Impact of WW1 on Farming and Women in Devon

Talk on Impact of WW1 on Farming and Women in Devon by Judi Binks

Judi Binks (right) with members of the audience

When: to November  2014
Where:Boniface Centre, Church Lane, Crediton
Who:Judi Binks

On Monday 10th November, society member Judi Binks gave a fascinating account of the Impact of the First World War in Crediton.

The opening part focussed on the lives of ordinary Kyrtonians as they responded to the call to arms and left to fight, many of whom never returned. Along with the men, the War Office summoned all the working farm horses in the area to be examined by the Army Remount Officers who paid up to £40 for them whereupon they were transported by train to the Western Front. The farms of Devon supplied thousands of horses to the army and over one million British horses perished in the war with only 60,000 returning to England afterwards. Many thousands were sold to the French and Belgians to feed their starving civilian population and prisoners of war after the Armistice.

Devon farmers also played their part by growing oats to feed the war horses. The impact on local farmers was dramatic because not only did they lose their labourers and sons to the armed forces together their working horses, but the government enforced a policy of "Plough up the Pastures" which meant they had to convert pastures to arable crops like wheat, oats and corn. Many farmers struggled to reach the quotas set by the government, and whilst Crediton was one of the few areas in Devon generally to meet its wheat quota, one Crediton farmer was fined £200 for not ploughing up all of his 160 acres. Local people all rallied during the war including school children who collected fresh eggs which were sent to the convalescing wounded soldiers at the two local VAD hospitals - one eight year old girl called Minnie Lake from Hookway wrote her name and address on an egg which was sent to a hospital in East Anglia and she later received a postcard from the grateful soldier who ate this boiled egg! Children also collected sphagnum moss which was used to dress wounds and conkers which were unsuccessfully used in the making of explosives as a cordite substitute.

Crediton welcomed and accommodated Belgian refugee families and many local households had soldiers billeted on them throughout the war.

Judi also talked about the role of women in agriculture and the work of the Women’s National Land Service Corps and the Women’s Land Army which was not actually very popular with Devon farmers as many of the young women sent to them were from an urban background and were dressed in daringly short brown overalls and leggings! Mary Lees, the first girl to finish the course at Seal Hayne College and the first girl officially to work on the land gave a remarkable, no-holds barred interview in 1974 about her experiences on a Devon farm which greatly amused the audience, especially her tales of the famer’s nine cats and the feather bed!

Thanks are due to Judi for her very informative talk.