In 1943 Joan Galloway, a Birmingham girl, was called up for war service and was allocated to join the Women’s Land Army. In June of that year Joan, with her bike in tow, caught the train from Birmingham to Evesham together with other girls who had joined the Land Army and going to work in the Vale of Evesham.
On arrival at Evesham station the girls were loaded on to a waiting lorry and transported to their various billets. Joan’s billet was Wickhamford Manor, a beautiful Elizabethan house that had been taken over to accommodate the Land Army girls who were badly needed to help on the local farms and horticultural holdings.
One of Joan’s first jobs was hoeing an outdoor tomato crop for Mr Van der Becken who lived in a large house just off Merstow Green, Evesham. However, for most of her time in the vale she worked at Bickmarsh Hall farm, near Bidford on Avon. The farm was run by Mr Lancaster, a kind gentleman farmer that Joan held in high esteem - all the girls called him ‘Sir’. At Christmas Mr Lancaster gave all the staff, including the Land Girls, the choice of a goose, turkey or capon. Occasionally Joan was allocated to work on the adjoining farm to Bickmarsh Hall that was run by Mr Weaver who was not her favourite employer !
The day for Joan started at 7am with breakfast. After breakfast a lorry would come and collect her and the other girls and take them to their workplace and then pick them up at the end of the day and return them to The Manor. If the farm was less than 3 miles from the billet the girls would cycle. Every evening Joan would cut up four 4lb tin loaves of bread for sandwiches to be made the next morning. A packed lunch was eaten in the barns but in the winter the housekeeper at Bickmarsh Hall would light a fire in the chapel attached to the Hall and the girls would eat their lunch in the warmth. The housekeeper would bring them hot jacket potatoes for which the girls saved their butter ration. Joan learned to drive several tractors as well as doing running repairs if they broke down. The work was varied through the seasons but one job that Joan never did was pick sprouts !
At The Manor Joan shared a bedroom with three other girls. Another of the bedrooms accommodated six girls. Whereas most of the residents of Wickhamford would have taken a bath in a tin bath, the Manor had the luxury of three bathrooms. During summer water rationing the girls were allowed one bath of water five inches deep every night, which they had to share -no refills were allowed !
The Land Girls frequented the Fleece Inn at Bretforton where Joan remembers chatting to American servicemen who were in the area. She remembers going to the Clifton Cinema, Evesham and also buying ice creams from the ice cream parlour owned by the Capaldi family in Oat Street.
After the war ended Mr Lancaster held a traditional “Harvest Home” celebration dinner for all staff at Bickmarsh Hall. All the Land Girls were invited and entertained by the farmworkers whose tradition it was to take a turn with songs and poems.
Joan’s father ran a well-known photographic chemist’s shop in central Birmingham known as “Camera Corner” and Joan had the good fortune to own a Leica camera. A keen photographer, she took many photos during her time in the Land Army.
Joan loved the farming life and was sad when it all ended in October 1945 and she had to return to Birmingham to work in her father’s chemist’s shop.
Postscript – Margaret Joan Broscomb, née Galloway (31.1.1922-13.12.2020)
We have just received the sad news that Joan has died at the age of 98 on 13th December 2020 following a rapid deterioration in her health. Her daughter, Sara Wisdom, writes: “It is the end of an era! Thankfully we have a rich treasure of memories and photos to remind us of her. The only remaining land girl that we know of from her group is Kath Herriot (née Whitely).”