More difficulties with men

It seems that a large proportion of the English members of the British Army spent the period from Dunkirk (approximately June 1940) to D-Day (June 1944) in England. As well as tactical training, soldiers were used to help around the country with important labour intensive jobs such as farming and bomb damage. Soldiers being used for farm work created more problems with managing men for Frankie. She  had trouble with some of them, as well as with her own employees, especially the bailiff, Mr Carling.

22/8/41   It still pours with rain every day and the position for us as for every other farmer is really very serious. The corn is sprouting (germinating) in the stooks which means it is useless. Not all of it but some. Soon it will be all if this goes on.

British troops help with the harvest 1941. Soldiers being used for farm work
British troops help with the harvest 1941. © IWM (D 4903)

Yesterday 10 soldiers came to fill in the bomb craters. The position is that I pay the army and we are paid by the war insurance, but nobody pays anything till after the war. One of the ten was corporal. When we had settled the 9 men to work he came back to the farmhouse because he said there were some forms to be filled in. These turned out to be forms which should have been signed in the evening when they left agreeing the number of hours they had worked. Then he messed about the farmhouse talking to Mrs Carling. Molly and I went down the fields and on our way we met one of the soldiers coming up. He asked us if we had seen the corporal. We said we thought he was at the farmhouse. He said “Well, if you see him tell him I’ve gone to the village to get some fags.” This should have left 8 men working there but when we got there there were only 7. I suppose the eighth had had a sudden desire for some sweets. All 7 were leaning on their spades talking. In the afternoon we went down again and there were 8 men there. 3 were working and the other 4 leaning on spades.

On our way back later in the afternoon we met the corporal and one man coming down. I went up to him and said “I want to see that paper I signed this morning.” He said “Why?” I said “Because I’ll sign for 7 men this morning and 8 this afternoon, but if you’ve got 10 down for either I’ll cancel my signature.” He said “Why?” So I told him in well chosen but quite moderate language why. So he said “Well, you see, I’m sort of here to supervise. I’m not supposed to work.” So I said “Well, that’s ok by me but I don’t pay for supervision specially not for supervision done at the other end of the farm while the men lean on  their spades.” So he said “Well, I had to go and look at the other bomb holes.” I said “Why?” This completely flummoxed him as it would have far more intelligent debaters than he was. So I said “Well, you look at bomb holes to your heart’s content because I won’t”.

This did a bit of good and after that a little, a very little work was done. It doesn’t matter very much because in the end it’s the War Insurance that pays. But it makes one feel a trifle nervous that this is how the British Army behaved in France and are behaving in all sorts of places. Perhaps not. Perhaps they behave better in other countries. But at the risk of being a colonel Blimp, there doesn’t seem to be much discipline about the British Army. All the farmers who are having them for harvesting report the same kind of behaviour and what’s the use of a man with 2 stripes, who I imagine is equivalent to at least a foreman, if one of the men can say “If you see him tell him I’ve gone to get some fags” in the middle of a morning’s work.

Rob Hudson, Minister of Agriculture
Rob Hudson, Minister of Agriculture

It has rained solidly for 42 days (that is raining even after the St Swithin’s period is up). Carling estimated this morning that we had probably not lost more than £300 to date ( I think a gross under-statement) and anyway it hasn’t finished yet. Every farmer in England is in the same boat and the seriousness of our position is slightly swamped by the seriousness of the position from a national point of view. Nobody is in despair because when there isn’t one God Damned thing you can do about it’s not worth even being despairing. But there are farmers offering fields of wheat or oats to anyone who likes to come and cut them.

Everyone is cross with Rob Hudson because a week before any field of corn was cut he announced publicly that it was the best harvest in history. If he had used the word “crops” it would not have mattered but we all think him an ignorant swine who brought misfortune upon our heads by counting our chickens before they were hatched. The better the crop the worse is the hit.

1/9/41   I am in a furious temper to-day. Molly and I always want to work on the farm but except for the very dreary jobs like hoeing and thistle-cutting it somehow happens that we never do. Whenever we say to Carling “Can we help?” there is always some reason why it would be much better if we didn’t. Every day now there are appeals on the wireless for more women to join things and do munitions and both Molly and I are beginning to feel that, unless we work all day on the farm there is no justification for our arrangements as they stand. She at least ought to join something and I at least ought to let her go.

I have never been able to pin on Carling the fact that he is deliberately trying to stop us joining in but he is certainly incredibly stupid about using us. This morning I said to him that Molly and I were going to work to-day, and we would either stook or go on the cart, whichever he preferred. He said they weren’t going to stook and he wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do until he saw whether the soldiers came. (We sometimes use 1 or 2 for harvesting.) He had got on a poker face and he said he would let me know later in the day. As I went down on my bike I saw the cart and 3 men go down to the field. So I fetched Molly and we just went down there and I got on the cart and she pitched on to it.

Landgirls in WW2
5 women + a female dog helping load hay and straw

We got on very well and every time Carling, who was driving the tractor, came down with the empty cart to take away the loaded, there was our cart loaded up and ready, so nobody could say we were holding them up. However the third time he came he brought 2 soldiers with him which meant that there was nothing left for us to do, as they had enough without us. So, as I am very brave, I walked straight up to him and asked him why he had brought them. He said he’d got a lighter job he wanted us to do. So I said “We don’t want a lighter job. We don’t find this heavy, we enjoy it, and as the cart’s always ready I assume we are doing it all right”. So he said,  Well, he wanted us to restook some oats which had fallen down and were getting wet. “If you don’t do it the men will have to”. So I thought it was undignified to go on having an obvious barney in front of the men so I said all right we would do it. But I was furious. The oats did need doing but I was convinced that he would never have asked us to do it if we hadn’t been doing this because he never asks us to do anything, and I am convinced he thought of it to get rid of us. Anyway, he won the first round and I am not sure what the next move is going to be. But it’s going to be something. And I refuse to pay soldiers to do work I can perfectly do myself. And Molly will have to leave if this goes on. Anyway, I’m not going to be beaten by the bastard.

2/9/41   We worked fearfully hard to-day. I am determined that, if there is to be show-down with Carling over our working it shall be on the right terms of reference. So, since he said the oats needed stooking, we bloody well stooked all day. I am not going to leave him an opening to say we are choosey or won’t do what needs doing most. I did about 7 hours work to-day. That is a good deal when you actually do it and I am very tired.

We are going to London to-morrow with the children to buy their winter clothes.

3/9/41   When the train was waiting in the station at Paddington Thomas suddenly said in a very loud voice to a crowded carriage “A soldier just passed with a thing on his front like Daddy’s” I said “What has Daddy got on his front?” Terrific gestures to his chest — “You know, that red thing”. Slightly embarrassed I said “Oh, you mean the ribbon.” He said “Well you know, the thing the King sewed on.” I explained amongst a good deal of laughter that the king hadn’t actually sewn it on and he said “Well, anyway, it was because he was brave”. We had lunch at Gunter’s with Anni and Jan and Dave.

9/9/41   To-day I have done the hardest day’s work of my life —- 9 – 5.30 with the men all day. I either go on the cart and load the sheaves that are pitched up or else as a change I pitch. But our wheat is so heavy I can only just pitch it. The potential argument with Carling as to whether we should work or not has dissolved into thin air as we are so short-handed he cannot afford to ignore us. In fact he is reduced to asking us rather shamefacedly if we think we can stick it all day as they can’t do without us. It is really great fun and real sweat of the brow and all the old ones like leading the horses in or riding on top of the cart you have just loaded. It’s so funny that you’ve never done it. We do it all day and every day and it is a part of our lives but it is much more your sort of thing than mine. You would be very jealous of my hands if you could see them—- they are really horny now. Well, I think I must go and have a bath. I’m getting cold and stiff.

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A Woman's War