Interview With Betty Craig About Her Time In The Land Army
- Ref No: AVS/5
- Repository: East Lothian Archive Service
- Date: 29 May 2012
- Description: Interview with Betty Craig (nee Coulson) about her time in the Land Army. Interview conducted by Helen Bleck. Full transcription available.
Interview with Betty (Elizabeth) Craig (ne Coulson). Interviewed by Helen Bleck.
22 May 2012 (recording failed; to re-interview on 29/5)
23 Artillery Park, Haddington. 01620 82 27 06
Betty was 17 when her school headmaster announced to the school that war had been declared. It felt as if a ?dark cloud? had descended ? they?d all been told stories about the First World War, and heard about the use of gas as a weapon.
Betty went to work at the Food Office, where she did clerical work, mainly working out how many rations hotels and B&Bs needed and filling in their ration books. It was complicated work.
In 1943, when she was about 19, Betty was called up. With her workmate Mae Ellen (I think that?s the name), Betty decided that rather than join the XX or the XX, she would join the Land Army ? it sounded more fun, and involved being outdoors, which is what she wanted. (She said there were three of them at the Food Office who got called up ? but their boss ?kept his daughter back?.)
Betty had been earning about 3 a week at the Food Office (including overtime), which was a ?very good? wage; in the Land Army she earned 7/6 ? which went up to 1 a week if you were made a ?Leader?, which Betty soon was. She organised her team and made any complaints that were necessary (she showed me an official reply from the Ministry of Agriculture to one of her letters of complaint, but it said that since it was an administrative matter, it was being passed on ? I?m not sure if anything ever got done about the original problem).
Betty had the standard uniform of two green wool jumpers (they kept one to wear in bed at night, since it ?wasn?t warm?), corduroy or gabardine breeches, dungarees (with big pockets ? of which more later*), aertex shirts, ?dairy coat? and ?great coat?, hat and beret as well as shoes and sturdy leather boots and gloves ? the gloves were like ?Jacob?s coat of many colours? before long, as they wore them for the tough field work, such as pulling turnips, which was very hard on the hands, and had to be regularly patched up. Apparently the Land Girls were supposed to return their uniforms when they left, but Betty was never asked for hers ? perhaps, she thinks, because she stayed on after the war ended.
Betty stayed with the Land Army till about August 1947, when she received her red armlet signifying four years of service. She ?had no intention of leaving? immediately after the war ended. She showed me letters from the Ministry of Agriculture, dated 1st November 1945, which said that from that December Women?s Land Army workers would be able to leave if they wanted to. But Betty loved the work, loved growing things, loved being outside, so she stayed on. She said you had to be strong and got very fit, but you didn?t notice it so much ? you were young. She only left when she was ready to marry ? she married George Craig in September 1947.
George had been in the army (XX) and had been severely wounded when a German soldier shot him (in XX, Holland), but he originally came from Betty?s home town although they didn?t meet properly till they were both at the same dance one Saturday, while Betty was in the Land Army.
Betty was first sent to a farm at Southend in Kintyre, where she and Mae Ellen (?) lived with the family, an older couple with a young daughter. The farmer?s wife was a very good cook, and made lovely cheese ? Betty was sorry to leave that! But she didn?t want to stay on a particular farm, and always be on duty ? she wanted to stay in a hostel, where they would go out for a day?s work, and the rest of the time was more or less their own. So about six weeks later Betty and her friend moved to the hostel at Glenlussa House, about five miles from Campbeltown. Davaar Island was clearly visible from the hostel, and when the tide was low they could walk across to it ? it features in several of Betty?s photos, many of which we have scanned ? they?re available here. She also worked at Dhalling Mhor in Kintyre, a grand house with a lovely walled garden (a working garden during the war), I wasn?t clear exactly when ? if this was something she did during her time at Glenlussa, or afterwards. A lot of the photos in her album feature Dhalling Mhor ? the garden/working there with her friend Chrissie.
Betty and her team sometimes worked at a farm at Kildalloig, directly opposite Davaar Island, and one time ? it was harvest time ? the farmer wanted them to stay on and work on a Saturday afternoon. The girls didn?t like that, so Betty organised for them to go on strike! The farmer arranged for ?the lovely navy officers? (XX) to come and take their place ? so their day off didn?t do them any good! (Incidentally, Betty thinks this farmer was Sir Philip Dundas).
Some of Betty?s memories
Running to meet the postman, wearing her trousers and great coat ? desperate to see if she had a letter ? postman terrified, thought it was a soldier rushing him!
Waking up one morning and looking out of the window, to see hordes of soldiers streaming up the beach sands ? scary moment (go to bed and all is quiet, wake up and see apparent attack) ? they were XX on exercises/training.
Did she work with animals? Well, the only time really was when she had to drive a hay cart with a horse ? which was quite skittish and nearly backed her off the sea wall ? it did stop and start going forward just in time (something she?d been shouting at it seemed to work!). Also the time she?d had to deliver some hay, watched by some men who told her that if they were doing it they would back the horse into position for the drop-off ? she led the horse round to get into position, despite their ?advice? ? it worked fine. (I could picture the scene ? slightly patronising towards the wee girlie perhaps, but not actually doing anything to help? And Betty not listening and doing things her own way ? and succeeding.)
The time she was at the hay thresher, tossing hay in ? a piece of rope (from a bale?) got wrapped around her ankle as the hay was going into the machine ? she just managed to free it before it pulled her in.
The hard work of spreading dung over the fields in Winter. Not so much the smell (you were outdoors so didn?t notice it particularly), but the weight of it, and the big rakes (?) they used ? mentioned this hard, hard work a few times. And it was coooold.
Another freezing Winter?s day working in the fields ? so so cold; the army guys (?) training (?) over on the other side of the fence/hedge came over at one point with some mugs of thick, thick hot cocoa ? very welcome. They were frozen.
?In Winter we?d start work about 7 in the morning ? in the Summer we?d start early? (!). I said I thought 7 sounded early and Betty seemed surprised ? she said she supposed so, but ?you were young, you didn?t really notice? (she said that quite a lot, eg about the cold, and the toughness of the work ? what stayed with her was how much she enjoyed being outdoors, growing things and watching them grow). She thought they would usually work till about 5 ? perhaps in Winter (my post-interview guess) they would work till dusk, and perhaps do longer days at harvest time, etc ?
* Big dungaree pockets: the young lads on the farms would put tiny wee mice in these pockets ? ?they were just like jellybeans? (no bigger than) ? something the girls didn?t really like to find when they put their hands in their pockets! The boys managed to elude detection, despite the sharp look-out the girls kept!
I asked what stayed with her, what kind of effect or legacy it had had on her life: she?d remained friends with quite a few of her workmates, though over time lost touch with them, apart from her best mate Chrissie, who was her bridesmaid, and whose bridesmaid she was, when they both married in 1947. They were both ?Dunoon girls?, though hadn?t met before ending up at the same hostel. She said it taught her about gardening, and gave her her love of growing and cultivating things (the old man who looked after the garden at Dhalling Mhor taught her so much about this ? everything there was to know ? it sounds as if he taught her everything she knows about horticulture in general); also her enjoyment of hard physical work ? and being fit. When she and her husband and two young sons moved to Haddington (?with the Overspill?), her neighbour asked her if she?d like work pullin? tatties ? which she did for a year, and loved ?hard work, with the Irish people who?d come over to do the job, but she got fit, lost weight and was outside ? and came home with a nice bag of potatoes at the end of the day, which saw them through the Winter. She said when she started doing that, she?d pick stones and other obstructions out of the way of the plough (or whatever it was ? my query), until the others told her not to. She?d done this as a Land Girl, to prevent the machine getting broken ? but after the war that was just what the workers wanted, so they?d get a bit of a break!
Another legacy of her work as a Land Girl, she suspects, is the rheumatism in her knees ? she was on her knees a lot, on the cold and often damp ground, and her knees are now ?no good? (or words to that effect; she uses a wheeled zimmer indoors and a wheelchair outdoors, but in manner is very spry).
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