I'm thinking about sharing another WWII story with you. I am ever so thankful for being able to read these stories, and for being able to share them with you, all thanks to people who submitted them to BBC's People's War series on the web (link above). This time, let us remember someone real, someone with a story.
Her name is Irene Johnson (nee Mitchell)
...and she had some tales for us.
Story number 1: Bike
I had always longed for a 'fairy' bike as a little girl. I would beg for rides of other kids promising them rides in return when I had my own bike but my Dad wouldn't let me have one. Every year at Christmas I would get a girls annual, a selection box, slippers and a jigsaw. I would always ask dad if I couldn't have a bike instead. But Dad said that he was worried that I would ride on the pavement and knock someone down and when I got older I would ride on the road and he'd seen too many accidents.
I grew up seeing Beryl Burton, the famous female cyclist, training in Morley where we both lived. I remember Beryl flying past me on her racer on the way to work every day.
When war broke out I received notice I had been accepted into the Land Army. I was sent a train ticket and went to Leeds Train station. I'd been sent my Land Army badge and put it on my coat. When I got to the station I saw a group of girls on the platform and walked past them hoping to see a badge. They saw mine and called me over as they were all waiting for the same train to Sturminster Newton in Dorset. The train journey took all day and there was no toilet on the train. Every now and again we would pull into the sidings and let trains filled with troops pass us.
There were WVS drivers waiting at the station for us. They took us to a hostel, and we were all tired and hungry and sat in silence. When we arrived at the hostel, we saw a shed full of bikes. No one had spoken for the journey but I couldn't contain myself, "Who are these bikes for?" I asked. The woman replied, "One's for you." At last, I thought, I got me a bike!
The warden came in after breakfast the next morning and asked us 30 girls who couldn't ride a bike. Only 2 people put up their hands. I wasn't going to in case they took my new bike off me! The bikes were all alike but each had its own number and we were told to pick a bike and stick with it. All the girls rushed out and grabbed bikes.
All the girls rushed off on their bikes. But I went slowly, I got on mine and wobbled across the yard on it. The other girls were getting out of sight and I couldn't see where they were going. There was a steep hill and they had to get off to push the bikes up so I began pedalling hard to catch them up but when they got to the top they disappeared. I was about to go whizzing down the hill quickly to catch them up when I heard someone call me, they'd ducked into a field at the top of the hill! We cycled back to the hostel together and I felt very proud of myself.
Story number 2: The Dairy
Later on another farmer sent word he wanted 2 girls to do dairy work. Whenever I was home on leave a lad would shout to me “have you learned to milk a cow yet?!” so I decided to show him and give it a try. I knew it was a 7 day a week job and hard work and I knew I would miss the others at the hostel.
It was me and a girl called Sylvia that volunteered to go to do the dairy work. Sylvia had a father who worked at the airport in Ferndown and a younger sister. She would often go home for a day to visit.
The dairy farm was in the village of Grimston in Dorset, and we were allowed to take our bikes with us. We were on the farm at 6am every morning. On our afternoon off we liked to cycle to Dorchester to go to the pictures but sometimes we were just too tired. Even on a Sunday we would have to get up and milk the cows then have breakfast, muck out, wash up and have an hour off before we had to milk again. In that hour we’d often ride round on our bikes! We had 1 day off a week but couldn’t have it together. Sometimes I would go to Weymouth for the afternoon in my time off.
I stayed with a lovely couple that were in the Salvation Army who made me fried breakfasts. All around that area, near the dairy, were stones with holes in them, they were thought to be lucky. When I left the dairy the couple put a rope threaded with stones up on the outside of their house to remember me and for luck. Sylvia lived with the dairy man and his family.
When we started at the dairy a lady brought a rubber bag full of water for us to practise milking on! The movement made our fingers ache. There were lots of rats living in the cow sheds and they would disappear when you walked in with a lamp giving, you a fright.
One day the farmer decided he wanted us to clear the field that was full of thistles as well as all our other jobs! We told the lady from the land army that came to check we were ok that we didn’t have enough time to do both. Because the farmer was so ungrateful and we worked so hard we requested to leave the farm and were moved to another dairy.
Story number 3: Rats
Sylvia was trained as a rat catcher but she said it wasn’t very good as it was private billets on your own and you got lonely. She would put out little plastic dishes of food and if the food was taken twice the third time you would put out poison. She would then shovel the rats up and put them in a sack, then a man came round and collected the sack.
When we worked at the dairy the farmer asked them to come back one day after breakfast. A girl from the village had come up to work with us. We all knew there were lots of rats in the barn. It had a thatched roof and they would live in the thatch. When no one was around they would all come out into the yard to eat the piles of food for the cows. I had never told anyone I was scared of rats because boys would throw them at you when you were threshing if they knew.
The farmer gave each of us a pitch fork, the kind used for sticking in the corn sheaves, with 2 prongs. He farmer said we were all going to creep up on the rats, each of us had to get one in our sighs and fix on it. When the farmer yelled we’d all stab down. We crept in to the barn and saw the rats, the farmer shouted and I couldn’t bring myself to stab. But the girl from the village got one and it screamed and screamed, I remember the awful sound to this day. All the other rats ran up the walls into the thatch and then came back out and stared at us. We could see hundreds of eyes watching us. We started to inch back, very slowly. I thought that all the rats would suddenly pile down on us and attack.
When we got away the farmer asked us if we were all all right. He announced, “we shan’t do that again,” it had clearly upset him too.
I hope you've enjoyed these as much as I did when I first read them. It's so exciting, being able to find something so geniune and heartwarming as the sotories of the day-to-day life in the days gone by.
Have a great day.