World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Muriel Dean 

My Schoolgirl War Effort

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Muriel Dean (nee Kirby)
Location of story: Lincolnshire                                                 A4552878
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Muriel Dean,


My Schoolgirl War Effort By Muriel Dean I attended High Storrs Girls’ School (Sheffield) between 1941 and 1946. In October 1943, a group of girls were invited to go potato picking in Lincolnshire, as the men had been enlisted in the armed forces. We stayed in Irnham Hall (something to do with one of the Steel magnates in Sheffield), travelling to Grantham by train and continuing our journey on a tractor drawn trailer to the hall, which was empty. We had been told we needed overalls or trousers to wear, and wellingtons.

When we arrived at Irnham Hall, our first task was to fill a huge sack with straw from the stack in the nearby field. This was a palliasse, which we were to sleep on. If someone had explained this, we really would have stuffed it full. By the end of the fortnight, we were literally sleeping on the floor, the straw having been squashed flat or disappeared. We had taken our own sleeping bags, Kapok filled. Four people were allocated to kitchen duties per day, cooking and water heating being done on huge Aga Cookers in the kitchen. 2 moved on and 2 new ones came each day, so there was always someone who knew the system. A Domestic science teacher oversaw this operation.

The other girls were collected on the tractor drawn trailer and taken to the field. This was a precarious ride and wouldn’t be allowed in today’s (2005) health and safety culture. The girls were each apportioned a length of the field and provided with baskets to collect the potatoes in. We had to keep up with the tractor, which drove up and down the length of the field with a spinner attached to lift and whiz the potatoes out of the earth. We cheered if the tractor stopped for any reason, and we could enjoy an unscheduled rest. We were provided with sandwiches and drinks, which we enjoyed at lunchtime. We went back to the hall for a substantial meal at 5.0 pm.

In the evenings, we were free to write letters home, explore and have fun together, but we were really tired and ready for bed. We all slept in the dormitory, a large empty room with no curtains and no electricity; just our torches to see what we were doing. I must have enjoyed the experience, especially missing lessons, because I went in 1944, but this time there were two teams of cooks, girls who were doing domestic science for their School Certificate exams. This time, I spent a whole week in the kitchen, gaining experience in planning meals as well as cooking and cleaning away; it was much less back breaking than picking potatoes. Nevertheless, I think we all enjoyed our experience and felt we had done our bit for the war effort.

The government set up Agriculture Camps after the war. You could go there for a holiday, you needn’t work there everyday but were paid for the efforts. I went with a friend to Merheringham in 1947, where we were billeted in an Italian POW camp. The Italians prepared the food for us. My friend, who had long blonde hair, proved attractive to one of the cooks who fondled her hair. Unfortunately, he had been peeling onions for the dinner, and I suspect she had to wash her hair again. Yes, we finished up picking potatoes again, but I have a lot of happy memories and photographs of a very happy fortnight. Pr-BR