Reflections on My Interview – Dorothy finds her voice

On Thursday and Friday I had the great privilege of interviewing Dorothy, an 82 year old former land girl. After a faltering start – she was quite nervous speaking quietly and hesitantly – the interview soon began to flow.   I had half an eye on my questions but I didn’t use them very much at all, instead allowing Dorothy to direct the interview as her confidence grew.  Metaphorically and quite literally (you can hear on the recording) she begins to find her voice.

Having played the recording back I realise I should have done more to ameliorate the effects of traffic (her flat is very close to a road) and I think the hiss is the warden alarm she has in her OAP block over which I had no control.

During the interview Dorothy found dates difficult to recall so many events were framed i.e. ‘we moved house the day war broke out’.  Possibly she did, possibly she didn’t but this is how she remembers it. I tried to frame my questions to help her recall.

There were many instances of her recalling physical memories, particularly about her time working in a mill in Yorkshire (30+ years so deeply ingrained) but also during the time she was in the land army.  During the interview she re-enacted these actions without prompting; demonstrating how she collected the bobbins from a rapidly moving spinning machine and then picking and chopping sugar beets in the fields of Suffolk as a land girl. This wasn’t for my benefit; it was to take her back to those moments.

I found her experiences fascinating, sometimes funny and frequently moving.  Dorothy  replaced one job involving monotonous, tiring work in a mill with a similar one on a farm in Suffolk but it was worth it for the opportunity it provided for a 17 year old to at last gain some personal freedom and to be in the countryside.  As the eldest girl of six children she was expected to look after her younger siblings, cook, clean and do laundry as well as working at the mill.  So the first taste she had of a social life was as a land girl.  Now she had the freedom to ride a bike, visit the cinema, go to dances and to get walked home by a boy.

Sadly, after a few months and following a concerted effort by Dorothy’s mother and her older brother, she was forced to return to Yorkshire to her previous life.  They needed her to help with the family and to contribute to the family coffers.  Being in the land army also had connotations of sexual promiscuity and this was certainly levelled at Dorothy by her brother.

Dorothy went on to get married and to have a family of her own with all the highs and lows that brings including divorce, however I got a real sense during our interview that those months as a land girl  were amongst the happiest times of her life and, had she been allowed to stay for longer, life may have turned out differently.


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