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Recalling life in the Women's Land Army at East Peckham

"Some of the happiest days of my life."

That was how Dorothy Smith from Ivy Hatch described her time in the Women's Land Army (WLA) during the Second World War.

Dorothy Smith, former Land Army Girl
Dorothy Smith, former Land Army Girl

Mrs Smith, now 95, was born on December 3, 1924, to Percy and Esther Butcher in Sutton Valence.

She had two sisters, though they died very young and she never knew them, and a brother.

Her mother also passed away when she was only three, so she was brought up by her grandmother Ada Butcher and her husband Ted.

When the Second World War broke out, Mrs Smith was in service as a domestic servant to Lord and Lady Cornwallis at their home, Plovers, in in Horsmonden.

Lady Cornwallis became the area organiser for the WLA and in 1943 recruited Mrs Smith and some of her other servants to join the force.

Members of the Women’s Land Army on a Victory Parade through Maidstone in 1945
Members of the Women’s Land Army on a Victory Parade through Maidstone in 1945

For Mrs Smith that meant moving to a hostel, Rhoden, in Paddock Wood, where she was housed with 26 other Land Army Girls. She was 19.

She recalled: "The were four of us sharing a room, some rooms were for five or six.

"You had to get on well with each other. I never liked arguments and was always friendly so it was no problem for me."

She and four of the other girls were assigned to John Goodwin's Hale Street Farm in East Peckham.

She recalled: "We rode there every day on our bicycles. You started at 7am and woe betide you if you were even a minute late."

Dorothy Smith was proud to receive the Women's Land Army badge
Dorothy Smith was proud to receive the Women's Land Army badge

They carried on working till 5pm in the winter months and 5.30pm in the summer.

She said: "We did everything, all kinds of farm work. There was fruit, hops and cattle to look after."

Mrs Smith even got to drive a tractor, although she only had vision in one eye.

She explained: "At 16, I lost my sight in my left eye. I spent eight weeks in hospital but the doctors could do nothing about it."

She recalled life on the farm fondly. She said: "It was hard work, but I was used to hard work. We worked hard and we played hard!"

It was hard work, but Mrs Smith loved it
It was hard work, but Mrs Smith loved it

She also made some good friends; one of the girls, Irene Haffenden, was later to be bridesmaid at her wedding.

Mrs Smith continued in the WLA beyond the end of the war, well into 1946, when she left and briefly became a gardener for a Mr Kaye, a French teacher at Sutton Valence School.

But in the meanwhile she had met Ronald Smith, who had returned from serving in Burma during the war, and also worked at the farm. The two married on February 1, 1947, at St Mary's Church in Sutton Valence.

The Goodwin family also farmed at Ightham and offered the couple a cottage on the Ightham Mote estate, where Mrs Smith worked in the Goodwin's home in the mornings and on the farm in the afternoons.

At the time, Ightham Mote was owned by Sir Thomas Colyer-Fergusson, but following his death in 1951, the building lay empty for two years.

Ightham Mote, pictured in 1967
Ightham Mote, pictured in 1967

In 1953, Ightham Mote was bought by American businessman Charles Robinson, and then Mrs Smith worked for him at the Mote.

She said: "There was always something romantic about the place and the area surrounding it is so lovely I knew I wanted to stay there."

On his death in 1985, Mr Robinson left the property to the National Trust and Mrs Smith began to work for them, staying until retirement, and even after that continuing as a volunteer guide.

She still lives in a cottage on the estate though her husband passed away 22 years ago,

The couple had a son and daughter, Geoffrey and Margaret, four grandchildren and now two great grandchildren.

Dorothy Smith at the door too her cottage near Ightham Mote
Dorothy Smith at the door too her cottage near Ightham Mote

She said: "Ron was a good husband. I've never regretted anything in my life."

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