Memories of being in the Land Army, driving in the dark, milking cows, dancing with pilots

PUBLISHED: 18:00 18 May 2020

Mary Williams aged 97  wears her original Land Army issue dungarees at Great Bardfield's VE Day celebrations. Her daughter Linda is also dressed in 1940s style. Picture: WILL EDWARDS

Mary Williams aged 97 wears her original Land Army issue dungarees at Great Bardfield's VE Day celebrations. Her daughter Linda is also dressed in 1940s style. Picture: WILL EDWARDS

© 2020 William Edwards

One night the airman all left the village dance suddenly. She only found out later they were off to the D Day Landings.

Mary Williams, then Mary Jelly  (top row second left) in the Land Army in the 1940sMary Williams, then Mary Jelly (top row second left) in the Land Army in the 1940s

Land Army memories of VE Day and wartime from a woman whose family visit to her daughter’s turned into something longer this year because of lockdown.

As a Land Army girl, Mary Williams was dancing at a village hop, when suddenly the band stopped playing.

“It was June 1944. There was a word from the conductor and all the airmen went out.”

Mary Williams aged 97 who served in the Land Army, in her original Land Army issue dungarees. Picture: WILL EDWARDSMary Williams aged 97 who served in the Land Army, in her original Land Army issue dungarees. Picture: WILL EDWARDS

Mary’s partner apologised and left her on the dance floor.

“It was terrifying. We could hear the planes going over.

“The next morning they came and told us, we heard it was for the Landings, it was D Day.

“It was terrifying, when you saw all those young lads.”

That was the last village dance that Mary went to.

She was 19 when she was called up to serve in the Land Army. in 1942 On VE Day on Friday, in Great Bardfield, she was wearing the same dungarees she had been issued some 78 years earier.

The fabric is still strong and at 97 so is Mary.

“We were all called up to serve. My father said I was not to go in the forces.

“He said they weren’t a suitable place for a young woman, all those men, it wasn’t safe. You’re going in the Land Army.”

It was daunting she says to move from her home in Middlesbrough and go to live in the country, to work on a farm near Richmond, Yorkshire.

“I had no idea what I was getting into. But I learned to milk cows and pasterise the milk and take it round the village.

“The haymaking was jolly. It was really great fun.”

She learned to drive in an Austin Seven.

“One night, the farmer sent me to take straw to Barnard Castle. There were no signs and I hadn’t a clue how to get there.

“He said he said you go this way and turn left and keep straight on and you’ll get there, and I did.

“You could only use your side lights. On the way back, it was pitch dark.

“The only light I could see were the sparks from some horses’ hooves.

“They had escaped from a field and got out on to the road. It was rather alarming.”

She was the only girl working on the farm with the farmer and his wife but there were other girls on farms nearby and they met up at the cinema and the dances.

“The farmer was also a special constable. When he was out on duty at night, he would walk us girls home from the village hall to make sure that we didn’t go astray.”

What was it like living during a war with the bombs dropping from the sky?

“It’s amazing how you cope. You adjust and you do the best you can.

“It was frightening but being in the country, we weren’t as exposed to bombs as in the town.

“We had the Green Howards and the RAF there and you would have thought we would have been bombed but we weren’t.”

Mary worked at the farm until the end of the war.

After she returned home to Middlesborough, it was at dance that she met a young police officer.

“He was from Wales, William Albert Williams!” she laughs.

They married in 1947 and had two daughters, Linda and Cynthia born in 1949 and 1952 after the introduction of the NHS.

“That was wonderful and it still is.”

Mary, who had been employed as clerical worker, gave up work on her marriage. “You had to. Policemen’s wives weren’t allowed to work.”

This year, Mary, who has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, decided to sell her house in North Yorkshire and spend time with her daughters.

She planned to stay with Linda in Great Bardfield for a couple of weeks. But then came the lockdown.

That’s how she ended up on the 75th anniversary of VE Day with Linda in Great Bardfield.

The original VE Day on May 8, 1945 had mixed emotions for Mary’s family, her parents and sister Edna.

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Her brother Harry, an only son, was still a prisoner of war.

“He joined the airforce when he left high school, at 17.

“He was sent to Singapore and then he was taken prisoner and spent 18 months in dreadful conditions. He was in a Japanese prisoner of war camp on VE Day. So the day wasn’t joyful for us. The fighting was still going on in Japan.”

Harry died three days later, on May 11. He was 21.

Edna died six years ago. “We were very close,” Mary said.

And those dungarees. Are they a good linen?

“More like canvas,” she says “Quite strong, like twill.”

People and fabric, they were both made of redoubtable stuff in those days.


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