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Hard days but great days for wartime Land Girl Barbara, 92

By Toby Neal | Nostalgia | Published:

Barbara Jones of Baschurch has never been afraid of hard work, and at the age of 92, still isn't.

She walks slowly with the aid of a stick these days, but loves to spend hours tending her immaculate garden, where at this time of year the intrusion of wind-blown leaves vexes her.

But being a young teenager in her first job - as a live-in cleaner in domestic service at a posh Shropshire house - was more than she could stand.

"I hated it. I used to sweep the dust under the mat," she says.

It was not long after this though that she was toiling to help the war effort, as a member of the Women's Land Army - an army of over 200,000 girls and women who worked on farms, whose service was belatedly officially recognised.

"I loved it. I would go back tomorrow to it if I had the chance. It was a wonderful life. I made some lovely friends, and I'm still friends with them," says Barbara, who has a framed certificate of gratitude from the Government, signed by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2008.

She kept her uniform for years, but now only has the badge left.

Mrs Jones was a country girl, brought up near Oswestry, but a significant number of the Land Girls, as they were called, came from the big cities, and this was a bit of an eye opener for her while she was at Llanforda Hall - since demolished - near Oswestry, which was being used as Land Army accommodation.

"A lot of them were Manchester and Liverpool girls, they weren't country girls like me," she said.

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"There were a lot of us girls there, so many in a bedroom. We had bunks - I was on the bottom bunk.

"The first night I was there sitting in the lounge, they came home from work and would automatically go to the mantelpiece to see if there was any mail. One girl from Liverpool went and there was no post for her. Her language was terrible. I hadn't been used to it. I couldn't believe this language. It got better afterwards.

"I loved it there. Llanforda Hall was a wonderful place. We had to work every day. A van took us to work to different farms."

Back then she was the teenage Barbara Price, who at around the age of 11 had learned shocking news by accident.

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"I was adopted, but never knew until one day I was coming home from West Felton School and a girl said to me: 'Ron Price isn't your brother.' I took no notice and went home and as my mum was out working went into the cabinet on the wall and found my birth certificate, which gave the proof. Nothing had ever been said until that day. It's an awful shock. Nobody talked about it."

She was to find out her birth mother was Ada Cooke, who was single, and they afterwards wrote to each other during her childhood, although she knows nothing of the circumstances of her adoption.

"I don't mind. I had a good life and good childhood."

Her adoptive father was Herbert Price - in another childhood shock, he was to shoot himself - and the family lived by the canal at Queens Head, later moving to Long Oak, not far away. Her mother was Elsie who as it happens was a Land Girl in the Great War.

"I went to West Felton School. I learned nothing. I hated school. All I did was copy."

She left aged 14 and the following day had her case packed and went to The Grange, West Felton, the home of a Mr and Mrs Bradley.

"I was a cleaner, and had to live in. I was glad to get away and live somewhere else. I was growing up a bit then. I was there until I was Land Army age. I was fed up of cleaning and left."

Barbara went to stay with her married half sister, Gwen Gray, who lived in a black and white cottage in Little Wenlock and it was while there that she started sorting potatoes for Bert Chatham, who was farming a local farm for his uncle.

"I joined the Land Army. I had to go to Shrewsbury from Little Wenlock to join."

For entertainment, she would walk with village girl Elsie Gough to the cinema in Dawley, which was dubbed "the bug house."

Next stop for new Land Girl Barbara was Brockton Grange, at Brockton, near Shifnal, and then to Llanforda, which was the first time she was working as part of a group of Land Girls.

When wood rot led to Llanforda Hall being closed the girls had to find fresh lodgings.

"Five of us went into a flat in Oswestry. Three of us slept in a bed. I don't know how the other two slept."

It was while working for a Mr and Mrs Richards at Morton Hall, near Knockin, that she first met her husband-to-be, tractor driver Ted Jones, of Crickheath.

They began thinking of marriage, and Barbara was to have other jobs, at Peate's mill at Maesbury and at Jones' butchers in Oswestry, when Ted found what they were looking for, a cottage for a farm worker.

"I couldn't get down to the church quick enough. I almost ran to Holy Trinity Church at Oswestry and booked the wedding, and that was it."

They wed at Holy Trinity Church, Oswestry, on October 8, 1945.

They had two children, Don and Sue, and of course Barbara kept her hand in working, including having done 36 years at Walford College as a cleaner - "There's my wristwatch for service," she says proudly holding up her wristwatch - and also working at Baschurch surgery and for T.E. Jones.

"I have worked and worked and worked all my life."

She still drives. And then there is, of course, the garden.

"I can still do things. I can still walk straight. If I get outside there, I'm happy. I love it."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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