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Land Army Life by Sarah Bird

In 2005 Hartlepool's Museum and Library Services worked together on a project called 'Their Past, Your Future', which commemorated the part played by local people in the Second World War. As part of the project Sarah Bird reminisced about her time in the Land Army. This is her story, in her own words:

My name is Sarah Bird, but I was Sarah Knee. I was fourteen in 1939. I left school at fourteen and went straight into work, tailoring in Leeds. I joined up when I was seventeen. You had to join something – it was either the Land Army or the Forces. My three sisters had joined the Land Army before me, so there were four sisters in the Land Army and our photographs were in the local paper. I was sent down to Worcestershire, Lucy and Bessie were sent to York to a flax factory and my eldest sister was sent to Tofts Farm at Wolviston. My oldest sister, Janet, would be four or five when I was born and there were two more in between, and me mother had lost one before that. But that’s how it was in those days, no contraception or things like that.

The farm in Worcestershire had thirteen girls working. Hundred-acre fields with sugar beet and that sort of thing. Polish Prisoners of War used to help out as well and they were very nice, you know. They were picking the language up. But I didn’t hear tell of any romances with the local girls. You weren’t encouraged. I was in a hostel and EVERY day for the seven months I was there we had bread and cheese to take out for our lunch. But then we had a hot meal when we got back. And sometimes, if it was very hot, we used to come home in the daytime and go back to work after tea when it had cooled down and work till eight or nine o’clock at night. Our uniform was trousers, like riding breeches; a green jumper and an armband and a hat with a brim and a badge on the front. The farmer I worked for gave us half a crown every week, which was a fortune in those days. He was a nice man and I kept in touch with him. After I was married, Alan and I went for a few days holiday and we went round Worcestershire where I worked and we went to the farm. He was ever so pleased to see us. He still had the same John Deer tractor.

After I had been down in Worcestershire for six months the farmer that employed my sister up here wanted me to transfer and go and live in there, which I did. I was there for three or four years before I left and got married. We called the farmer “Old Nick”. I used to think he was an old man – he was only thirty-six! He used to make fun of us. He had a ram running about in the farmyard and it was a blooming nuisance. One day it came after me with its head down and I ran in the house. I said “you want to get shot of that! It’s just tupped me!” Well, I didn’t realise what I’d said! I never heard the last of it! He told everybody that came “Sally’ll be expecting lambs in the spring”. And I used to drive the tractor. He’d set me on to harrow with the tractor and I was so busy trying to go straight I didn’t realise I’d lost the harrows off! I don’t how long I’d been going with no harrows on. I never heard the last of that. There was an ack-ack gun in the last field at Tofts farm and one time I was spreading muck in the field next to it. All of a sudden these ack-ack guns went off. Well I nearly jumped out of me skin! They were firing out to sea. Oh, dear me. But we were never bombed on the farm. We didn’t see many air raids either.

The farm was about a mile and a half from Wolviston Village. I stayed in the farmhouse with my sister. There were just the two of us and two men. We got thirty bob a week; very cheap labour. We were up first thing on a morning. There were no milking machines, they were all to milk by hand. I’d never been near a cow, but that’s what he wanted me for – milking. But it was amazing how quick you adapted. It didn’t take long for me to learn. In fact after a year or so, if we were busy harvesting, the cows were to milk just the same. I’ve seen me have to go up to the farm and milk all the lot by myself. Fourteen cows. It doesn’t seem very much, but to milk them all by hand…it took some time. Of course, there were one or two that weren’t fussy about giving you a kick. If one kicked and it upset the milk, there was more concern about the milk than there was about you being hurt!

We just had the one horse and it was wall-eyed (cross-eyed). And we used to feed the cows with brewers’ grains. We kept them in a big trough outside the byre and I remember one day this blooming wall-eyed horse came in and started eating the grains. Daft me went to shoo it off. Out went its leg and caught me; well it winded me, you know, and I had to go and sit in the byre till I got me breath back. Of course I didn’t get much sympathy; “you shouldn’t have been so daft!” I didn’t have to kill chickens there, but I learnt how to do them when I got married. I used to rear chickens for Christmas for a bit of pocket money and I used to have to pull their necks. It’s amazing what you can do when you have to.

The missus that I worked for on the farm; she had a nephew called Alan. I met him one day when they were all at Stockton mart and he was there and I was there and I liked the look of him. Anyway, he called at the farm soon after and we went out together. We never went to any dances. I used to go to Wolviston Church and he used to come and pick me up on his motorbike. I didn’t like the motorbike and his mother didn’t like it, either.  I courted him for six years before I married him. I’ve lived on a farm ever since.

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