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BSc Agriculture at Aberystwyth

1 October 1945

1 October 1945 to June 1948

Here we use extracts from Mary’s diaries (July to end of December 1945 only) and writings to tell of her life in Aberystwyth as she studied for her Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture at the University College of Wales. She writes:
Agriculture now, with its exclusive monocultures, has become the enemy of the wild. In 1945 it was defined as ‘applied ecology’, and integrated more sympathetically with the whole. What I learned of soils and manures, livestock pressure and rabbit pests, in pursuit of my BSc Agri – even the straight botany and zoology – was to stand me in good stead during the island years ahead.

Monday 1 October 1945 First day at university
Left home 9:30. Ma with me to Paddington. Left P at 11:05. Stopped Banbury, Leamington Spa, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Wellington to Shrewsbury. Dull till here, then bright sun, all stations from here: Welshpool, Montgomery, Dovey Water, Borth, gorgeous run with sunlit mountains. Shrewsbury at 3:30. Aber at 7:35pm. To Marine Hotel, half bedroom facing sea on third floor with 20-year-old Jeanne Batchelor, farmer’s daughter and ex land girl from Bucks and late of Shottesbrooke House. Supper, talking. Wrote home.

Tuesday 2 October 1945
To university – grand building – to register, to Carpenters Hall twice, agri section once and Alex Hall for talk from senior warden and head girl. Dinner. P.M. Sat on front – literally scorching day – all one side of face sunburnt, writing and knitting. Evening: Out for walk to south, round castle ruins and along to mount of Ystwyth, perfect views. In to supper. Walking again after dark round town, through graveyard and round ruins again. Diary, wrote home.

Wednesday 3 October 1945
Saw profs in various subjects, bought books in town, unpacking, read ‘Plant form and function’.
P.M. Finished letter home. Gorgeous clamber over rocks and through crannies to Clarach, next village to the north, and back over Constitution Hill cliffs. High tea. Jeanne and I saw ‘Streets’, ‘Strawberry Roan’ and an MTB film at the pier cinema. Out 7:45 to sing song in the refectory – building crammed and more outside.

Friday 5 October 1945
Finished writing home. The chemistry department on hill to get, check and pay for apparatus. First lecture in botany (with Prof. Newton, female authoress) from 11 – 12. P.M. Copied up notes, walked round town. Evening … To meeting of Debating Society – 650 strong. Motion that ‘Good art and bad morals do not mix’.

Monday 8 October 1945
Chemistry, botany and zoology lectures in morning, note copying. 4 hrs practical botany (microscope work) in afternoon. ¼ hour off for tea in refectory. Dashed to Freshers Squash at Owens Café, grand tea – eclairs, etc, sing song and speeches, dashed back for dinner. Note copying.

Friday 12 October 1945
Note copying etc. 1 lecture, 4 hrs chemistry in afternoon including a lot of personal tuition for me from the 28-30-year-old prof to whom I have indicated my ignorance.

Thursday 18 October 1945
Lectures. P.M. For long walk inland along River Rheidol foot path to bridge … To gym club in college gym at field. Grand place. Only 7 there and apparatus work all the time. (I CANNOT CLIMB A ROPE! Great stiffness to follow). E. Chemistry swotting in bed.

Thursday 25 October 1945
Zoology practical. PM. Swotting upstairs. E. To gym – coach tells me I am to take half colours in gym this year. To agri debate ‘Should women work on the land outside their domestic duties’.

Friday 26 October 1945
Howling still with high spring tides. 1 lecture. Chemistry practical. R. Roberts and Monck pass me from hand to hand with a ‘she’s all yours’ now and have christened me ‘genius’. E. Straight to gym from Chem. To debate ‘Should we send aid to Germany now’. Speakers excellent. We should.

Tuesday 20 November 1945
Work a.m. P.M. Carbonned out games and competitions for my birthday party. E. To country dancing, left early for ex-service business meeting. Late to supper. Went to Geographical Soc with Eileen Grant (WLA for 6 years) to hear Prof Newton on ‘A Hebridean Tour’, excellent with excellent lantern slides.

Saturday 24 November 1945
No zoology lecture. Botany practical demonstration going all morning. Shopping, wandering, to prac for an hour, to refectory (usual Saturday morning singing). In, unpacked birthday parcels. (9 bars of chocolate from Miss W – made up to 2lbs 9ozs with some from home!)

P.M. To swimming. Coffee and lively discussion of current affairs with Ruth and Mary in the Seagull. Discussed party with next door neighbours. E. Saw ‘Sudan’ – colour, excellent, ‘Fresh as a Daisy’ – nature, good and ‘Guess what’ – general, good. Dinner. Long letter to Miss W.

Monday 26 November 1945 My 24th birthday!
Long day’s work. 3 lectures in morning and 4 hours pinus prac. in afternoon. Prepared party, cut sandwiches, etc. Had a joint ‘bedroom do’ with next door neighbours – Dorothy Browton, ex WLA next door celebrating her 21st. Played games 8.30 – 9.30, stuffed, games 10.15 – 12.30, stuffed – dispersed at 1am. 15 of us … Food marvellous – 4 iced cakes (enormous 21st); sardine, date, cheese, paste, marmite, etc sandwiches; trifle and jelly; cider, orange; cheese cakes, endless cake, fancies, etc. (A lot left and everyone complaining of funny tums the following day.) All sorts of games and comps – a great success.

Friday 30 November 1945
Botany took the form of a delightful rock scramble after seaweeds right out to gully beyond the pier with Profs Chater and Carter. Some girls took shoes off and paddled – quite mild. I was among the lucky few who did not get one or more wet feet – more practice in my youth perhaps.
P.M. Chem prac. I think I have got more substances out than anyone. More then remarkable. Have had no help for the last 2 weeks since I rather put Monck off. E. Washing up, revised bot prac, etc.

December 1945
Exams in Botany (various – practical etc -- 72%, top, and 74%, top and 70%, top); Zoology (71%, 2nd); Chemistry (theory 52%, 12th and practical 72%)

Wednesday 5 December 1945
Prof Newton called me into her study after ex. service botany. She is thrilled with my bot. prac. Results – 74% – far and away above anybody else (75 in class) and she wants me to do subsids. I persuaded her it was all new to me and I couldn’t skip a year but she is bursting for me to do Honours. The college will employ me on research so that I can get MSc and ‘there are plenty of scholarships if your grant gives out’. Am very bucked!

Here the diaries end and we’ve had to piece together what we can of Mary’s life from exam papers she retained and from her various writings. At some point during 1946, her parents and grandmother visited Mary in Aberystwyth, as the photos below show.

Easter 1946
Note on exam paper says ‘In hospital’ but we have no further details.

June 1946
Exams in Botany (no mark shown); Zoology (no mark shown); Chemistry (2 papers: 78%, top of class and 75%, top); Practical Chemistry (90%, top)

December 1946
Exams in Subsidiary Botany (64%, 2nd in class); Agricultural Botany (73%, 2nd); Agriculture (77%, top); Agricultural Chemistry (60-65%, 5th)

March 1947
Exams: Subsidiary Botany (48%, 15th out of 55)

June 1947
Exams in Botany (top of class); Agricultural Botany (79%); Agriculture (71%)

June 1947
According to ‘Protecting Wildlife for the Future’ obit: Mary first went to Skokholm in June 1947, having as she later recorded, ‘longed to visit ever since reading Ronald Lockey’s Dream Island Days as a teenager’. A post-war student at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth she managed to persuade her professor, who first said ‘We don’t know anything about the place, whether it is suitable’ to her embarking on an Honours thesis project to study the vegetation of the island. As a result she was to visit the island annually until 1956 spending, especially in the early years, many months at a time there.

December 1947
Exams in Botany (got 61%, 3rd in class); Agriculture and Dairying (got 54%, 8th out of 75); German

Thursday 26 February 1948
Mary participated in the 40th Annual Gymnastics Display by members of the University College of Wales’s Men’s and Women’s Gymnastic Clubs. On her copy of the programme, Mary has written: ‘I rose to be captain of both gym and folk dance teams, as well as swimming and rowing’.

Easter 1948
Exams: Mary got 72% in Botany (was top of class)

June 1948
BSc final exams in Botany, Agriculture, etc.