Royalty round sideshows, etc, in and out of crowd, formed guard of honour. Long close views, Ma thrilled.
Watched displays, armoured cars, dog show, dancing etc. Free ices, etc for WLA. Picnic tea in car. Started raining at 6 so no dancing on lawn. ICI girl who took general farming test with me (only 2 in county) got 85%, I got 90% (distinction). Sat in car through violent rain. It stopped at 8.45 and I cycled home (12 miles) getting in just as it started again.
The war was coming to an end so Mary’s thoughts – and those of her WLA superiors – turned to her future. She writes:
The agricultural correspondence course that I pursued during those years and the 98% gained in my ‘general farming proficiency’ test prompted the WLA high-ups to suggest university as the next move on de-mob. I was over the moon! The choice was between Aberystwyth for grassland, Reading for dairying, and Cambridge for cereals.
I opted for Aberystwyth, sacrificing possible kudos to be within sight and sound of the sea, with rock stacks to explore and real islands not too far away.
Monday 2 July 1945
Wrote resignation letter to London County Council.