11 December 1998

Wartime rural life was no happy picnic

POST-war generations may imagine that life in the countryside between 1939-1945 was peaceful. Plenty of hard work, of course, carried out with the help of land girls, relieved by Dads Army-style civil defence operations may well the picture they carry, but a new video* from Farming Press puts the record straight.

Feeding the nation was the over-riding purpose of those who lived and worked in the countryside. When war began the UK was only producing one-third of its food. Production surged supported by the introduction and development of tractors and tackle and the improvement of techniques.

For many, heartache came hand-in-hand with effort. Farming affairs were masterminded by War Agricultural Committees who set targets and removed farmers who were not coming up to scratch.

No one, including those in the countryside, was safe from the bombing. As one farmer recalls, you were all right so long as you could hear the whine of the V1s, usually known as doodlebugs. Once the sound ceased, you had to take cover.

The Home Guard was a serious fact of life that took up what free time men had, while one of the farmers featured recalls being recruited for the British Resistance Organisation, a little-known group of carefully selected people trained to use their resources until death in the event of enemy occupation.

As well as old film footage which gives fascinating insights into the working practices, tractors and machinery of those times, the video contains interviews with a member of a war agricultural committee, several farmers and land girl Peggy Grayson, who recalls her days working on a Devon farm with a certain amount of amusement and affection.

The narrator is Ian Lavender, best known for his portrayal of Private Pike, the youngest member of Captain Mainwarings Dads Army platoon. His grown up, out of character voice is not so easily recognised. AR

*Operation Harvest – War in the Countryside 1939-45, Farming Press, available from farmers weekly Offers, PO Box 261, Slough, Berks SL2 3RU (£15.99 plus £2.95 p&p).