Memories of a Land Girl by Belle Wincup (nee Del Duca)
I joined the Women's Land Army when I was 18 and spent the war in Somerset. I loved it. When the war was over I didn't want to leave the Land Army, but my Mother wanted me to move nearer home. So on 1st August 1946 I came to live and work at Church Farm, Whittington which was owned by Mr Sydney Baxter and his lovely wife Ida.
I can remember my first day at Whittington as if it was yesterday.
I came by bus from Stoke after spending some time on leave with my family. Buses did not go through the village in those days so after getting off at Freeford, I began my long walk along the Common. It was a very hot August day and I was wearing my full uniform and great coat, carrying two cases. The walk into Whittington seemed endless until I met a man (Gordon Withers's Dad, Paddy) who was cutting a hedge. I asked him for directions.
"Just there my dear" he said, pointing to the farmhouse.
He always remembered us meeting and would often say to me "I was the first person you spoke to in Whittington!"
Mrs Baxter had got a meal waiting for me - one of many I was to enjoy in her home. She was a lovely cook. She was surprised to see me arrive on my own. Mr Baxter had gone to meet me and we had somehow missed each other.
The Baxters had two sons, Gordon and Roy. Mrs Baxter and Roy took me upstairs to show me my room. On the way up Roy pointed to a bedroom door and said; "See that room there? That's where the ghost lives". He was a lively little boy and I was very fond of him. He loved nothing more than to tag along with me and my friends on a Sunday afternoon.
My chores around the farm were milking and dairy work. I delivered milk to the village, the Barracks and Botany Bay by horse and cart. My day started at 7am with the milking. By the time I was ready to go on my rounds my pony and trap, loaded with the milk, was waiting for me on the yard. My horse was called Bess and she had a lovely nature. The village was very quiet in those days and all you could hear in the morning was the clip clop of Bess's hooves on the road. I did the village round first then went back to the farm to load up the milk for the Barracks and Botany Bay. Although the war was over milk was still rationed but I used to leave a drop more for people with big families if I could spare it. The milk was carried in big heavy cans and customers would have their jugs ready and waiting for when I called out "Milko!" Children under five and Mums to be were entitled to extra. I always knew when a baby was on the way because expectant Mums had to produce a card for the extra milk. Bess knew the route by heart and would stop in the right place without any prompting from me. When we had finished she would gallop home. Once when I'd stopped off to have a cup of tea, she walked herself home! I remember a favourite trick of the Band boys at the Barracks was to blow their trumpets loud to startle her and make her bolt. I soon became wise to them and would hold her reins tightly as we approached them. When the weather was really bad, thick snow and ice, Mr Baxter would accompany me on the round. However, he never got down from the cart!
I met my husband during my time at Baxter's and we married on 26th June 1948. Harry Wincup worked as a farm labourer in those days and was a very quiet chap. He used to come and help out with the milking, even when he wasn't supposed to be there. One Sunday morning he said " Don't think I come here just to see you". Until then it hadn't crossed my mind but then..... We had booked the wedding for a date in May, but Harry was attacked by the bull in the farmyard and was lucky to escape with his life. However, he recovered enough for the wedding to go ahead in Stoke in June. A bus load of Harry's family headed towards the Potteries for the ceremony. Our wedding cake, courtesy of the Army cookhouse was on board.
Harry's Mother Emma was a Bridgen before she was married and Harry was one of 7 children. Bill, Ted, himself, Sid, Sylvia, Doug and Les. Doug used to like to help out on the milk round. We began our married life in a little cottage in Back Lane , number 13a and I stayed at Baxter's until Raymond was born in 1949. He was Emma's first grandson. We then went on to have David in 1952 and Alyson in 1958. I have been very happy living in Whittington, have made many, many wonderful friends and have very happy memories of my early days here.
Harry and Belle were married for 66 years. Harry died on 26th August 2014 and Belle on 25th October 2016. They are buried in the churchyard on old Baxter land. You can see Church Farm and Belle's old bedroom window from their graveside.
In 2008 the Land Girls were officially recognised for their efforts in the war and were awarded a commemorative badge and certificate. On the 15th March 2009 Belle and many other ladies attended a celebratory service at Lichfield Cathedral where she received her medal. The ladies were served tea and cakes by local dignitaries. While she was chatting to the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, James Hawley, it came to light that he had been close friends with Gordon Baxter of Church Farm.
© 2016 Whittington History Society