Interview with Betty Welton


Interview with Betty Welton


Betty Welton was born in 1924. She left school at the age of 14 and, at the age of 17 and a half, joined the Women’s Land Army. She saw this as an opportunity to escape her home circumstances. On receiving her papers, she travelled from her home town of Wakefield to Buckinghamshire, where she was billeted in Amersham. Her job involved working as a shepherdess and milking the cows. On one occasion she was kicked by a cow, sprained her wrist and went home on leave. When she re-joined, she was sent to work at Little Ponton, near Grantham, and stayed with a family in private billets. When she was billeted near RAF Binbrook, she used to hear the Lancaster bombers and count them as they flew over and remembers cycling to Lincoln to the cinema. She was also a volunteer for the ARP.




Temporal Coverage





00:35:19 Audio Recording


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AWeltonB150604, PWeltonB1501


BW: My name’s Betty Welton and I was born in 1924 and I had a good childhood and I joined the Land Army when I was seventeen and a half. Dad wouldn’t let me join the Forces because he said they’d got a bad name. So I said, ‘Well, what about the Land Army?’ And that seemed alright so I joined up. And I went up, I got my papers and everything and went up to Westgate Station at Wakefield where we lived, got on the train and went right down to Bletchley and then we got transferred to Amersham, in billets there. And it was hard. And we were all, we had bicycles where we had to go to work. But apart from that the airmen used to come from the camp not far away to dances at our hostel and then we used to go there to their dances which was good.
PE: Do you want me to ask you some questions? Is that going to be easier for you?
BW: You ask me questions.
PE: Yeah. Okay. Fine. [Pause] What school did you go to?
BW: I went to Lawefield Lane School at Wakefield. First of all I went to the Church School, sorry and then I went to Lawefield Lane School and left when I was fourteen and got a job straightaway. But sadly, mother died just after I had started work and she was only fifty eight. But I kept working for about two years at a dress, in a dress shop. But dad couldn’t manage so I had to leave the job and stay at home and look after dad. And that’s how I learned to cook and everything and house work. And then eventually after years went by he got married again. So, I wasn’t very happy and I said, ‘Well, I’m joining the Forces.’ But then he said, ‘You’re not going in the Forces. They’ve got a bad name.’ So, I joined the Land Army and it was the best time of my life.
PE: Why did you particularly want to join the Forces?
BW: To get away. To get away from cleaning and, being a young girl again.
PE: What attracted you to the RAF?
BW: I don’t know really. It was just I used to love aeroplanes. There weren’t so many then but I used to love aeroplanes and I thought I’d love to join the Air Force but it wasn’t to be. But it did run in the family later on because my son joined the Air Force when he was old enough and so did my daughter. So that was lovely for me.
PE: It’s alright. Just a sec. I’m just going to shut this window. We’re getting a bit of traffic noise through. That’s made a big difference. It’s alright. Don’t worry. You’re doing fine. When you went to Amersham, in the billets there —
BW: Yeah.
PE: What sort of work did you do on the land?
BW: I was shepherdess, and a milkmaid but more a shepherdess. And I loved that. That was really lovely being with the lambs when they were born.
PE: Can you sort of describe what you did?
BW: Well, I used to have to be there when they were lambing and help the lambs out. And I think it was there that I was doing the milking and a cow kicked me and it sent me agin the boards and I sprained my wrist so I had to go home then on leave. I was on leave about three weeks and then I, when I was all fit to go back I joined up again and I was sent to Grantham. Little, Little Ponton, in private billets which was nice. Nice family. But it was hard work getting up early and fetching water from the pump down in the stackyard and such things. Fetching the cows up. Never thought I’d do things like that but yes, it went alright. And then they used to kill a pig which was horrible. I used to have to help with that with the lady. And I remember the only cooker she had was a metal cooker about a yard wide and long and it was paraffin heaters underneath it. Two paraffin heaters. But she used to cook some lovely meals, especially pastry. I remember the big pies we used to get. And, and then my dad, as I said he got married. Met somebody at Ropsley and got married again. But I didn’t used to get home much to Wakefield I’m afraid. There was nothing there for me.
PE: When you, sorry I’ll start that again, when you sprained your wrist and you went home for three weeks were you sort of happy then?
BW: Not really. No. I was eager to get back. Really eager to get back and I soon got in to it again. Got a few blisters like but —
PE: So originally you went to Amersham.
BW: Yes.
PE: Which is in Buckinghamshire.
BW: Yeah.
PE: And then you sprained your wrist and you went back to —
BW: Yeah.
PE: Wakefield.
BW: Yeah.
PE: Or near Wakefield.
BW: Yeah.
PE: And then you were reallocated to, to near Grantham. Is that correct?
BW: Yes. Yeah.
PE: Yeah.
BW: Yeah
PE: Yeah. Did you see a big difference in the way that you looked after animals in Amersham compared to Grantham?
BW: Well, I liked the people more in, at Little Ponton and around about, you know and the animals were taken care of. We had to care for them more there. Myself, I had to, you know washing them down before they were milked. We had to do everything and then, you know with the milk as well. And I used to help them make butter. I’m trying to think. I had something else on my mind and I can’t think now.
PE: Well, normally what happens when I interview people they usually remember something that isn’t very nice. So I don’t know whether you saw any of the —
BW: Oh yes.
PE: Saw any of the action.
BW: I have.
PE: Over Amersham, you know.
BW: No. This is over at Little Ponton, not Little Ponton, at Grantham. At Ingoldsby. The worst thing was being a town girl I wasn’t used to country ways and the toilet. Shall I put this?
PE: Yeah. Carry on.
BW: The toilet was right down in the stack yard and you had to go through geese and all sorts to get there. It was shocking. And when you got in the toilet it was buckets underneath and there was three holes in the wood. The mind boggles but I never had any company [laughs]
PE: At the time that you were in Amersham it —
BW: Oh right.
PE: It, it it’s possible that as you were near the south coast you might have saw some of the aeroplanes going in and going out. Did you remember anything like that?
BW: Not such a lot there. No. It was more at Little Ponton where they got to know all the aeroplanes. The Lancasters. They used to be going over our house.
PE: Yeah. So, at that time were you living at Stainton le Vale?
BW: I was at, I was at little, at Binbrook. No.
PE: Right.
BW: I’m getting mixed up.
PE: You were at Grantham.
BW: I was at Grantham.
PE: Grantham.
BW: Yes.
PE: And you described —
BW: At Branston.
PE: At Branston.
BW: At Branston. That’s right.
PE: And —
BW: Yes.
PE: You were very close to the end of the runway at Binbrook.
BW: Oh, that was Stainton le Vale.
PE: Right.
BW: That was at Stainton le Vale where we lived, yes.
PE: Yeah.
BW: Yeah.
PE: I’m just trying to —
BW: Oh sorry. Yes.
PE: I’m just trying to follow the sequence of events.
BW: Yeah.
PE: So, we have you at Amersham.
BW: Right. Yes.
PE: And then you go to Grantham.
BW: Yes.
PE: And then at some point you’re watching Lancasters.
BW: Yes.
PE: Going over the, or coming in and out of Binbrook.
BW: Yes.
PE: So, can you just sort of describe that?
BW: Well, when we, when I was at Binbrook in private lodgings we used to hear the Binbrook, hear the Lancasters going out bombing. And we used to count them. There was another Land Girl and we slept in the same bed which wouldn’t be allowed now would it? [laughs] And we used to hear the Lancasters going over and count them. It isn’t often we heard them coming back. I suppose we’d be asleep. But one night we were in bed and the German planes came over and it was a, it was a row of cottages at Branston at, in the top of the village and he went right down the row of houses machine gunning and the bullets came through our bedroom ceiling and they were just showing through. I think there was quite a few because they, and of course the girl I was with we wanted to keep some of the bullets for souvenirs but the police wouldn’t let us. We had to, they had to take them or whoever. But that was quite frightening.
PE: Did you ever see any crash landings?
BW: No.
PE: At Binbrook.
BW: No. I didn’t. No.
PE: Okay. So how long were you at Binbrook then?
BW: My first daughter was born there. We were there about three years, I think.
PE: Right.
BW: My first husband was one for moving about. It came to April the 6th, moving day on the farms and from there we moved to Darlton, near Newark and my youngest son was born there. From there we moved to [pause] oh where did we go then? My family have all been born in different villages.
PE: When did you meet your husband?
BW: I met my husband in the Land Army.
PE: Can you, can —
BW: He worked on the farm.
PE: Can you describe that? How you met?
BW: Yes. Well, they used to come, my husband used to come with two or three more to work on our farm in busy seasons and of course the Land Girls used to be talking to them and took us out a time or two when we got to know them to the dances and it went from there and we decided to get married.
PE: What year was that?
BW: Would it be ’44 or [pause] no. No. It wasn’t. Forty, yeah ’44 and my first daughter was born in ’46.
PE: And where was that?
BW: At Stainton le Vale. That’s right. Got that right.
PE: Good. So, you were at Grantham.
BW: Yes.
PE: And was and you met your husband there.
BW: Yeah.
PE: Yeah. And then you moved to Stainton le Vale.
BW: Yes.
PE: Which is where that put you at sort of at the end of the —
BW: Yes, that’s —
PE: Effectively at the end of the runway.
BW: Yes. That’s right. Yeah.
PE: For Binbrook. And that’s where you saw all the Lancasters —
BW: Yes.
PE: Coming in and out.
BW: Yes.
PE: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: And we used to walk up through Binbrook to the village and we could see the planes all stood there you know but you used to be able to walk through. Just like that. You wouldn’t now.
PE: When you were walking through did you ever speak to any of the pilots?
BW: No.
PE: Or the crews?
BW: No.
PE: No.
BW: I’d got a pram with me then. I was in a hurry to get there and back. It was a long way. I hadn’t time to chat. No. I never saw anybody. Not [pause] but I know at Binbrook, not that we went, the airmen used to go to one of the pubs there. I forget what they called it. Very popular it was for the airmen. They more or less took it over. But no, we never went there. Couldn’t afford it.
PE: So, what did you do after the war?
BW: Where did we live then? Stainton le Vale. Then we went to near Newark as I said. Worked on the farm there. And then we went to, we came to Caistor. Sorry, Swallow. We came to Swallow then and my husband worked on the land. And of course, I’d got a family then so [pause] but unfortunately, he died when he was fifty eight. He got a disease. They were spraying on the land and they never used to wear masks then. He worked for a Mr Bingham and he got this spray on him. And it started here and he went to hospital and he never came out. It spread over him. He died at fifty eight and I had four children.
PE: I’m sorry to hear that.
BW: That was sad.
PE: Yes. It is.
BW: I’m still here and they’re all lovely children.
PE: And they look —
BW: They grew up and got their own children.
PE: And they look after you —
BW: Yes. They do.
PE: Good.
BW: They all live away but they do come and see me.
PE: Is it fair to say that because you joined the Land Army then working on the land became your life after the end of the Second World War?
BW: That it — ?
PE: I’ll say that again. When you joined the Land Army that was something you were very interested in.
BW: Yes. Yeah.
PE: Did that sort of encourage and inspire you to carry on working on the land?
BW: Oh, it did. It made my life joining the Land Army. It brought me out. I was very shy. Well, I still am a bit shy but, it never leaves you but I was awfully shy ‘til then and it just made a woman of me I suppose. A lady. And I enjoyed it so much.
PE: And that inspired you to carry on working on the land.
BW: Yes. Yes, it did.
PE: So, in effect —
BW: Yes.
PE: You were in farming weren’t you?
BW: Yes.
PE: Yes.
BW: Yeah.
PE: In agriculture.
BW: Yeah.
PE: Yeah. During your time, you know as somebody who was in the Land Army can you remember anything that was particularly amusing?
BW: Well, more or less only that at Branston. When the bombers went over. And, well we thought it was awful at the time but then we thought it was funny after but the lady we lodged with she was very very strict and we had to be in a certain time and if we were late the door used to be locked.
PE: So, when you were at Branston you were working on the land.
BW: Yeah.
PE: As a Land Girl.
BW: Yeah.
PE: But you were actually living somewhere else in these digs. Is that right?
BW: Yes. In private billets they was. Yeah.
PE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, they were all private billets then.
BW: Well, that house we were in was that the Land Army, you know. She would get paid well for having us there. And we used to have to cycle to work.
PE: How far did you have to cycle?
BW: A mile and a half or two mile. Yes. It was hard work.
PE: Did you enjoy it?
BW: I did. Yeah. We got over it. It was hard work but yes we enjoyed it.
PE: So, do you think you made a valuable contribution to the war effort?
BW: I’m sure I did. I’m sure I did. Yes. Because the people that we were billeted with at the private billets they’d never seen town people before you know. They took a bit of getting used to my ways. And if it thundered the lady when I was at Ponton, in private billets rather she, the children that she had used to have to go under the table and pull the tablecloth down. And I used to sit there. She was annoyed with me because I wouldn’t do it but that was funny.
PE: Is there anything else you can particularly remember about your time in the Land Army?
BW: Well, when I was shepherdess I, as I say I used to have to take the feed out in a little pony and trap. And that was lovely going on the main road with the bags of feed and then you know putting it in the troughs for them. And that was a lovely time. I can’t remember anything much else.
PE: Did you ever think while you were in the Land Army did you ever think about what was happening, you know in London and some of the other big cities?
BW: Oh, I did. I did.
PE: When they were being bombed.
BW: Yes. I did. But it was, there wasn’t a lot of news then was there? You know. Radio. I think she had a radio but we didn’t get a chance to listen to it so we didn’t know. Only when we saw the bombers going over and things like that. We weren’t well informed. But we did wonder what was going on.
PE: Did you ever manage to get to a cinema?
BW: Yes. We did now and again in Lincoln but we had to cycle in. But yeah, there was the news on then. Oh, that would be it. That’s where we got the news. Yeah. Pathe Gazette. Yes. So, it was quite alarming that was. To think that we were safe like we were and what was going on there. It was hell wasn’t it?
PE: Did you ever worry about your family back in Wakefield?
BW: Not really. But when, when I was at home it was, before mother died and we had, did I tell you, we had to down in the cellar.
PE: Carry on.
BW: And we used to have to go down some stone steps where there was a big gantry where you kept food and then the next door you went through was the coal place where the man used to put the coal through a thing on the street. Drop the bag of coal through and we used to have to sit in this cellar. Well, the [pause] the siren went to say it was all clear and there was a bomb dropped at the end of our road where I lived. In the allotments.
PE: And that was in Wakefield.
BW: That was in Wakefield. Yeah. Did I say I joined the ARP?
PE: No, you didn’t.
BW: Oh. I did. Yeah.
PE: Well. I’ll ask the question then. Did you join the ARP?
BW: I did. Yes. That’s a thing I did want to do and used to go, wear a gas mask when we were at school. Little cardboard boxes. And of course, we had to take them up there to the, in to Wakefield and we used to be on duty. Night duty. Sleep in a little bed with a stone water bottle and if you were lucky you were agin, agin the stove. A big black stove. Freezing cold. But yeah, we’d some good friends there and I got to know a lot of people.
PE: So, you were doing firewatch duty.
BW: Yes. Yeah. I was trained for St John’s medical things. I got my certificate and everything but I never had to use it, thank goodness.
PE: So, when you were an ARP warden presumably you did that as well as your ordinary job.
BW: Yes. I did. Yes. Yes.
PE: So, did that mean working at night a lot?
BW: Not in my job. We finished at seven. We finished at 7 o’clock on a weekday in the shop and then sometimes I used to go straight to the ARP instead of going home. Take my things with me and go straight up there.
PE: Yeah. So, you were working. So, you were working during the day.
BW: Yes.
PE: And then you were doing your ARP duties.
BW: Yes.
PE: During the night.
BW: Yes. I did.
PE: Is that right?
BW: Yeah.
PE: You didn’t get a lot of sleep then.
BW: No, didn’t. Didn’t. But it wasn’t every night I was on duty. Just so many nights. Maybe two nights a week, and you could sleep if you could get to sleep but, yeah I’d forgotten about that.
PE: Yeah. So, did you see much bombing in Wakefield?
BW: Yes. Yes, we did and we could hear them going off. Terrible. Wakefield was hit quite bad but not, as I say there was one at the end of the garden. It was an incendiary bomb so [pause] but I didn’t know much about, I can’t remember much about anything else with the bombs but I knew they were going off.
PE: Is, is that what inspired you to want to join the RAF?
BW: It is. Yeah. Yeah. I, I just liked the thoughts of the RAF. But then dad wouldn’t let me so I never got in there.
PE: Did your father do anything during the Second World War? I mean was he —
BW: He was a blacksmith engineer. He was a very busy man. He, at Sydney Raines at Wakefield. He went there from school being an orphan as I told you and they trained him and he was there while he retired and I remember he, he came home and he said he’d been offered would it be a pension? Not a pension. Money. He could either have it, some every month or a lump sum and he had a lump sum and I think it was eighty seven pound. It was a fortune then. Something of that, that figure. Yeah.
PE: Was your father involved in the First World War?
BW: No. No. He wasn’t. No. No. He wasn’t, he wasn’t old enough for that. But they had a brother that was in the army, Uncle Herbert and he went to France. He was in the bombing. He went to Germany. Was it Germany? And he got shot. That’s right. And he came back to France to the hospital there where they used to go, didn’t they? I think it was France. No. It wasn’t. It was Jersey. Sorry. They sent him to Jersey to the hospital and he was there a long time. He was quite ill. But then he recovered and the nurse that had been looking after him they got engaged and got married and he decided to stay in Jersey. They lived in there. So, and his family, my cousin Eric, he is the, a Chelsea Pensioner now. Virtually the same age as me. So we keep in touch quite a lot.
PE: Do you see him very often?
BW: No. I would love to go down to London but I just can’t make it. My daughter and granddaughter went but I wasn’t fit enough to go. Not, not there and back in one day. But I’m going to do. They’re going to take me and we shall stay overnight at Chelsea, in the barracks so Eric said. Which would be lovely.
PE: Well, that’s lovely. Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me.
BW: Oh [laughs]
PE: As I say. Is there anything else you can remember or —
BW: Yeah [pause] I can’t remember such a lot except when we [pause] where was it? At Swallow I used to drive a little Fergie tractor. I was so proud of that tractor. Have I told you that? And my youngest son David, he was only, it was when I was left on my own and I used to take David with me and there was a seat at the back of the tractor and I used to pad it up and tie him with a big scarf around me and he used to go to work with me on the tractor. Work with the, in the fields. Tractor and trailer and the lot.
PE: How old was he then?
BW: It was before he started school. He’d be four. Three and a half. Four. But I had to go to work because I needed money. A widow’s pension wasn’t much then and a family. And then I didn’t report it that I was working and somebody reported me. So I gave up then. Some kind person. I didn’t make, didn’t get much money.
PE: No.
BW: Not, you know, on the farm.
PE: No.
BW: But that was a horrible thing.
PE: Yeah.
BW: But I never looked back after. Yeah.
PE: Good. Well thanks very much, Betty. That was —
BW: Oh, you’re welcome.
PE: That was wonderful. Thank you.
BW: I hope I’ve done it right.
PE: That’s alright. As I say it, I mean sometimes people will just tell their story from start to finish.
BW: Yeah.
PE: And sometimes it means that —
BW: Yeah.
PE: You know, whoever I interview we have a conversation like we’ve done.
BW: Yes. Yeah.
PE: But it doesn’t matter. We’ve, we’ve got —
BW: Yeah.
PE: Some really nice stories and some information from you.
BW: Oh good.
PE: So, that will be really helpful.
BW: Oh good.
PE: I’m sure everybody will be pleased with that so thank you very much.
BW: Thank you anyway for taking the time as well to do that. It’s quite an honour.
PE: It’s a pleasure. Alright then, Betty.
BW: And as I said I’m going to a tea dance this afternoon. I’ve never been to one before.
PE: I’m sure —
BW: It’s only in Caistor.
PE: I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
BW: My friend said, ‘I’ve, I’ve got two tickets and we’re going to a tea dance.’ My goodness. I said, ‘I can’t dance now. We used to.’ And she said, ‘Well, we can shuffle our feet.’
PE: Did you do a lot of dancing in the war?
BW: Pardon?
PE: Did you do a lot of dancing in the war?
BW: Yes, I did. When we went to Spitalgate and they used to come to us at Branston. I used to love dancing.
PE: Yeah.
BW: But as I said dad would never let me dance. Never go to a dance at home but I made up for it after [laughs] And I behaved myself [laughs]
PE: Well, that’s very good. It’s interesting really that of all the people that I’ve spoken to whatever happened during the war, whatever tragedies occurred they still carried on with life.
BW: Yeah.
PE: As it was.
BW: Yes. Yeah.
PE: And from your point of view I remember interviewing people who were in London and whatever bombing took place they always made sure they went to the dance.
BW: Yes.
PE: On a Saturday night.
BW: Yes. That’s right.
PE: And they went to the pictures on say a Wednesday night.
BW: All times of the year. Yeah.
PE: The Blitz spirit truly survived.
BW: Yeah.
PE: And the good old British public.
BW: That’s right.
PE: Would not be beaten.
BW: No.
PE: And they had a great, great strength and great bravery —
BW: Yes.
PE: I think, to, to continue with it, you know so —
BW: And I remember at, when I was at Grantham I’d never had much money, you know. I didn’t get a lot in the Land Army but I used to save it up and when I went in to Lincoln I bought these new shoes and they were red and, bright red and bright green and they were like clogs. That was the fashion then. You won’t remember them, will you? And I went home in them. My dad nearly had a fit. I think he nearly burned them.
PE: What year was that then roughly?
BW: Oh, what year would it be?
PE: It was during the war, was it?
BW: Yeah.
PE: That was very brave [laughs]
BW: [laughs] Yes, it was. That was funny really. It was awful at the time but [pause] Oh, and another thing I’ve remembered. This girl I was with in lodgings she had a blonde, they used to have a, like a, I forget what you called it like a fringe but turned under. So I got mine done. And hers was done blonde so what did I do? We got some bleach and she did mine for me. Went home on leave once. My dad nearly threw a fit. Anyhow, he says, ‘What have you done?’ I said, ‘I haven’t done anything.’ I said, ‘It’s the sun because I wear a scarf and the sun’s bleached it.’[laughs] I don’t think he believed me though. He took it in but that was one of the funny things. So, yes. I had a blonde fringe.
PE: Oh, that’s brilliant. Thank you very much, Betty. That’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I’m going to switch the camera off now. Okay.
BW: Oh [laughs] I thought you’d switched it off before.
PE: No. No. No.
BW: Oh dear.
PE: No, that’s, that’s brilliant. Thank, thank you very much, Betty. I’m going to switch it off now.



Paul Espin, “Interview with Betty Welton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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