Last of the Land Girls of Holbeach Drove

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Doreen King is one of a very small band of women still alive that represent an important part of history.

Doreen was a Yorkshire lass, working in a wool and cotton mill, and had just been given the responsibility of her own loom when her call up papers came through.

Doreen King, surrounded by 90th birthday cards, holds her picture of the Land Army girls. SG071113-115TW

Doreen King, surrounded by 90th birthday cards, holds her picture of the Land Army girls. SG071113-115TW

Doreen, aged 19, was one of a body of girls to join the Women’s Land Army, established during the wars to provide agricultural labour in place of the men who went to war.

They were known as Land Girls and Doreen, of Holbeach Drove, says she was one of 46 when the hostel in her village was at its fullest.

Unlike many of the girls, Doreen stayed local – in fact she has lived in the village for 70 years – but kept in touch with many of her former colleagues.

When she arranged a reunion for them 20 years ago, 26 former Land Girls came to reminisce about the past and share their news.

Sadly, as the years have passed, many have died, and Doreen’s recent 90th birthday invitations included just two other Land Girls – Barbara Goose, of Gedney Drove End, who went to the party, and Marion Lovely from Lincoln, who was unable to attend because of illness.

“I almost think we are the last three of the Land Army girls,” says Doreen. “There might be one or two in a home but we don’t hear from them.”

Doreen’s Land Army work was for Arthur Bridgfoot in Gedney Hill, where she picked strawberries, lifted onions and remembers being on the hay stack to help at harvest.

She says: “It was entirely different when I came here. They were automatic looms in the mill and there were hundreds of them and they were really noisy. Working outside from being closed up in a mill all day long it was very different.”

The girls were all issued with bicycles to get to work, and some had a long ride each end of their working day.

Doreen remembers it was hot weather when she arrived and the smell of strawberries was everywhere. Horses were still being used on farms, although there was some machinery.

She says: “I am little now but I used to be a lot bigger than this. We had to be strong to do the work.

“We never fell out in the hostel. We used to go to the pub but I don’t think the village girls thought much to that because they didn’t go, but there was nothing else to do.

“I didn’t realise when I left that I wasn’t going to go back, but I have no regrets.”