Mary Tolman's Memories of the War Years

Working for victory in the Land Army

By Mary Tolman

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Mary Tolman's Memories of the War Years' page

I hope you will enjoy my story of the War.

In 1938 I was working for a paymaster and his wife, which I enjoyed very much, but it was not to last. In 1939, war broke out and I was told I would have to leave, but they didn’t want me to go. Before many weeks I got a job about one and a half miles from my home, my younger sister was already working there. It was acres wide, they had very large greenhouses and acres of ground where they grew every imaginable vegetable and flowers. Not long after I started, my two younger sisters came to work with us. Then they built a large hostel on the land and that is when the fun started. The girls came from London, Southampton and Bournemouth. We all got on so well.

Our boss at work owned the whole place and he was very strict. We had to clock in at six o’clock  in the morning and out at six o’clock at night. Some of us had our own greenhouses to look after, then we were given help when picking time came. I remember one year when it was picking time, they sent Winston Churchill’s niece to help me. She was a very nice girl. I remember one day we had loaded the large trolley and we were pushing it down to the packing shed when up above was a plane taking a glider from one loading station to another. My friend said ‘Oh look at that poor chappie, he is taking him back to get his puncture mended. I couldn’t laugh until I told the others. When the tomatoes were coming to an end, we had lots of work outside whatever the weather – hot or cold.

I remember one day, my Chargehand said ‘Mary I would like you to go to the maingate where there were two lorryloads of coal.' We had to shift it on to these small trucks by six o’clock that night and take them to the other end of the nurseries to keep the heat going in the greenhouses. About lunchtime we were shovelling like mad, covered in coal dust from head to foot, when suddenly this plane came over and we could have touched it with our shovels the Swastikas were so close to us. We looked up, one girl screamed she was so scared. Who should walk up behind us but the Boss, he called me over and said ‘do you know what you have just done miss’?  I said ‘no Sir’  he said ‘you have just given two minutes to Hitler’ We nearly choked, my friends said ‘and we could have been filled with bullets’.

As the tomato season was ending, eight of us had to go somewhere near Ringwood. We were right next door to an airfield which was an American base. I had to go because I drove the tractor. We loved it down there because our boss didn’t come there. We had a chargehand, he was great. We would all be busy when the sirens would go off, then the Spitfires would roar across the sky, they all had pictures of film stars on the planes. The sad thing was that when they flew back there was usually someone missing, because we knew all the stars.

As we lived one and a half miles from our home, we used to run all the way there and all the way back. That’s why all four of us were so thin. One lunch-time we were running up towards our little wooden gate, as we got there my sister shouted ‘there is a dog fight up there’. We all stood there opened mouthed staring up at it. My Mum came out on the step up to the door and said ‘come on girls you won’t have time for your lunch’ My sisters ran indoors, but I stayed gripping the wooden gate. My Mum came out again and said ‘Mary please come in, your cup of tea is cold.’ At that, I left the gate and jumped onto our first doorstep. There was a swishing noise, I turned round and a piece of shrapnel had split our gate nearly in two. How close can you get, I was very lucky that day.  

As you will know when we were in the Land Army we all worked very hard, but got very little pay, two pounds fifty pence a week. So to buy things we would save up and buy a blouse from M & S, then we would share with a different skirt to go out dancing, and we did the same with shoes.

I remember one day the Army invited us to a dance which was four miles away. We decided to borrow four bicycles from the people in the village. They knew us very well so they let us borrow them for the evening. The only problem was that they only had one front light and one reflector for the back. We decided to keep in a line, the front one having the bright light and the back one the reflector.  We kept saying keep in a straight line or we will be in trouble and we got away with it.

About two weeks later when we were walking home from another dance in the next village, a Policeman stopped us. We knew him well, his name was Jack. He said ’Hello girls are you going home?' We said ‘yes’, so he said ‘Show me your identity cards’  Our faces must have lit up the sky, we didn’t have them. He said ‘Well then I’m afraid I will have to report you all’.  We were so worried, we couldn’t tell our  Mum. About two days later he stopped us on our way home from work and said ‘You are lucky they are not taking you to court  this time, but don’t do it again’.

One day a few of us said ‘How about going to Fording Bridge for something to eat’. As we had never ever been in a café, it was very exciting. What shall we have? Not too much as we can’t afford it. We went in the small café and believe it or not we felt so posh and thought how lucky we were to be in there. We paid one shilling and nine pence for faggots and peas.

Mary Tolman

To read about Mary's schooldays please click here.

This page was added by John Cheves on 07/06/2010.

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