Posts Tagged ‘girl’

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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Girl whose piano playing melted PoW hearts

July 13th, 2014

Mrs Koshida also enlisted the help of The Telegraph, which – following its own investigations – can now reveal what became of the prisoners to whom her music brought such comfort.

The incredible story began in March 1945, after Yoko and her family left their home in Tokyo, where the firestorms unleashed by American bombing raids on the city killed between 80,000 and 130,000 civilians.

The camp (LEE SOMERVILLE)

The family found refuge in the city of Yokohama, in a house overlooking prisoner of war camp 14B. This held around 120 POW’s from Britain, the United States, Australia and the Netherlands captured by the Japanese.

Now a widow, Mrs Koshida, said: “I was very frightened when the prisoners were first brought here because they were all very tall and I had never seen a foreigner before. They were not aggressive at all; they were very quiet”

She recalls that the men, who were forced to work in factories, spent their spare time growing vegetables, though they were not above stealing from her father’s crop of cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines.

“My father said they were starving, just like us, so he didn’t make a fuss,” she said.

Mrs Koshida, who hoped to go to music college, would practice every day, the pieces she played drifting through her open windows and down over the prison blocks. “One day, I noticed from the window that there were three men sitting on the roof of the barracks,” she said “The next day, there were a few more people with them – and the day after that there were dozens of them.”

Forbidden to communicate with the prisoners, Mrs Koshida did not wave or make eye contact with the men, but after a while she began to recognise a few of her regular listeners.

Former British prisoner of war Harry Hines before his capture (JULIAN SIMMONDS)

Within days of Emperor Hirohito announcing Japan’s surrender on August 15, Allied aircraft began dropping food and medicine onto the camps, and one evening the men brought round tins of food as gifts for her family. Mrs Koshida said: “The bell rang and my father went down to the door. He came back with some cans of food. The prisoners wanted to give them to me because of my piano playing and they told my father that we were all friends now.”

When Allied forces arrived on August 30 to take away their men, the men made a point of returning to her home with more gifts, handing over sugar, soap and more tins of food. “They were excited,” Seized by a sudden impulse she grabbed her autograph book and asked the men to write their names and addresses.

The yellowing pages of her notebook still clearly show the names of Harry Hines, of Luton; a T. Taylor, of Ponders End in Middlesex, and Leonard Patrick Sheaf, of Enfield, Middlesex; along with that of an American from Georgia and an Australian POW from Tasmania. Mr Sheaf and Mr Taylor penned brief messages for the teenager.

“Thank you for a very nice evening. I hope to see you again. Hope England and Japan [can] be friends,” wrote Mr Sheaf. Beneath Mr Taylor’s name was written August 30, the date of their departure, and the message: “This war was a very bad thing for everyone. I would very much like them to come back and to see them again.”

Mrs Koshida said. “The war was over, they had survived and they were going home now.” Sitting at the same Mason & Hamlin grand piano she played all those years ago – still positioned by a window overlooking the site of the camp – Mrs Koshida added. “I hope they have survived all these years and, after the terrible time they had, that they are all well now. I still think I could play them some Chopin if they were able to return.”

Inspired by her wish, the Sunday Telegraph set out to discover what became of the three British PoWs who signed that autograph book and their story of capture, imprisonment and liberation is as inspiring as her own.

Records show that Mr Hines, who was born in 1917, served in the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, having joined as a reservist before enlisting as a Sargeant in 1939, on the outbreak of war. The regiment has been expecting to be posted to the Middle East, but when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941, Mr Hines and his comrades were redirected to the defence of Singapore.

It was here, in February 1942, in what was one of the worst defeats inflicted on the British Army, that Mr Hines was captured by the invading Japanese.

Mr Hines’s daughter Janice recalls: “He had become separated from his regiment and at first my mother believed he was killed when Singapore fell.”

In fact Mr Hines had been taken to Omari POW camp, near Tokyo, before being transferred to Yokohama’s camp 14B. The ordeal left its scars. He was frequently beaten by guards and the poor prison diet, consisting mainly of rice, left him with lifelong stomach problems.

But Mr Hines managed to rebuild his life after the war, marrying his childhood sweetheart Irene Seabrook on his return and returning to his job as a lathe operator for an engineering firm in Dunstable, eventually rising to the position of company buyer.

In 1946 Harry and Irene had Janice, but for several years Mr Hines was haunted by his wartime experiences.

Former British prisoner of war ‘Joe’ Taylor aboard a ship after the war (JULIAN SIMMONDS)

Janice Schaub, now married and living in Minnesota, said: “My mother said that when he first came back he was an entirely different man. When the first jet planes started to fly overhead he would dive under the table. To him they sounded like the bombers.”

But for all his suffering Mr Hines bore no ill will towards Japan and its people.

“My father lived a life without hatred,” said Mrs Schaub, 68. “He always judged people by their character rather than their nationality. He remembered Japan as a beautiful country and in later years had even planned to go back, because he wanted to see Mount Fuji.”

Unfortunately Mr Hines died at the age of 67, in April 1985, before being able to fulfil his ambition.

His comrade ‘T. Taylor’ was, we discovered, Thomas ‘Joe’ Taylor, who was captured with his regiment, the Royal Engineers, when the Japanese invaded the British colony of Hong Kong, in December 1941.

Mr Taylor later told his family how he suffered terribly from the cold at camp 14B, having been issued with just one blanket. After the war he stayed in the Army until 1957, when he went on to work for the Foreign Office, coordinating security at embassies. This saw him posted around the world, including Cuba, China and Nigeria, with his wife Hazel, who he married in 1953.

But his favourite posting was, surprisingly perhaps, to Japan, where he served at the British embassy from 1976 to 1979. Mrs Taylor, now 92 and living in Hampshire in a house filled with Japanese prints and decorative dolls, said: “He was very fond of Japan in the end. He got on very well with the people. In fact we made more friends there than anywhere else.”

Mr Taylor never told the Japanese he met that he had once been their POW. His widow, who remains in contact with several of the Japanese friends she taught English during their stay in Tokyo, said: “He didn’t hold any resentment against the ordinary Japanese.”

The story of Mr Sheaf, the third Briton in the group, remains more of a mystery. In the autograph book Leonard Patrick Sheaf gives his address as one in Enfield which records show a man with the same name shared with his father Leonard, mother Alice and brother Patrick before the war.

But Mr Sheaf’s son John, 41, said he knew nothing about his father being a Japanese POW. “I’m sure its something he would have said. We always thought he’d been evacuated to Northern Ireland as a teenager and joined the merchant navy after the war. We don’t know anything about him being in Japan” he said, adding however: “Funnily enough he was a great fan of Japanese culture. He liked how respectful and honourable they were.”

The question remains whether any of the men told their loved ones, on their return to Britain, of the girl who played the piano? It seems not. But their families can easily imagine the comfort her playing brought. “It must have been something for them to really look forward to each day,” said Mrs Schaub. “Something as nice as that.”


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Monty’s D-Day party girl knew all the secrets of Normandy landings

May 1st, 2014

The informal party was held on the night of June 3, 1944, and helped take the minds of the senior officers off the momentous event that lay ahead. More than 60 commanding officers were at the gathering, where many of them met one another for the first time.

She was told in advance when the D–Day landings would happen and learnt the codenames of the Normandy beaches at the party, which was held in a sunken Nissen hut at Hursley Park, near Winchester, Hants.

She was ordered not to mention the party for the next 60 years when all the commanders involved had died. Now aged 91, the widow, from Emsworth, Hants, has written an autobiography about her career based on the meticulous notes and diaries she kept.

Mrs Rutter said: “Montgomery wanted a woman to host it and not an official in order to cut the protocol.

“I could feel some of them were jittery when I shook their hands. I made a point of calling them mister rather than by their title or rank. I spoke to them about travelling abroad, visiting art galleries and museums – I spoke about anything apart from the war. One US officer broke down on the dance floor and he was shuffled out of the room straight away so that the others didn’t see.

“There were buffet tables stacked full of food. On another table there was all the drink you could imagine, apart from champagne. People said what a jolly good do it was.”

Tomorrow is D–Day is published by Amberley and costs 16.99.


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