Oldhamstocks | Interview with Mrs Jean Yule

30 January 2002, interviewer Sally Smith

Mrs Yule came to Edinburgh when she was about six, with her parents who were both from farming stock [father – Edzell: mother, Dalkeith]. Her family lived in Murrayfield and Jean went to St. George’s, St. Serf’s and finally, George Watson’s. After leaving school, she became a nursery nurse in Liberton and in about 1940 signed up for the Land Army, working at Cocklaw Farm.

She married Jim Yule, 26 years her senior, who was the grieve at Cocklaw when they met. Jim left Cocklaw to work for Willie Chapman, the farmer at Oldhamstocks Mains. The Chapman family were Plymouth Brethren and services were held in their home. After Willie Chapman died, his son took over the farm but eventually Willie Christison who was farming at Springfield, took over Oldhamstocks Mains. Jim became a stockman. Jean continued to do farm work during the war years – and always at harvest time – but ‘retired’ in 1945 and for a while, fostered a child.

Interview transcript:

Tell me what it was like to be a Land Girl…

Well, of course it was very, very hard work. Well, I’ve got to do it from my point of view, my life was very different from that of the other land girls. I was made a stockwoman so I had a horse. I got a pound extra because I was responsible. I had a lovely Clydesdale, just a youngster. He was about four and a lovely animal he was. But the life was very hard…it was in all weathers that we had to be out. The other land girl was a niece of the widowed farmer. She’d just been a widow two months when I went as a land girl and then her niece came a couple of months afterwards and she’d just have to say her back was sore and she’d be taken inside.

So all the men were away

No, there were men working on the farm of course. There was a man there who had been the groom for the hunting horses that had been out there for the farmer who was a huntsman as well. But of course you had to reduce your hunters when the war came on. So what the farmers did, they shunted them – the hunters – amongst themselves so that they wouldn’t have too many. There was always one up there but sometimes there would be two in the horse boxes and they were sort of shunted about so that anybody coming for inspection: ‘oh, this one’s only for its holiday.’

How were you recruited from Edinburgh ?

I wasn’t actually living in Edinburgh…I was living at Liberton [where] I used to be a nursery nurse. My nice boss – she says to me “oh, nurse, do stay on, I’ll have another baby if you’ll stay on.” And I said “no, that’s not a war effort.” So I signed on and said that I would like to be in the land army, much against my parents’ wishes because they said it would do harm. But I said no, that’s what I was looking for. And it wasn’t strange to me anyway because both my parents come of farming stock. My father’s life as a youngster was Arrat’s (sic) Mill away up in Forfar, Edzell and my mother’s family were farming around about Dalkeith.

As a child did you go to the family farms?

No they were gone by that time but I had friends on farms and holdings when I went on holidays and my grandmother still had one let farm [on an] estate, but it was a sheep farm so there wasn’t any agricultural work, there was no cultivating of fields but you became a horsewoman. I had a lot to do with horses if there was a horse anywhere on the farm. I loved animals and I loved horses and my uncle, aunt, brother and sister all had hunters. My uncle was a huntsman in those days, so I always worked with animals. But when I was classed as a horsewoman at Cocklaw that was because they needed what was known as an orraman, [who] drives a horse and cart. They needed a horseman and took a land girl for that job so I had to go with the horse. I was at the beck and call of the shepherd, the beck and call of the grieve, very difficult because he used to say “you’ve got to do so and so”. The shepherd [would say] “don’t listen to him, I want 40 loads of turnips in my field and it’s got to be done.” I had a terrible job between the two of them to keep them right and I used to get into awful hot water but nevertheless I managed.

So how long were you there – to the end of the war?

No, can’t even remember when we got married – I married the grieve in the end – and we came down to ‘hamstocks Mains. Jim was getting a bit fed up with being there, there was so much on his shoulders. One example of what had to be done. A friend of the lady farmer was supposed to be managing [the farm] but she always was arguing with him because she felt he was too mean and he wasn’t getting the implements I needed, let alone other people and she got a bit fed up with him. However, Jim was the working grieve and this friend was the manager. Jim was very conscientious with his work and we hadn’t been very long married, maybe about a couple of months or so and all of a sudden in the middle of the night he says “I hear rain, it’s very heavy rain, come on, get your wellies on and your coat on and we’ll have to go up and put a hap on the haystack (which we’d been working on).” And we had to go out. I had my long goonies wrapped down inside my wellingtons and my waterproof on and I had a headscarf clapped on my head and we had to go way up to the stackyard and the pair of us put a hap on to keep the rain out of the stack. He was very conscientious but he got fed up with all this and got no thanks from the manager. So he decided that we would leave. And also, the farmer down at ‘hamstocks Mains was very keen to have him.

Who was the farmer at that time?

Chapman, old Willie Chapman. Plymouth Brethren they were.

That’s unusual..- where would they worship then?

In ‘hamstocks Mains farmhouse. I remember when he died, farmstaff were invited. I was working there and the service was taken in the dining room. One of their tunes is to the tune of “John Brown’s Body” so this started up…there was no piano or anything for music. One would start singing and then we would all sing, all join in, and one of the women workers, she was quite delighted when this tune started because she knew it, so she was quite carried away with this tune [Jean whistles the tune] …and she got her foot going on the wooden floor. Nobody said anything, it was all right, so that was that.

Then afterwards, Willie Christison had Springfield and took over ‘hamstocks Mains. This was a long, long time afterwards and he was very keen for Jim to work for him. So Jim was stockman and worked for a number of years with his cattle and the pigs at ‘hamstocks Mains. Then he went on as part-time working when he was past pension age. He was 26 years older than I was. By that time we’d bought Candy Cottage here in the village. We had a nice little wooden ladder over the back wall of the garden [which Jim] used to go there in his own time. By this time he was working half time, so that was one of the conditions of his being hired – he could please himself with the time he worked. So he went away up in the morning over the wall, [would] do his sheep on the way down, then go to the steading and do work there. I worked there for a while…I just did shawing turnips. I didn’t have a horse, there was no horse down there then – used a tractor.

How long were you working at Oldhamstocks Mains?

I’m useless with dates…after the war?… well what about the Japanese war, when that finished, what date was that? 1945…Because after when we finished with the Japanese, I said “right now, I’m finished, I want to retire”.

So what happened then?

I was fostering then, I was fostering a child. My main thing as a nursery nurse was [that] I specialised in difficult children. I was her third home that she’d been to, she was a very, very difficult child. She was poor when she came to me and I was pretty ill by this time, supposed to have an ulcer, but it turned out over the years it wasn’t an ulcer, it was gall bladder. And I was becoming pretty ill and couldn’t put up with her tantrums. My husband said “I’m afraid it’s either you or her. She’ll have to go or you’ll have to go because I can’t put up with this any longer.” It was dreadful. She had to go away to Aberdeen to a corrective school.

Were there any other people in the village who were fostering?

Not at that time, I was the only one. Later on when – a little bit before we came to live up here at Candy Cottage – there was a lady who used to work out at the fields on the farms round about and at the mills, when the mill came in at threshing time. She fostered but she didn’t foster for very long because she was doing it for the money…she wasn’t caring how she was looking after the children. And they were taken off her because she just wasn’t looking after them properly.

Were there many people who came into the village from outside?

When I used to come down from Cocklaw I had my horse and cart and I used to come down to the smiddy with various implements to be mended, sharpened or whatever. Because auld Henry was the blacksmith and he was the life and soul of the village as was the school – we had a school going in these days. I would come down with my horse and cart and various implements on the cart to be attended to. Or I might come down with two horses to be shod – he was a farrier as well. To come down through the fields with two horses was some trial because I would start off from the farm on a horse’s back and my horse was what would be called a van horse. The main one that I had was the Clydesdale, a beautiful animal and well behaved. But I usually came with a cart with him. Then afterwards, he got a blood disorder and it affected his back and he had to be laid off for a year and then the vet said he would never be any better and he would only be able to do light carting. But the farmer said no, no animal of mine’s going to be put through probably hard work at a holding or something so he was put down. So that was very sad and I got the lighter horse called Prince – what you would call a van horse now – very quick. I would have him [but] I never went on his back. And then there might be a hunter, a heavy hunter that we had. But he was put into a cart – he could work with a cart.

So we would come down the fields without a cart with two horses, me in the middle and my Prince might all of a sudden nip my bottom and then the black heavy hunter would rear up on his hind legs and I’d be underneath him. Oh it was just a pantomime because I couldn’t sit on a back when I got to a gate. I had to get off and open the gate and shut the gate. Whenever I got up on the gate to cock my leg over and get onto the thing’s back, he would move off and I couldn’t afford the time to waste, trying and trying to get on his back because I had ever so many things to do when I went back. So I just had to keep walking. Then we would get down to the steading, passing this bit here [Jane’s Court]. There would be a man at the top who couldn’t get down his stairs very easily, sitting in his window. And if he saw me, he would open up his window and shout “Miss Morton I’ll put this letter down, will you post it for me?” And he’d fling the letter out the window and I would have to hold the two horses with one hand till I got down for the letter and then off we’d go to the smithy. The horses were tied up and Bob would start working on them. Then it might be afternoon, time for the children to get out of school and they would come running down the road, maybe going to ‘hamstocks Mains. [They would come] running down and pick up a handful of stones and fling the stones and the horses would jump. Bob would get a fright and he would get out and run up the road chasing the children.

The smiddy was the village centre?

Oh yes, and we would talk all sorts of things. There was Alfred Kinghorn who did all sorts of intricate (mathematical) theorems and things like that and he would illustrate those on the blackboard.. Bob was very interested in anything like that. I needless to say wasn’t but and then somebody else might call in something that was being sharpened, a scythe or something and have a talk. All sorts of subjects were talked over in the smiddy.

What sort of shops were there in those days?

There was only the one where I used to get my cigarettes and everybody else would get their cigarettes and sweets. You had your ration of course, war-time, but you had your coupons and could get sweets and odd things perhaps – a loaf of bread, a roll, or some sugar, just the bare basics.

You were getting your milk from Lotte (Armstrong)?

When I was at Cocklaw we had our own milk up there because we had our own cows. It was only when I went down to ‘hamstocks Mains that I came up to Lotte for milk with a pitcher. You don’t spill a pitcher, the lids are tight. I didn’t have all that much milk, maybe a couple of pints would do a day and if I wanted more I could get four pints, a pitcher in each hand.

At Cocklaw before I was married I lived in the big farmhouse.

Was there a housekeeper then?

Yes there was a housekeeper who lived in. There were no maids, war-time, you couldn’t afford that. Then because we were living in, we didn’t have evacuees living with us. [But there were] students, the boys who had been learning farming on the farm at Cocklaw. They were in the army and a lot of them spent a part of their leave up there. And we used to have high old times.

What about cooking?

Well the housekeeper was a jolly good cook and she used to produce all sorts of lovely food and of course there was always the gun for pheasants on the farm, and rabbits. There was always food. We always had good food – deer as well. You could get anything like that on the farms. So we were well fed.

What did you wear in those days?

The whistlers. That was britches, corduroy britches. If it had been wet, you got wet as we very often did. They dried on you or you took them into the boot room at night when you got home, hung them up and in the heat in the boot room, they soon dried. Next day your legs rubbing together, they would whistle. The insides would rub together and anybody would know when we were coming. And lacing boots and Wellingtons but I didn’t use Wellingtons very much, I preferred my boots. They were very good boots, didn’t let in. water. [We got them] at the land army place where you just asked. They had all your measurements. We had a head of the land army in districts and Mrs. Russell from Thurston was our head army person. You could say “I’m needing new boots”. And oh, yes and they would be delivered…they had all your sizes. Of course you didn’t get them ad lib, you had to be careful with them and if by any chance something would happen to them, maybe the stitching had given way or something like that – well, that wasn’t any fault of yours so you’d get another pair of boots. But at regular intervals your stuff would wear out. Then we had shirts, Aertex shirts, woollen pullovers V-neck pullovers, green over the sandy coloured shirts.

What about incomers?

In this part of the countryside the village was mostly elderly people and they were more or less local people. So if they had any jobs at all they were working locally. We had two rabbit catchers in the village and an assistant rabbit catcher. Over the road, the big square house, that was Kinghorn, people from Coventry came to stay with her mother and father because of the war – they were bombed out of their home and they came up here. So that was…actually the mother and father had that house built and then when the war came on and the bombing was so bad in Coventry, the son-in-law and daughter came here to live. And that was the other son, Alfred, the one that did all the funny theorem bits and sums on the board.

Who else did we have here? We had a single lady, she was from Glasgow but her family had come here since she was a child, on holiday from Glasgow and then she just kept the family home going for holidays…but they were old by this time, the mother and father lived here and when I used to go past with the horses, there was a bench outside and you would get old Mr Nisbet sitting in his velvet jacket, his velvet smoking cap and puffing his pipe or cigarette. Mrs Nisbet was a very quiet, retiring person. You didn’t really see her, [just] saw her shaking a duster out the door – that would be quite special.

Were there any prisoners of war?

Oh yes, we had prisoners of war all the time [but] not at Cocklaw. We had the army at Cocklaw and they did a lot of the harvest work…seasonal work…and we had Irish men that came to do seasonal work. They were difficult because they had rather a lot of temper. I had my horse and cart because of course I was feeding corn and everything in very difficult [hilly] fields. I had to take a horse way round the hills or the horse would have choked from the collar. My horse did choke one time but I managed to get it quickly. The Irishmen would pull your horse along and give it a jerk like that if it wasn’t moving quick enough. Fiery they were.

Did they come with their families?

No, they came and stayed in the bothy. “Sure now and begorra. I’m married, I’m married aye, cleared out of Ireland and I left my wife, Queen of the whole of Ireland, that is, I’m not going back to her, I’m not.” They were great characters and they lived in the bothy at Cocklaw. They made porridge and pulled out a drawer and put the porridge in the drawer and shut the drawer up. Then in the morning [took a] knife, cut sections out of the drawer, put it in their rolls which they’d bought from the van (because we did have vans coming round) and that was what they ate because every penny they could save was spent on drink. They would go to the pub down at Co’path.

Were there any local stills?

No. Co’path [inn] was the nearest one. So that’s the Irishmen and the army.

We had prisoners of war at ‘hamstocks Mains. We had both Italians and Germans but we didn’t have them both on the same day because the Germans would say “too frightened to get their hands dirty, the Italians they no good.” Too refined, the Italians, that’s what the Germans thought. So both Italians and Germans would come at different times. A lorry would come and deliver what we needed. We didn’t have army [camps] at Oldhamstocks. The army would come in army vehicles to Cocklaw. [The prisoners] were all stationed at various camps and the camp authorities would bring them in their own vans [and] lorries. And they would come to work. They weren’t shackled or anything like that. They behaved all very well.

Did any of them stay on after the war?

I can’t think of any. I know one was very interested in me because he said I reminded him of his wife back in Germany and he was always showing me his photographs. An awfully nice fellow he was. He came back when they weren’t prisoners of war any more to the young farmer, the son of the one who died (Chapman). There were three cottages at ‘hamstocks Mains. We were the top one; the farmer’s son lived in the bottom cottage; one of the workers in the middle. I went to see him before he went back to Germany.

Also at Cocklaw we had – oh dear they were dreadful – a bevy of girls from the town [Edinburgh]. And oh dear me they were…they thought they were doing their best and there was a caravan in the yard where they stayed. This was harvest time and it was just simply dreadful. They had long, pointed, coloured fingernails, all the makeup on and out to work in the morning and of course the work was so hard, harvest work. We had to work long, long hours in these days. And the weather was dreadful sometimes but we still had to go out and work. If it had been raining, you had to go out and change the stooks round to get the wind through them. Those girls were not up to it. Poor things, they just hadn’t a clue. And everything was going wrong and if you were trying to follow up behind them, everything was wrong. So they didn’t stay very long then.

After the war finished, you came to live next door at Candy Cottage, you were fostering the girl, how did things change then?

Things were very different because when I was at Cocklaw I had to walk all the way down the road [to] Thorntonloch. The bus came [out] from Edinburgh and turned at Thorntonloch. I used to get away with the 2 o’clock bus on a Saturday – not at harvest time I hasten to add because we were absolutely stuck with work. But 2 o’clock I would get onto the bus [with] the locals on the bus ready to go into Dunbar and do their shopping. I would get out at Dunbar to go for the Edinburgh bus [which] would come out sometimes and pick up people at Dunbar and then turn there. And that’s how the 2 o’clock one worked. But there were other buses, they would stop at Dunbar, like the one I got coming home on a Sunday night. It might stop in Dunbar, I’d get out of that one and get onto the local bus which came twisting about all round the roads.

What did you do in Edinburgh?

My home was in Edinburgh with my mother and father. But my brother was in the Air Force so he was away abroad. I would get onto the bus at Thorntonloch to go into Dunbar, ready to change, get onto the Edinburgh bus or, to go straight through – depended on the bus. I would say “good afternoon”. Nobody would look, nobody would speak – because I was a stranger. You didn’t speak to strangers. So that was quite a bomb. Then I got married: “Good afternoon, Mrs. Yule, good afternoon.” Oh yes, my station was positively queen-like. It was because you were unmarried and not from here. Everything goes round, everyone would know whenever I came to Cocklaw – all the gossip. You see in these days you didn’t have television, you had a wireless with an accumulator. If your accumulator dried up, you didn’t have a wireless to use. You had to be jolly careful to have your spare accumulator serviced by Bob Cribbes the grocer [Co’path] who went round with his van. You would say to Bob “Have you got my accumulator today?” “Oh no my dear, I’ve completely forgotten it, but I’ll give you Mrs. Gibson’s because she’ll not be needing hers. I’ll just give you hers instead and that’ll be fine.” You’d get Mrs. Gibson’s and you were all right. Probably Mrs. Gibson gave him hell when he went back. Word travelled very, very quickly because everybody was interested in everybody else.

There were all these young people about, what did you do for entertainment? Dances in the village hall?

There were concerts. We had good concerts occasionally run by Mr Grant the chemist of Dunbar. He had Grant’s Theatre… I can’t remember what he called his company. The hall would be absolutely packed with people enjoying themselves. Not just the village, the whole area right round and you’d get all the farm people. You see in those days all the cottages were full of people. And if you had a family you would be hired to work on the farm before anybody that didn’t have children at all because the youngsters would grow up and work on the farm. And it would be far better that way than taking on a single couple. The cottages were all full of people, big families, small families. There were always people to work on the farms, especially the big farms.

So what happened at one of these concerts – what was the programme?

Well, there would be singing and you would get monologues – I used to do some myself. I would do a: “…Mrs Jones was holding a party, a garden party to raise money for some charity and she had such a lot of preparations to do in the garden and she had to prepare as well in the house as well in case it was a wet day.” So I would go out onto the stage and tell people this and I would say “Ah, Mrs Smith, hello, how nice to see you, could you possibly… just a moment, I’ll come nearer the fence.” And I would go over to the fence and would say to her “I wonder, would you mind making one or two sandwiches, I’m having my charity tea party as you know on the 12th, would you manage to make some sandwiches for me? You will, oh how kind. That’s wonderful, thank you so much.” Then I would go off stage and I would come back, I’d be going shopping. I’d meet Mrs Brown and I’d say to Mrs Brown “I wonder would you possibly manage to bring your garden tables and chairs in, would your husband help you because I’m afraid I’m not going to have enough, I’m expecting so many people to come” and on it would go. And it meant that all these people were doing the work and I wasn’t doing anything at all and I would say “I’m just so exhausted” and that was the end. But all the other people were doing the work. I’d done nothing! [Mrs Yule made up these monologues herself.]

Did you do any other work of that kind?

Oh I used to whistle and I used to sing. Oh, it passed in these days. Nobody did expert work, it was just natural entertainment. Nowadays that wouldn’t go down at all. I did Arran. I went to Arran with my sheepdog and I went around Goat Fell and I said a little bit about the murder on Goat Fell. I would say “go way, go way, way out” and work the dog.

How long did Mr Grant’s concerts carry on?

That was off and on during the war. Mind you, I wasn’t working with Grant’s company. You would get Grant’s company being asked to come in and entertain us and he would come with his people. One thing I used to love… was the man, he was a teacher in Dunbar, but I can’t remember his name. He was a teacher at the big high school. There was a lady used to sing. But Mr Grant and this teacher used to do a sketch: Up and Down the Garden Wall. They had big flat brushes and were supposed to be whitening the garden wall. They had their wives’ mob caps on and overalls on, men doing their best and they would be singing this song ‘up and down the garden wall’ and this type of thing. It used to be great, the folk loved it. But to do that now, they’d all walk out. We loved all that sort of excitement then. When Mr Grant’s concerts were not happening, then the village would be asked to do something. It was nothing regular. It was… “oh let’s have a concert”. It might be the Red Cross needing a little money. It wasn’t just for fun. There might be the Salvation Army needing something. They [also] had dances… I never went to them because they were usually on a Saturday night and I was always away home.

Are we still talking about the war years, or after you got married?

Even after the war there’s been odd things. For instance, we had a very lively school [and] the prize giving was a great event. The greatest one of all was our teacher Thomson – she was more like a mother to the children. She wanted parental interest taken to the whole thing so we were involved a lot. She had a sewing class and – after school hours, once a week – the library would come and dump a whole lot of books at the school. You would go and choose your books and then you had to have them back again the next week. That book would be taken away and another lot left in their place. You took what you got and were jolly thankful.

Then we would have a school outing, perhaps to the Forth Bridge or to some beach somewhere. The children always had their dinners brought to the school in containers. So they were taken in the bus but the parents – well, usually the women, not the men – would take their sandwiches and their thermoses and off we would go in the bus, enjoying ourselves at a picnic. Then we would come back again and all disband to our various destinations.

The clothes you were wearing would have changed, you would have got rid of your land army things…do you remember what you were wearing?

Oh just leftovers, dungarees from our land army, that’s if we were mucking in at home or anything. Wear our stuff out because it was pretty good. [When you went off to the beach] you went off in your best clothes – for the summer you’d have cotton skirts, cotton blouse and you’d take a cardigan in case it was cold. And you would wear sensible shoes because you wouldn’t know how far you’d have to walk to get to the picnic site. None of us really wore hats – we weren’t a hatty lot. I wear a little beret always now because my hair’s so fine it blows away. I don’t like a headscarf. We had to wear hats to church of course. Now we don’t.

Was the community very much a church-going community then?

Everybody didn’t go to church, no. To funerals, yes; weddings, yes – but certainly not all to church. When I was working at Cocklaw…when I used to go home regularly every weekend other than when we were working out in the fields, I used to go to church at home. That was the Murrayfield Parish Church then. I used to go with my mother and father to church. There aren’t many [church-goers] in the village even now. But they come from outside of course. We usually have about 12 to the service now and there wouldn’t be any more than that. But for functions, and for Christmas and Communion of course and things like that, you would get more. Funerals of course like at Ernie’s [Armstrong] – it was absolutely packed.

Another thing I started – a long time after the war – [were] concerts in the church. I thought well for goodness sake it’s the Lord’s house and he would jolly well enjoy a concert if it was going to be used for raising money for charity. So I started that off and it was frowned on a bit by some people: “Fancy having that sort of thing in the church”. I had Chris Connell [Fulfordlees] with the violin and I had Mr Davis, Dave Davis, our organist, he did quite a bit in the concert. Then I had a lady whose daughter went to St. George’s and was a cellist which was lovely. Then I had Margaret Christison from Branxton with the guitar and various people singing.