World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                        Dorothy Platts 

My Exciting War

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Dorothy Platts, Robin Kellner, Renee Fairfax, Thelma Dobson, Jean Stanley, Dorreen Hill, Marian Cross, Mary Kemp, Vera Hoskins, Alice Talling, Nell Williams
Location of story: Sheffield, Penzance, Cornwall
Unit name: Land Army
Background to story: Civilian Force

                                                           July 1944 - Pencubitt Hostel, Liskard, Cornwall Sister Margaret on Bedroom balcony


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Dorothy Platts.

My Exciting War

Dorothy Platts

When war broke out in 1939 my father said it wouldn't last six months. How wrong he was, I had just started work- at Bassetts' sweet factory, just fourteen years old and earning 12/6d (12 shillings and sixpence (62½p) a week.

My mother had died in 1932 when I was just turned six, my sister Edna had died aged seventeen in 1937, and so my sister Margaret at fourteen, just seven years older than me really became my substitute mother.

By 1940, our Margaret was married and had to go to work at Kaiser Ellison's, steel inspecting. My father worked all hours at Hadfield's steel works as a slinger. Rationing began and the black market flourished.

The night of the Sheffield Blitz, the bombs were dropping early doors. Next door to us Mrs. Tyerman’s cellar had been reinforced so that a few houses had to shelter there. There was an escape door leading from house to house, so that if you were trapped you could escape. Talk about lambs to the s1aughter!

A bomb dropped on a house a few doors away, it shook us all up in the air, as it did the coal, and we all emerged looking like chimney sweeps! We had no gas, water or electricity, Christmas was two weeks away, but we trimmed up as usual and made the best of it. We learned to live with rationing, fatless, eggless cakes. God knows how they were edible, but eat them we did. I'd like to see today’s fancy cooks provide a good meal with the bare ingredients they had.

As I was seventeen, I was due to be called up in the services or work on munitions. Dad took me to Hadfields and said I cou1d get a job crane driving, and I would not have to leave home. I took one look at that cabin in the roof and decided that was not the job for me!

One of my best friends at Bassetts', Mary Coyle, had already volunteered for the Women’s Land Army and had got posted to a farm in Leistershire and so I decided to do the same.

I came home from work one night and dad said, "You've got your calling up papers for the Land Army, and they’re sending you to France!” It turned out to be Penzance in Cornwall. Well, the farthest we had been was to Cleethorpes or Skegness for a day.

My uniform came that I was to travel in, green jumper, brown shirt, green tie, breeches, woolen socks, brown shoes and a lovely hat that made me look like Roy Rodgers.

We caught an early tram to the L.M.S. railway station. Workmen teased me with farm noises and wished me well. Dad as usual, had everyone laughing but I was sure he was going to miss me.
Land Army Days
It was there on the station I met Flossie Hill, she was to be my friend and companion all the time we were in the land army. It took us the best part of a day to finally reach Penzance, where we were met by any official who told us we were to go by lorry to Kenegie Hostel.

This turned out to be a lovely hotel taken over for the duration of the war. By this time I was feeling homesick for my father and our Margaret. I was seventeen and had hardly made a decision for myself in my life. Sheffield seemed a million miles away, I wasn’t the only one that cried herself to sleep that night.
Soon, we were too busy to feel homesick. We would go to different farms, as we were needed. On one farm, the farmer set a group of us hoeing a huge field of cabbages. When he came back at the end of the day, he was speechless to find we had hoed all the young cabbages and left the weeds.

I’d write home and say how I was taking to my new life. I remember the first present I sent my dad was a cucumber of all things! Well, I could hardly send him a dozen new laid eggs!

Our first few weeks were really hard; at times we thought our backs were breaking. The farmers at first thought we city girls would never take the place of their farm labourers. But with our hard work and determination they came to appreciate all we did.

I loved harvest time, no combined harvesters then to complete the job in one operation. The sheaves would have to be stooped so they could dry out, then gathered and later fed into a threshing machine. This was a huge throbbing monster that we had to stand on top of and feed the sheaves into. Traditionally the farmers wife would bring food out to us, Cornish Pasties and saffron buns.

Not all farms fed us generously, and mostly we had to rely on a packed lunch from the hostel, which was never enough. I suppose we fared better than city folk, as we could have as much eggs, fruit and vegetables as we wanted. Most of the farms made their own butter cheese and cream, and-oh! That thick cream on fresh picked strawberries was something to die for!

Fruit picking was the job we all loved to do, we would eat so many strawberries we would come out in a red rash. Believe me no one ever needed to take laxatives!

We would work from dawn to dusk if the weather was good, especially at harvest time. All we did when we got back to the hostel was to have a bath and collapse into bed.

Potato picking was a back breaking job, you would have to fill and carry 561b sacks to be weighed, then carried to the horse and cart. The farmer would store surplus potatoes in an out building and cover them in straw. In winter we would be called on to sort out these "potato pies" as they were called. It was a stinking job if some of them had gone rotten, and also we would be troubled with rats.

Some land girls lived on farms and not in a hostel, and would be required to milk by hand, the cows twice a day seven days a week. Cow sheds are notoriously cold, especially in winter.

I kept away from cowsheds as much as I could, I never saw myself as a rosy cheeked milk maid.

Nearly all the farms we went to were poor, some didn't even have electricity or a tractor. I once had to help a farmer plough a field, I was supposed to lead a huge shire horse, while the farmer followed with the plough. I was frightened to death the horse would tread on me, while the farmer cursed," Dang me maid where you'm leading 'um!"

Not all the jobs were enjoyable, but with the fresh air, the beautiful countryside and the friendships we made, and of course it was war time. We never needed make up, we had beautiful suntans; no longer did we need the leg makeup we used to put on our legs back home. I don't think many of us moisturised our faces before going to bed or out in the sun. All of us who still keep in touch have pretty good complexions. Beauty consultants please note, when advertising £50 a jar anti-wrinkle cream!

My First Leave
Flossie and I had our first leave in September, we were given a train voucher to Sheffield. We were only given two of these a year. Our pay was £l-4-0d (£1-20p) a week. Out of this, we had to buy everything we needed. I was soon at the City Hall and Cutlers Hall, dancing with my-friends, telling them all about my life in the land army. Had I milked a cow?, No, I hadn't, and I never did, all the three years I was in Cornwall. A few partners were left to have a good dance with, but mostly-they were in uniform like I was. Norman who was in the navy, who I hadn't seen for a while, was about to finish his leave while I had just started mine. We made a date to meet the next night to go to the Cinema House in Barkers Pool to see Lorna Doone. It was the most boring film I ever remembering seeing. The most entertaining thing was Norman trying to get his pipe lit, amid clouds of smoke, at least you couldn't see the screen.

He didn't take me home as I no longer lived at Pitsmoor, but at Darnall after my father had re-married, and I wasn't very happy living in my stepmother's house. We exchanged addresses and wrote to each other until 1945.

Back off leave, we left Kenegie and were sent eventually to Pencubitt Hostel, Liskeard. This was another lovely hotel taken over during the war. It was here I spent the happiest two years of my life.

There were lots of American camps near Liskeard. Saturday nights, a lorry would turn up at the hostel and take us to their camp. We would jitterbug the night away to a band playing Glen Miller favourites, String Of Pearls, Pennsylvania 65,000, Moonlight Serenade, and with tins of Spam, candies and cartons of Lucky Strike cigarettes, we felt like film stars!

Most weekends, some of us would go to nearby Looe, a beautiful place, with Banjo Pier and lovely coves. We would stay Saturday night in a bungalow, 5/- (25p) bed and breakfast then meet our American friends on the Sunday, and they would pay the taxi fare for us to get back to Liskeard.

We had all made friends with an American; they were not all like some who had got themselves a bad reputation. It never entered our minds to have sex, we had such happy lives with lots of fun at work and play. To be honest the fear of getting pregnant kept us on the straight and narrow. I had only to think of my dad saying, "You dare bring any trouble home!" When I see the situation today, children, yes children, as young as thirteen, having babies when they ought to be playing with dolls. We didn't know enough while the children of today know more than is good for them.

My American friend was called Louis Perez. I had come home on a week's leave; while home I got a telegram saying, "Missing you, Love Louis." Father said, "Who the hell's Louis?" When I sent him cartons of Lucky Strike, tins of Spam etc. he wrote to say, "He doesn't sound a bad chap that Louis."

There were about thirty or so of us at Pencubitt, some were there just for a few weeks and then moved on to another part of Cornwall. We would help each other in any way we could, none of us had any money to spare. Nearly everyone smoked and if anyone could afford to buy a packet of twenty, it wasn't long before they were all gone!

Most nights sailors from Plymouth and Torpoint would come to Liskeard. I think the land girls at Pencubitt were the attraction, as there were some lovely looking girls there. Robin Kellner, Renee Fairfax, Thelma Dobson, Jean Stanley, Dorreen Hill, Marian Cross, Mary Kemp, Vera Hoskins, Alice Talling and Nell Williams all met their husbands at Liskeard or Plymouth, and have all celebrated their Golden Weddings. In fact Alice and Tom Talling celebrated their Diamond anniversary in 2004.

One of my friends, Helen Nelthorpe, celebrated her 21st birthday on July 30th 1944. We all went to town to celebrate; there we were in 'The Fountain' pub when some sailors laced my beer with navy rum. Not used to drinking, I soon became legless and the next few days are a blur to this day. I know they carried me back to the hostel, up the back staircase and placed me in the bath, my mouth next to the plughole. I must have found my legs as during the night, I came down the main staircase (out of bounds to us) and confronted Mrs. Bull, the warden. The next day I was helped into a lorry to go to work fruit picking, placed under a tree where I slept myself sober. I've never had another rum to this day.

Flossie's American friend was about six feet four, hugely built, would come to the hostel and say in his slow drawl, "Is Flossie in?" Well she was a big lass too and it was something to see when they jitterbugged together. Flossie's friend said, "When we get over there (France) there'll be two of us sharing this cigarette." I said, "You want to see us before pay day, there're four of us sharing a tab end!"

Just before 'D-Day', Marian married her American boyfriend. They had to have the wedding at Pencubitt because he wasn't allowed to travel far. We all got together, giving up clothing coupons and putting on a spread to be proud of. None of her family was there, but everyone had a great time. She'd had her engagement ring sent from America in a box of chocolates. How's that for 'The Lady Loves Milk Tray?' Tragically he was killed on D Day, 6th June 1944. I have often wondered what became of her, I did hear she went to live with his parents in America.

I think 1944 was the most wonderful year; there was hope in every one's heart that the terrible war was coming to an end. I had a big surprise in March 1945 when Norman, my sailor boyfriend, turned up at the hostel to take me home for a week's leave. We got engaged on that leave and by August 25th, we were married; I was just twenty. We really didn't know each other, but the war was over and you thought you would be happy ever after.

In 1960, I divorced Norman I won't go into the reasons. It is best forgotten and so I was left with my four children, the youngest six months old, to bring up on my own. I have written about those years which were funny and sad, but as a one parent family, we survived and all my children being a credit to me.

After the war, all my friends at Pencubitt left to get on with their lives and most of us have kept in touch. Robin, who in 1945, married her American boyfriend, has been over many times to our many re-unions. Sadly, some have died as we are all now about eighty. My family is organising a wonderful 80th birthday party for me in August 2005, and five of my land army friends are coming. I am afraid they are not as lucky as I am with good health, but they make the best of it.

I say "Thank you" every day that I am able to do what I do, to keep a young outlook on life. I realise I have lived the longest in my family, my mother died at 37, our Edna at 17, dad at 65 and our Margaret at 69.

As my father would say, I was more than living on borrowed time. I try to live an active healthy life and I am so glad to still be independent, and not be a worry to my children, for they have their own lives to lead. I know they would be there for me if I needed them.

So my war was really enjoyable, I went to places I never would have been to and met friends that have stayed with me all of my life. I have lived in the same house for nearly sixty years, still have an interesting life and have the greatest gift of all, good health.