Edna Lathey (1924-)



Murray Rose introduces the interview which concerns Mrs. Lathey’s time in the Land Army from 1941 to 1945.  She was 17 when she was called up in 1941, so was born in 1924.


CS  Mrs. Lathey thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us.  What is your first name?

EL  Edna.

CS  Edna.  Mrs. Edna Lathey.  So whereabouts were you born?

EL  I was born in Southall but we moved to Hounslow when I was school age and then to Isleworth.  That’s where I was when I was called up.  I was seventeen-and-a-half.

CS  So you’d already left school – and what had you been doing since you left school?

ES  I went to………………. My first job was at C & A’s in Kensington where I was learning to do alterations for clothes but then when the war started, rather than travel to London, I stayed at home and went to the Co-op as a window dresser.  And that’s where I was called up to come down here into the Land Army.

CS  I see.  So you were called up.  Did you have any choice about whether you went into the services or…………..

EL  Well I could have applied for the services yes, but I plumped for the Land Army in the end.

CS  So did you have any idea of what you’d have to do?

EL  Nothing at all.  No.  It was just the Land Army and you were just thrown in a the deep end.  You were just shown how to do the job.

CS  So how did you get down here?  On the train?

EL  On the train, to Crewkerne and then we was picked up from Crewkerne and taken to the hostel in Beaminster, up by the Mill.

CS  And so how many of you were there?

EL  Eighteen.  About eighteen yes.  

CS  With somebody to keep an eye on you?

EL  Yes, well Emma was the foreman at the time.  

CS  And what was the hostel like?

EL  It was a big wooden hut, you know.  With bunk beds.  They weren’t the pleasantest of beds you know.  They were very hard, mattresses like biscuits, you know?  There were no springs it was ply-board you laid on.

CS  So you had to be, you had to get used to ………………..

EL  We had to get used to that, you was all toughened up.  There was nothing soft and that you know.

CS  And what about the food.  What was the food like?

EL  That was just basic because we was on just the normal rations the same as civilians you know.  You had your breakfast and you had your main meal when you came in after.  You took a packed lunch with you.  And if that was left in the tin in the hot weather, you’d take your sandwiches up and they used to be all curled up you know.  With the heat.  No, it was very basic you know.

CS  What sort of work were you doing?

EL  The first lot was pulling flax.  Nine would pull and nine would tie.  And then in the afternoon you reversed round.  And then when you’d finished the field you hd to go round and stook it all up and just stack it so it would dry.  Ready to go to the Flaxmill.

CS  What does flax look like when………..?

EL  Like a very tall grass.  It’s very, very coarse.

CS  So did you have gloves?

EL  No, no gloves.  You got used to it you know…………..

CS  Your hands must have got……………..

EL  Toughened your hands up………………..

CS  You got sort of callouses and……………..?

EL  No, not really.   They got sore but you soon got used to it.  It was just the way, just the knack of pulling.

CS  And so what was the flax used for?

EL  Mostly for linen and that sort of stuff.  As far as I know it was for linen.  

CS  Yes.  Interesting.  You would have thought perhaps they would have put all the fields producing food in the war.  But I suppose they still needed………………..

EL  Well yes they did.  Potatoes was put out and mangolds for the cows.  We used to go flat hoeing those you know.  Went down there when they was ploughed or you’d go mangold hoeing to single them out so that only just one big one comes up.  And round hoeing spuds.  And they used to be put in……… most places they would be put in clamps and then during the winter months you’d go and you’d have to sort through the clamps to bag them up for the farmer to sell them.  Which is not a very nice job on a cold morning you know.

CS  And you still didn’t have any gloves?

EL  Oh no.  No.  I used to put a sack round your legs to keep your legs warm while you was stood there.  Very, very long clamps.  They’d been in there quite a long while.  But they had to be sorted out and all the bad ones taken out.

CS  And how did you know what to do?  You must have had………… Did you have any training?

EL  No, no training at all.  You were just shown when you got there what was needed to be done by the farmer, well, you know, he wanted it done this way so you just did it the way he wanted it done. 

CS  And was there somebody keeping an eye on you to make sure you did it right?

EL  No, just carried on, the foreman, like Emma, was there.  No, we just carried on and hoped we’d done what we should have done you know.  We didn’t have any complaints, no.

CS  It’s remarkable that completely untrained young girls……………….

EL  It was the same as thrashing you see.  You went on the threshing machine.  You had to learn how to…….all the sheaves were knotted up so that you grabbed the string to cut it so it went into the machine straight, and not for the string to go in.

CS  So, it sounds quite dangerous.  You might have got your hands caught or something?

EL  No, you was on the side.  There was a man in the box putting the oats or wheat into the drum.  We didn’t do that part of it but we used to have to make sure that, you know, we got, that we didn’t let him have any strings to go in the……………..  When you weren’t on top cutting, you was down below taking all the (? unclear) out and filling up the bags with corn.  And stacking them away.

CS  It sounds like very hard work.

EL  Yes.  But, like I say, it was hard work but you got used to it.

CS  And did you make friends?

EL  Oh yes.  We had, you know, plenty of friends.  I’m afraid we set Beaminser alight…………………..

CS  What was Beaminster like in those days?


EL  Very quiet.  You had to make your own amusement.  I mean to say nothing much in Beaminster.  We used to have a dance of a Saturday night.  But that was the only night that you was allowed out, you know, a little later.  Because other than that, during the week, you had to be in by 10 o’clock.  

CS  And I expect you were quite tired anyway?

EL  Oh yes.  I mean you didn’t go out at all.  You just laid on your bunk and had a read or something.  Or, in the sitting room.  If you could get hold of one of the chairs.  (Laughter)

CS  So what about things like shopping.  Were there shops in Beaminster where you could………………

EL  Oh yes.  The same as, more or less, like there is now.  There was quite a few shops you know.  Not that we wanted to do any shopping for, you know, other than essential things that women want.  But other than that, all the meals and that were got for us.

CS  Yes.  And you were wearing uniform.

EL  You were wearing uniforms and that, yes.

CS  What sort of uniform was there?   No gloves!   But what did you wear?

EL  Dungarees.  Khaki dungarees.  With green woolly jumpers and the light shirts underneath.  And then, for best wear, you used to have your britches.  And then you used to have the corduroy britches for winter.  But, other than that, you was in ordinary khaki dungarees with your…………. and a khaki coat that you could put on over your jumper.  Nothing heavy.  Well it was thick but it wasn’t heavy.  So you could work in it OK.

CS  But you must have got cold sometimes?

EL  Oh yes, you did get cold.  Well it used to make you work harder then to keep warm.  (Laughter)

CS  So, how much were you paid for all this hard work?

EL  £1. 8s.0d. a week.  In old money.

CS  Heavens yes.  Not very much but I suppose you didn’t have much to spend it on did you?

EL  I don’t know what the actual wage was in the beginning but that’s all we were allowed to have because they took so much out for your keep.  We were on the same rations as everybody.  We wasn’t ……… any extras like the Forces had.   So we were on pure rations.

CS  And how long were you here in Beaminster?

EL  Came in ’41 and I left, I think it was, in 194……..? towards the end of ’42.  And then I went…. we was in Bridport then because we went on strike.

CS  Oh, tell me about that.

EL  Well, we was cycling from here to Charmouth to start work at 8 o’clock on the threshing machine.

CS  Gosh.  How long did that take, can you remember?

EL  Hour – hour and a half.

CS  Goodness me and you had to start work at eight.

EL  And then we was there until six.  And then we had to cycle home.  So we done it for so many months and we got,  Hilda and I – the other Land Girl that was doing it with me – we got fed up and we went on strike.

CS  So what happened then?

EL  They billeted us in Bridport. 

CS  So when you went on strike you just refused to leave…………..

EL  We just refused, you know, to cycle because it was too much.

CS  Yes.  And what did they do?  I mean…………….

EL  Well they billeted us in……………. to make sure that we done our work they billeted us in Bridport.

CS  So that was sorted quite quickly?

EL  Oh yes, they would do because they were short staffed you know.  There were no men on the farms them days, you were wanted.

CS  So how long were you on strike do you think?

EL  Oh not very long, about a couple of days.  Wasn’t long.

CS  But it did the trick?   And then you went to Bridport.

EL  We went to Bridport and then we come under Farmer Dare who was a lot to do with the War Ag. which was at Dorchester.  So we was permanently on the threshing machine then.  During the winter months.  Then in the summer months we were on haymaking and, not flax pulling, potatoes – picking up the potatoes and mangold hoeing and mangold pulling.

CS  So there was something for  you to do in the fields all the year round?


EL  Well then, like I say, then we went down Charmouth on the field down there.  We done the ditching and put in clay pipes for water drainage and then done all the ditching all round the hedges and then cut the hedges.  We used to have to lean over……………. We was taught how to lay a hedge.

CS  Really, that’s a very skilful job isn’t it?

EL  Yes.

CS  You did learn a lot didn’t you?

EL  Oh yes, you learnt as you went along you know.  Surprising how it doesn’t leave you.

CS  Yes, it must have left you with lots of memories about that.  Was there any particular incident that  you remember, any amusing……………..?

EL  When we was down Bexington and we was haymaking, I think it was late one May, early June, night and there was a German bomber must have been going back home.  And I suppose he realised we were in the field there and he turned round and must have emptied the rest of his bullets on us.  We just scarpered and head first into the hedge regardless to our backsides that were…………(Laughter)

CS  But nobody got hit.

EL  Nobody got hit but that was a bit scary at the time.

CS  Did you have a lot of aircraft overhead?

EL  Oh yes.  You’d see them overhead you know.  But not so much as when – ‘cos I was in London when the war started first so I was there when the blitz was there ’40, ’41, and that was terrible.  That was very frightening to be in.  So when I come down it was quite quiet you know.

CS  So you were safer.  You must have felt safer down here?

EL  Safer, yes.  Still you’d get the odd incident when you’d get one – I suppose he thought he’d have a pop shot at us but very rare.

CS  So did you go on working in the Land Army until the end of the war?

EL  No, I went on to the beginning part, about March 1945 because I got married in Christmas 1944 and then I expected my first boy in ’45 so I left work I suppose it would have been March/April.  And then I left then.

CS So did you meet your husband down here……………?

EL  Down in Dorset, yes.  He’s always done farm work and that, you know.

CS  So have you lived in Dorset ever since?

EL  Ever since.

CS  Oh.  But I gather you moved to Beaminster not long ago.

EL  Yes, well my first husband died when I was expecting my second child.  Then I got married again.  We’ve been married for thirty- odd years now.  But we’ve always done farmwork.  My husband, he’s done fifty years on one farm, and I’ve done calf rearing, veal calf rearing, for a Mr. Cooper in Bridport for twenty-six years.  I’ve done 6,000 so he’d……….  Then I went to work on Denhay Farm where my husband worked for fifty year.  And I did five dairies of all the baby calves I reared and all the heifer calves.  So it mounted up, about 145 calves I used to have at the end of the year to feed.  And I reared those for them.

CS  So that’s interesting.  The fact that you were called up and joined the Land Army really dictated the way your life has gone?

EL  Yes, I’ve done nothing else but………………..  I’ve been there ever since.  I’ve done factory work.  Doing the day-old chicks and what have you.  We had two machines held 22,000 eggs and one held 11,000 eggs.  And they was packed over the amount of three weeks, a three week period.  Because the eggs were in there for 21 days and then they was tested and then put into more trays for the babies to come out.  The baby chicks to come out.  That was interesting.  It was all interesting work but you went in with no knowledge and learnt as you went along.

CS  So can you tell me any more about what Beaminster was like in those days?  You said it had the shops much the same sort as ………………

EL  Much the same, yes.  The Post Office used to be then next to Pickwick’s.  Pickwick’s wasn’t there then.

CS  What was Pickwick’s?  What was that building?

EL  I know the French shop down here, now that used to be the Co-op.  Then it was Hines, then it went across the road.  But much the same.  The butcher’s the same.  The White Hart that was going as a hotel and a public house then.

CS  We’re lucky in Beaminster to have kept so many shops.

EL  Oh yes.  They’ve changed hands to what they were because there used to be a shoe shop in Beaminster where the Country Seat is now.  That used to be a shoe shop.  But, like I say, most of it is still here to what it was.

CS  Of course there would be much less traffic?  And very few……………. I mean people couldn’t, if they had a car there was petrol rationing wasn’t there so you couldn’t do very much………………

EL  Oh no.  If we missed the last bus when we was in, when I was in Land Army you had to walk back from Bridport.

CS  Really?  Gosh that’s quite a walk.

EL  Oh yes.  Stop half way and have a cup of tea with the army that had a Nissen Hut there at Melplash.  ‘Cos they had Nissen Huts every……………. the Home Guard every so often, you know, you could stop and have a talk to them on the way home.

CS  You must have known where they all were so you could drop in?

EL  There was no lights, there was no lamps.  We were all in darkness.  No street lights or nothing.

CS  And the signposts were all removed?  You had to know your way about didn’t you?

EL  Oh yes.  Well you had to know where you were going, you know, ‘cos there was no lights or nothing.

Wasn’t so bad during the summer months because having an extra hour.  Eleven o’clock at night it was still quite light you know.  Oh yes, well it made a long winter you know.  

CS  And can I ask what made you come and live in Beaminster.  What was it that……………………..

EL  Well we had a house in, at Denhay Farm where we was working, and we were always……….. the boss that was a Streatfeild, Commander Streatfeild, said we had the house until we didn’t want it.  But the Commander died and his son had other ideas.   So he wanted it for one of his workers but they offered  this one in Beaminster which is smaller, but big enough for me to keep clean.

CS  Interesting the way you’ve come back to Beaminster after all those years.

EL  We’ve come back.  I never thought I’d come back to Beaminster but I have, yes.  (Laughter)

CS  Good, well thank you very much indeed.  That was absolutely fascinating.