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Eirian, a Land Girl in 1917

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The Land Girl 1917

In Lampeter

The Lady Cow-man

Mrs Eirian Vaughan Lewis granddaughter of Esther Jones neé George of Aberwenfenfach


Great-grandma, Mrs Eirian Lewis was the first woman to wear breeches in Carmarthenshire.  In fact she was the first girl in the county to become a land girl or as she says she was called the Lady Cow-man.  As a shy and inexperienced schoolgirl she left home to help to farm, during the First World War, in Lampeter.  She was so homesick that after a few weeks she wrote home to say that she had not cried for a whole week.

Her recollections are well worth recording.  She went to Carmarthen to collect her uniform which was composed of breeches, a smock and a straw hat. On being asked what size shoes she took she said size 3.  She was told that they the smallest they had in stock were size 6 and these she wore and found to be most comfortable with 2 pairs of socks.  In 1917 ladies did not wear trousers.

            She looked after 14 pedigree cows, dairy shorthorns, and became quite proficient at milking.  Her favourite was Daisy who gave her more milk than to the dairymaid who apparently would strike the cow with the milking stool.  Milking machinery had not yet arrived.  The story great grandma loves to tell is that of the day she went to market.  The gambo that took her was early and so young Eirian stopped to visit friends.  She tied the calf that she was to sell to a lamppost and climbed the steps to visit the terraced house, in question and did the same to visit another friend.  Her fame followed her for a number of years as the young lady who tied the calf to the lamppost. At the entrance to the market the calf, a pedigree, was much admired by the farmers one saying what fine shoulders it had and others remarking on its head or its legs.  Alone in the centre of the ring the auctioneer called “going -going gone for £6 and a voice from the audience of farmers - she was the only woman and wearing her breeches - was heard to shout “and is the young lady going with it” much to the embarrassment of the shy 17 year old wearing her new Land Girl’s  uniform for the very first time.

The work was hard and the one-eyed farm overseer, the head cowman, was a very hard taskmaster.  In fact he would be considered chauvinistic today.  The turnips had to be heeled in by hand.  She worked so hard that her hands bled.  She groomed the horses and rode bare back to round up the cows.  Stables and cowsheds had to be cleaned out.  An inspector called unexpectedly and commented that her cowsheds were cleaner than many dwelling places.  The job she hated most was cleaning the chicken sheds as they were infested by fleas and she was frightened to go back to her room after this task in case this became flea infested.  She later found that chicken fleas did not infest human beings.  There were four pigs to look after and she cleaned the pigsty.  She groomed the horses.

She was made to take a man’s size wheel barrow up planks on to the huge “domen“ of manure and wept when the wheel barrow tipped over and she had to do it all again using a man’s shovel. 

What she did enjoy was harvest time when she joined the women in the fields and drank gallons of tea with them from a communal bowl.  Welsh was always spoken.  She had difficulty starting the chaffing machine with a cord but after many goes she got it going.  She was no good at ploughing as she could not drive a straight line though harrowing was easy. Her jobs seemed very numerous for a young girl.  After 6 months she received the wage of £6.

She found the people of Lampeter very kind and would keep sweets for her behind the scenes or a new book.  Farming she considered was much more difficult than people thought and one had to be very adept to plough or do other farming tasks.  She succumbed to acute rheumatism after this war effort and still today believes her rheumaticky hands were caused by her duties.

This account was taken when she was an alert 97 year old and in fact it is difficult to picture her as a teenager working under such conditions on a farm such as she did.  Her independent nature did not leave her and she was just as determined till the day she died.

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