Dora Banfield - The Land Girl's Story

THE LAND GIRL'S STORY

My Time In The Land Army by Dora Banfield

I joined the Land Army in 1941, my two brothers, Geoffrey and Stephen being away on war work. I was called home to Kemps Farm, in Peldon, to help my father. He had retired for a quiet life on a small mixed farm on the Essex Coast.

Kemps Farm in the 1930s Kemps Farm Peldon

There was a department in the government which employed certain local people to watch for local farmers who were not doing enough for the war effort. My parents suspected this when a neighbouring farm was taken over, the house and all for no obvious reason. This made life more difficult for all of us.

Everything we did on the farm came under scrutiny. The local butcher had to declare how many lambs he had bought from my father and we had to tell how much bacon we cured at home. We only had a few laying hens, but we had to keep account of how many eggs we had. We often had to go without eggs for breakfast or even use dried egg powder while dozens of fresh brown eggs were packed into boxes and sent elsewhere.

Babies and small children were allowed bottled orange juice, but none was available in the shops! War babies had never seen a banana until well after the war ended. Ships carrying urgent supplies had no room for bananas! This reminds me of one incident. We had no electricity on the farm at that time except what we produced from a generator in a shed attached to the house. This petrol engine would rumble away to keep up our demand on a winter's evening. One dark night I saw the outline of a man with a pack on his back, searching round the house. We contacted the local bobby who discovered he was a sailor home on leave. He was a stoker on a naval vessel, carrying petrol and other supplies. He wanted to know who was using so much petrol and why. I can understand how he felt.

My time on the farm was before the combine harvester. Everything had to be done by tractor and cart horse. I had to learn to use both, so I knew how to harness a cart-horse and how to coax our old farm tractor to keep working. One thing my father impressed upon me was the danger of letting my foot slip off the clutch letting the cart or wagon behind jerk so as to spill its load, or worse still throw somebody off the top. One day, alas! When pulling a cart loaded with hay my foot did just that. The tractor started with a jerk but fortunately no one was seriously hurt. We still used our cart-horse for several jobs around the farm so another of my tasks was known as 'raking'. The machine known as 'the rake' had a seat on which I could sit and manoeuvre it around the field collecting the remnant of the corn or hay left after the binder had done its work. The rake was pulled by the farm horse, I forget his name, but we became good friends.

During the war the corn had to be cut by the binder pulled by the tractor. The binder tied the straw into bundles. These called sheaves, had to be gathered into stooks, four or five to one stook, standing in the field to dry out before harvesting the grain. By the 1960s the binder had been superseded by the combine harvester which cut, gathered and threshed the corn in one operation. Only one man was required, sitting comfortably in his sheltered cabin probably listening to the radio. Perhaps the next twenty years will see loaves of bread coming off the machine straight from the field!.

Separating the grain from the straw was a slow procedure for us. It had to be done by a machine called a thresher driven by a dirty, noisy diesel engine with a tall black chimney belching out black smoke. Its noisy, rhythmical beat could be heard in the late summer as it moved from farm to farm. In our area there was only one man who owned a thresher so the demand was great. When we were fortunate enough to have our turn it was 'all go' as other farmers were anxiously waiting.

My job was to feed this hungry machine by pitchforking the sheaves of corn from the stack into the machine. The rats had used the corn stacks as a quiet secret place to breed their young. Now, exposed to the bright sunlight, I had to scatter their pink babies while mother rats ran squealing in all directions. Mercifully the combine harvester has changed all that.

One more task I tried to learn was milking the cow. We had only one cow for our own supply of milk. Although I tried hard to succeed at this age-old task I was so slow that I am sure .Daisy the cow was glad when I gave up! Since I was living at home my Land Army job had no 'working hours', and weekends and evenings saw me in the garden and kitchen. The health of the nation generally was never better as during the war. Every house owner found space for an allotment. We found ingenious ways of providing nutritious meals, even using liquid paraffin for cakes - until the pharmacist discovered our recipe! We preserved and bottled everything from the garden and hedgerows.

During my time on the farm, in spite of many air-raid warnings, we were only 'hit' once ... A fire bomb landed in the field close to the house. It only left a small crater and singed a few sheep. We were fortunate, had it hit the house it would have been disastrous.
I suppose, like everyone else, the Land Girls found the 'blackout' and lack of essential commodities very frustrating. The older generation, like my parents were to be admired for the way they adapted to the challenge of surviving the war. They were encouraged by the guiding light of Sir Winston Churchill who was an example to the whole nation.

Everyone living through the war must have a tale to tell. I consider I was very fortunate be in the countryside away from the worst of the Blitz. Some years after the war, I went to see the house in London where I was living when war broke out, only to find there was nothing there. The whole area had been blitzed. I found out that my special friends had escaped in their air-raid shelter but their house was flattened. So yes! Come on any land girls still around. Let's hear your story!

Dora Banfield (nee Wooldridge) 2009


Dora Wooldridge was born in Kent in July 1914. Farming in Hoath near Canterbury at the time, her parents, Maurice and Bessie Wooldridge, moved the family to a rented farm in Hertfordshire to escape the noise of the firing and explosions of WW1 from across the Channel. Coming into an inheritance they moved to Essex, finally buying Kemps Farm, Peldon, in the early 1930s where Maurice farmed until his death in 1951. His sons Stephen and Geoffrey took over the running of Kemps Farm, before Geoffrey emigrated to New Zealand. Stephen sold the farm in the late 50's.

25 September 1943 Dora Wooldridge married Robert Banfield at Peldon Parish Church. Robert was a Corporal with the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) which were stationed on Mersea.


Elaine Barker Peldon History Project March 2018

Thanks to the Wooldridge Family

Read More on the Wooldridge Family and Kemps Farm

Author: Elaine Barker

Related Images

 Wedding of Dora and Robert Banfield.
 Robert Kingsbury Banfield, Corporal, RASC, married Dora Gertrude Wooldridge of Kemps Farm, Peldon at Peldon Parish Church.
 Robert was with the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) motor boat company, which were stationed on Mersea. After the war, the family settled in Bridgwater, Somerset.  PH01_051PH01_051
Wedding of Dora and Robert Banfield.
Robert Kingsbury Banfield, Corporal, RASC, married Dora Gertrude Wooldridge of Kemps Farm, Peldon at Peldon Parish Church.
Robert was with the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) motor boat company, which were stationed on Mersea. After the war, the family settled in Bridgwater, Somerset.
25 September 1943
 Kemps Farm in the early 1930s. Photo sent by Anne Lee nee Wooldridge whose grandfather and father farmed Kemps farm between the early thirties and late fifties.  PH01_KSF_001PH01_KSF_001
Kemps Farm in the early 1930s. Photo sent by Anne Lee nee Wooldridge whose grandfather and father farmed Kemps farm between the early thirties and late fifties.
c1932
 Kemps Farm and pond, Peldon  PH01_KSF_003PH01_KSF_003
Kemps Farm and pond, Peldon
 Dora Banfield summer 2018 aged 104  PH01_KSF_251PH01_KSF_251
Dora Banfield summer 2018 aged 104
cAugust 2018
ID: PH01_DBF


This item is part of the Mersea Island Museum Collection. The information is accurate as far as is known, but the Museum does not accept responsibility for errors.