SHE’S experienced the Great Depression, was evacuated from her home and everything familiar to her when she was a child at the start of the war and worked as a Land Girl.
Margaret Wing (83), of Whaplode Drove, is a one-woman lesson in 20th century history, as youngsters as Gedney Hill Church of England Primary School discovered after inviting her to talk to them about her experiences.
It was joining the Land Army just before her 16th birthday that brought Margaret to South Holland and a way of life that was a million miles away from what she had known in Sunderland, but it was one she came to love and so ended up settling here.
However, her extraordinary life experiences began before the war as a child in Sunderland during the Great Depression which affected the industrial north east particularly badly, when Margaret says 90 per cent of men were on the dole and children were running around without shoes.
She says: “We had this old pram and if there was a storm we used to trundle down to the beach and pick coal off the shore. What I do remember though is during the Depression and the war everyone from the North East pulled together and shared everything.”
Margaret remembers exactly where she was when war was declared. She had just passed her 11+ and gone to look at her old school when a woman opened her front door and called out that war had started.
“I ran like hell all the way home,” remembers Margaret. “Within a week or two of that happening my two brothers and I were evacuated, but they went to a different place to me so I didn’t know anyone.”
Margaret – who was sent to a village near Catterick and can recall standing on the railway platform waiting to be selected – had a bad experience with the widow who picked her out from the other evacuees.
“She wanted someone to do her work,” says Margaret. “I used to have to clean their shoes and she used to get me up at 4.30am to do the washing. I was 11 years old.”
Within a fortnight Margaret’s father visited and discovered how his daughter was being abused so took her home, where she spent the rest of the war.
Margaret recalls: “We were bombed quite a lot and there was a lot of damage in Sunderland. After the bombs we helped people to rescue some of their belongings... and we used to collect shrapnel for some reason or another. We would stand at the door of the shelter and when a German plane was shot down we used to cheer, but mum used to say, ‘That’s someone’s poor bairn’.”
Much of Margaret’s schooling was in the air raid shelter and if there had been night raids youngsters were allowed to take the following morning off. Margaret says one of the biggest nuisances was having to carry a gas mask everywhere she went, adding: “We just took things for granted. Children are very resilient.”
Leaving school just before her 16th birthday Margaret got a job but decided she would like to join the Wrens. However, when she learned she wasn’t old enough she plumped instead for the Women’s Land Army.
Following a month’s training, Margaret worked on a dairy farm in the north before moving to Sutton St Edmund, where she worked for the Coates in their orchard and doing general agricultural tasks.
“A lot then was done by hand. We used to pull up sugar beet by hand and chop the tops off,” Margaret remembers. “The people in Sutton St Edmund were very kind to us and accepted us.”
Joining the Land Army was also Margaret’s first taste of freedom from a strict father, and she says: “We had lots of fun and I made lots of friends. I loved being in the Land Army. I found the work hard at first and had blisters on my feet, but we were young and tough.”
Margaret still has the letter from the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries, dated November 1949, telling her that the Women’s Land Army was to be wound up at the end of November 1950.
While that was sad news, it was also “cause for satisfaction and pride” the letter stated, because by that time “the Women’s Land Army will have done what it set out to do”.
That was to “recruit women for agricultural work so that the men might join the fighting forces, and to provide extra labour on the land so that more food might be grown at home.”
“It was awful,” says Margaret. “I had made such good friends and I am still in contact with some of them.”
Margaret’s life was to change once again in 1950 when she married Harold Wing, and the couple went on to have two sons.
Margaret sums up her life with Harold with: “He was a good husband.
“We never had a lot of money but we were happy.”