Land Girl Grace Receives Her Commendation
MEPAL great-grandmother Grace Faux was one of only 50 Land Girls selected to go to Downing Street last week, to receive a special commendation for her work during World War Two. Reporter CATHERINE ATKINSON meets her – and finds out about life as one of th
MEPAL great-grandmother Grace Faux was one of only 50 Land Girls selected to go to Downing Street last week, to receive a special commendation for her work during World War Two. Reporter CATHERINE ATKINSON meets her - and finds out about life as one of the 80,000 women who did their bit on the home front.
STILL fighting fit at 89 and a barrel of laughs, Grace Faux has a twinkle in her eye as she recalls her heyday working on the village farm.
As the only Land Girl in Mepal, she toiled away at the beet harvest while wearing a uniform of thick khaki by day. However, there were plenty of extra-curricular consolations by night. Regular Land Girl 'rallies' - dances - in Ely and Chatteris kept the ladies' morale up, and there were no shortage of dashing young airmen ready to take the girls out.
East Cambridgeshire at the time had a truly international flavour - Irishmen came over to build the aerodrome at RAF Mepal and airmen from New Zealand were based at RAF Witchford, which offered ladies such as Mrs Faux, who has spent more than 80 years living in Mepal, a new perspective on the world.
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However, despite the fun, the Land Girls played a key part in the war - one that has only just been formally recognised by the Government. Mrs Faux was delighted to be handed her badge by environment secretary Hillary Benn, and to take a trip to Downing Street with her son-in-law Steve Ford.
From 1939, food and labour shortages were a huge problem in the UK. Food had to be imported by boat, but because of the danger posed by German submarines, imported goods were scarce. Those who had got used to bananas and exotic foreign fare during the 1930s had to make do with a square of chocolate per week as part of strict rationing, so Britain got digging, and 80,000 women were enlisted to help on farms, growing and harvesting produce that was then sent to central depots to be doled out.
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Mrs Faux volunteered in 1939, soon after the war started, after her husband urged her to keep busy while he was at war in France. She was already marked by war - born in 1918, two weeks before her father was killed in battle, so she set to work, aged 20 on Bridge Farm in Mepal, putting on her khaki and breeches every day and doing as many hours as were required by the landowner.
Land Girls were officially known as the Women's Land Army - and once you were conscripted you could be sent anywhere in the UK, so Mrs Faux was lucky to be able to stay close to home. She describes one woman from Sheffield who was sent to work in a nearby village, but struggled to cope with farm tasks. "A lot of the girls came out of the city and were thrown into the countryside. They hadn't got a clue how to milk a cow," she laughed.
In comparison, Mrs Faux, who was born in Lincolnshire and spent her life surrounded by Fen farmland in Mepal, was at an advantage. "It was hot work, sweating at the top of a corn stack in your khaki, but you just got on with it - beet pulling, making corn stacks, milking the cow, we did whatever they needed us to do."
As a result of her work, she is acutely aware of wasting food and still keeps an immaculate garden. "Being a Land Girl did teach you discipline," she adds,
regaling the assembled company with the story of her family trip to watch Manchester United in January. It seems, despite being acutely aware of the horrors of war, being a Land Girl is a recipe for a long, happy and football-supporting life.
Her son-in-law said he was amazed at the number of Land Girls who applied for the commendations and how proud all the family were of Mrs Faux's achievements.
"30,000 applied to get the award and they have to be aged between 83 and 90 now," he told me. "The work must have been good for them."
pic cap: Grace Faux, 89, celebrates receiving her Land Girl commemorative badge. Photo: HELEN DRAKE. 5564HD0708.
Mrs Faux, pictured with her uncle in her Land Girl days.
Photo: HELEN DRAKE. 5567HD0708