"Lend A Hand On The Land."

After World War Two in the UK there was a shortage of labour for farms during the harvesting season. The Government ran a campaign to attract penurious and patriotic holiday-makers to combine their holidays with farm work.

The volunteers went to an office - often a mobile affair set up in a town center - to sign up. In Manchester this was on Piccadilly where it had been flattened by German bombs. There are gardens now where workers can eat their lunch. Very nice! The scheme was called: "Lend A Hand On The Land."

It attracted families, students and those who wanted a change of scenery. I met more than one young woman who gave up her office job for the summer/autumn to travel to different parts of the country during this time.

The deal was that the Government would provide a rail voucher to the destination of choice - if available. Repeaters knew the best places and booked early. I think that the accommodation cost a nominal amount for a week. But by volunteering for work when billeted that could be covered and, usually, a bit left over for a day out or to visit the local pub in the evening.

They did not like one to use the accommodation and not work. But some seemed to devise schemes to avoid many working days. Sometimes this was related to the job. Potato and pea picking were back-breaking. Piling hay on a wagon and sitting atop to the barn to unload was quite pleasant; as was plum or apple picking where one was upright and ate much delicious fruit. Weekends were free. The volunteers assembled after breakfast on the car park and the farmers in their trucks said: "You, you and you." And off to work you went.

One girl would set off hitch-hiking on Friday to some desirable location, stay in a Youth Hostel and hitch back on Monday. She had given up her office job for 3 months. She saw much of the country and, assuming she worked 3 or 4 days per week, explored much of England. I accompanied her one weekend and we visited Anglesey, Wales. I noticed that if I stood back and she thumbed we were seldom waiting long for a lift - mostly in private cars.

Other than that and visiting the local city there was a recreation room on the ex-army camp - billiards, table tennis, cards etc. Most of the older folk visited the pub. At night we slept in army Nissan huts. Beds down either side with a combined wardrobe/locker/table between them We dined in the mess hall and boy, did that plentiful but simple food taste good after a day in the fields.

At my first camp near Hereford I was 18 years and not a drinker. But the older chaps - many ex-army - persuaded me to join them on a visit to the local village pub. This was hundreds of years old and the local brew was cider from a barrel on the bar. I had tried beer once or twice in my life but it was not pleasant - too bitter. But this cider was quite palatable and, during the conviviality, I must have consumed 3 or 4 pints. And it was so cheap!

At closing time - 10 PM - we entered the cool night air and swayed our way back to the camp. Soon we were in bed and the lights off. I lay flat and closed my eyes. The world started to spin at a sickening rate. I sat up and opened my eyes and the world assumed its normal, unnoticeable speed. I tried lying down again - same result. Up I sat again, eyes open listening to the many snoring and muttering oldies. I leaned up against the wall, the tubular steel rail in the small of my back, and closed my eyes. Just as fast as a hobby horse ride. Not too bad. Gradually, I slid down dozily to the recumbent and fell asleep.

I should have been rewarded with a sound sleep and a waking headache. Instead I woke to a heavy pressure on my chest and weak blows to my head. I soon realized that this was really happening and not a nightmare. A man was astride me and trying to beat me too a pulp shouting "Now I've got you, you bastard and you will get what you deserve." Under his weight I could hardly breathe and under the alcohol I was confused. His hands were now over my throat and I was starting to strangulate. Under the din others, in the dark, were shouting "Pipe down you noisy bastard." Etc.

Through the alcoholic haze I appreciated that this was the end so I started writhing and bucking to dislodge him. My hands on his wrists could not loose his grip on my throat. So I employed them to, one at a time, pull my knees up aside his bulky body and place my feet against his chest. This was quite difficult because of the bedclothes' tangle. It flashed through my mind that it was, indeed, impossible. But I did it and knees up to my chin, I pushed as hard and quickly as I could and he just went. Silently for a moment before a massive crash of falling furniture.

Several voices repeated their alcoholic curses and then - perfect quiet. I fell asleep until many voices awakened me at daylight. Eight or nine men were opposite with their attention engaged in pulling the combination cupboard off my assailant. His bed was on its side and the whole scene seemed chaotic with strewn bedclothes.
There was an impromptu inquiry as to what happened and I, the "youngster" warily explained last night.

The men were outraged that I had been violated and harassed my strangler with questions and threatened to see the management and have him expelled. The "criminal" had obviously no recollection of last night and was profuse with apologies. His wife was having an affair and he could only think that, in the alcoholic stupor intended to drown his sorrows, he had crossed the room and tried to kill the Lover.

He was so pitifully apologetic to everyone and me that the Kangaroo Court decided that he should have another chance. In the following days he was kindness itself to me and like a benevolent, older brother.

Next year I went to Lincoln where they did not drink cider.