Posts Tagged ‘£1.85’

Catching rats and earning £1.85 a week: my brilliant life as a Land Girl

October 22nd, 2014

Ruth rented a room from a landlady in the village and spent every day working on the farm. She’d only had one month of training with several other Land Girls, as they were known, but was expected to help milk cows, gather crops, catch rats and carry out hard farm maintenance work.

“The only time I had off was Sunday morning between milking and I’d go to bed for a couple of hours,” she tells me. “Otherwise it was 6.30am till 5.30pm every day. It was constant hard physical work. If I’d been three months older, I might have joined the Wrens and married an admiral.”

The statue. Photo: RUTH DOWNING

For a former schoolgirl – whose father imported silks from Italy and France into Wales – it was not the lifestyle she was used to. The work was intense, and she was either working alone with ‘Pop’ on the farm, or eating meals with her landlady. It was only during threshing or other big events that outside work was brought in, and she’d have a chance to spend time with the other Land Girls.

“That was a busy time – it was quite fun, especially chasing the rats that came out,” she laughs. “It was very hard work but I enjoyed it – I was always pretty tough anyway. A lot of the jobs I think we did better than some men. They haven’t got the attention to detail that women have. I was accepted as a very hard-working farm labourer I suppose.

Ruth in her Land Girls uniform for the first time

“Other than work, there wasn’t really much to do at all, and we were always so tired. There was no television. I think mostly I went to bed quite early. We were working so hard there wasn’t time to be lonely.”

Even so, like most Land Girls, Ruth was often homesick. The only time she ever had off was a long weekend every three months, which she would use to visit her family. “My boss used to take me to Bristol and I’d do to the aerodrome and get on a funny bi plane with just one man and we’d fly over the Channel. These young men had just come out of the army and were bored to tears. They’d do the most horrendous loop-de-loops.”

She carried on working as a Land Girl for almost four years, spending almost every day in her dungarees. She earned around £1.85 for a minimum of 50 hours a week, which later increased to £2.85, but most of it went on her rent. “There was nothing to spend it on anyway,” she says.

For all the hard work, Ruth tells me she was happy. It’s why she has stayed in England ever since, and didn’t return to Wales after the war. Instead she stayed in Somerset, managing a farm, and went on to work as a dairy maid for Earl Waldegrave. When she was 26, she started selling calf food.

Ruth, 88, wading in a pond to get rid of pond weed

“These farmers all made passes at me,” she laughs. “I suppose it was quite unusual for a woman to be selling calf food. But that was when I met my husband.”

Her husband, who passed away 25 years ago, worked as a builder’s merchant, and once they were married, Ruth stopped her farm work. “He didn’t like that sort of thing. In those days men liked their wives to be wives. But the house and garden were so big that I was never out of a job.”

She also completed a Masters degree in local history – “it’s nice to have all those letters after your name” – and had three children, now in their 50s and 60s.

Now Ruth is glad that women aren’t expected to give up their careers anymore when they become wives, and jokingly whispers: “I think we’re superior to men really.” But she does believe in equality and says that she is a feminist: “I think we’re all pretty equal and in a lot of ways we’re better at some things than men and they’re better than us at others. We even out really.”

Almost 71 years have passed since Ruth became a Land Girl, and she tells me that it shaped her life: “Ever since then, right till now, I do a lot of physical work. I think it keeps you young.”

It’s why she thinks that young people today can learn from her experience, and she leaves me with some advice “I think a lot of [young people today] spend too long sitting around watching complicated things on the box that I don’t understand. Physical work is very good for everyone and I think everyone should become a bit more active. I’m 88 and I’m still gardening.”

World War Two

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