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By Nick Holt, 2012
Higham Park Farm - Land Army Girls

Jeannie came into my family’s life and we into hers around 1940/1941, my parents were newly married and the war was not going well. Jeannie was in her early teens and as photographs show, a very attractive girl. Along with Chip, Mabel, Joan and two other girls, Jeannie came to work at Higham Park, through the Land Army, to assist in the war effort for food production.

Jeannie lived-in at Higham Park with my grandparents and the other girls were up at Bencroft Grange cottages. In no time at all she had taken to the farming routine like a duck to water; in those days it was mixed farming with all aspects of livestock, poultry, cereals, vegetables and potatoes. Over the coming years she became proficient in all the tasks that confronted her, a natural gift with livestock she loved to work and be with animals. When we talked she always mentioned her favourite dogs, Prince and Ajax.

Land Army Girls
(l-r) Mabel Bracewell, "Chip", and
Jean Wesley with Prince and Ajax
Living and working with my Grandmother, a genteel woman who endured a hard life, they soon became close as Jeannie assisted in the house, mainly the kitchen. With quite a number of hungry mouths to feed it was a labour in itself, virtually all the food came off the farm, animals being slaughtered and butchered, game, milk, butter, eggs, vegetables etc. There was a large room used as a pantry and a cold store, stocked with culinary delights and, as I was to find out, Jeannies domain. Grandmother treated her like a daughter and showed her great affection and I know Jeannie never forgot the compassion my Grandmother bestowed on her.

My parents lived up at Bencroft Grange, Jeannie and Mother became good friends, my sister was born in 1943 and I followed in 1946 and from earliest recollections Jeannie was always there with sister Doff, cousin Tony and later Patrick; we used to cause her all sorts of problems!

In 1947/48 the war had finished and the land army girls left. Jeannie decided to stay on and continue working at the farm. On her courtship and marriage to Ron she still cycled to work and put in her day. It was before Philip and Sandra arrived on the scene that I had Jeannie all to myself; with a working family farm I was mostly left to my own devices, getting under people's feet and generally being a nuisance. Jeannie took it upon herself to look after me, hanging on to her boots I would follow her all day, she was always wiping me down, didn’t matter what I did I always ended up getting filthy and still to this day I'm a magnet for dirt!

The best days were baking and churning butter carried out on a regular basis each week, what a treat it was getting my hand in that earthenware bowl to clean the residue of the cake mix. Sometimes I tried to sneak some of the mix before she put it in the baking tin, a quick tap with the wooden spoon soon had me withdrawing at great speed. Making butter was great fun, I wound the old churn handle for what seemed like hours, we would pat and shape the butter for packing. Jeannie liked to do it well and I remember there were several wooden forms and wheels with patterns on that she would run over the butter pat, a simple thing but she loved to do it, making it look good. Jeannie’s way with animals showed through. Father bought a Jersey house cow when my sister was born, although we had a Friesian milking herd; the Jersey was richer milk and was thought better for children, anyway the Jersey had to be milked twice a day and there was only one pair of hands the old Jersey would let near her, Jeannie’s. For some reason Jeannie called her Suzy Q, a name that stuck until the cow finished its active service.

Jeannie stayed on and continued to help with the house when we moved to Higham Park, for years her pride and joy was a tiled floor, which she kept magnificently polished, woe betide anyone that messed it up. Sue had joined the family by now and she would come with her mother to the farm, I was a cocky teenager and didn’t have any time for anybody else, but Jeannie still cared and always had time for us. I promised Sue I wouldn’t mention the biscuit crumbs or when Gladys (my mother) pushed her, so I won’t say anymore!!

Jeannie always said they were the best years of her life, she certainly left an indelible mark on my life and those early years, a debt I could never repay. Also her generosity of spirit and loyalty to members of my family knew no bounds and she was witness and part of the difficult period during the war and into later years, my childhood would not have been the same. She gave all this and still brought up her own family, Phillip, Sandra and Sue and the grandchildren have their memories, she gave them a stable home and was mother and grandmother second to none, whose life, like all of us, had it own difficulties. But, she stuck to it and saw it through giving her best to all she came into contact with.

The only thing I can be sure of is Jeannie’s out there with Prince, Ajax, Suzy Q and the life she loved so much.

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