Diving into a ditch to avoid German machine gun fire on Wallasea Island is particularly vivid memory for Land Girl Elsie Haysman.

She had been in a lorry driving to a farm on the Essex island where she was working during the Second World War when an enemy plane launched an air attack on the lorry.

Elsie says: “It was the closest I got to having my life in danger during the war. The plane flew over and there was machine gun fire up the road and at the lorry.

“We jumped out and into a ditch. We’d never ran so fast in all of our lives!”

The 95-year-old has plenty of colourful stories in her armoury to choose from.

This makes her extremely good company, something I got to experience when I visited her at her home in Shoebury.

Elsie grew up in Ashingdon with her Royal Navy father Albert George, mum Grace Ellis Maud and eight sisters and one brother.

She started out working in domestic service before joining the Women’s Land Army when she was 19.

Elsie says: “When I was 13 I started working as a house maid. I was the eldest child and my mum said she needed help and extra money coming in. I started work young but you didn’t know any different in those days so you just got on with it.

“I chose to join the Land Army when I was 19 because it seemed like an adventure. I got paid two pounds a week and we had extra cheese, eggs and butter which my mother was pleased about.”

Work on the farms was a completely new experience for Elsie.

She says: “It was different to anything I had done before. I remember driving a tractor for the first time and realising that I didn’t know how to turn and I ploughed straight through the chicken coop!

“The work was very physical and we were expected to do everything a man would do. I had a few scrapes, including falling off a hay bale which I had been loosening it with pitch fork. I fell backwards and I woke up with everyone standing over me. The first thing someone said was did I want a cup of tea! I did have back problems after that but I didn’t go to the hospital at the time. We went to the pictures instead!”

Despite the demanding work Elsie loved her time working on the farms.

Elsie says: “Working on the farms was the best time in my working life. When I was a house maid in a big house in Steeple Bumpstead, near Haverhill, I didn’t really get to see who I was working for.

“On the farms we all mucked in together with the farmers. Us Land Girls were all the same, none of us had much but we were well fed and out in the fresh air so we were happy.”

Each day at 5am Elsie could be found cycling to a farm on her red, white and blue bike, issued to all Land Girls.

She says: “All the girls had these colour bikes because we had to cycle a long way to get to the farms. We used to get there quickly because we were used to cycling a long way.”

Elsie is a country girl at heart and loved being out in the elements working on farms.

“We’re country people and I always enjoyed being outside in the fresh air digging vegetables and growing flowers.

Elsie worked on farms all over in Hockley, Foulness and Wallasea Island.

When they weren’t working on the farms the Land Girls made sure they enjoyed their free time.

“We had a real laugh together and I made close friends, closer than I had ever before,” she says.

“When we weren’t working we had the occasional dance.

They were fun.”

She was in the Land Army for six years and carried on for a few years after the war. Elsie went on to work as a carer for the rest of her working life.

She says: “When the men came back from the war the women did miss the independence they had enjoyed. We’d had to do men’s work and proved that we could!

“I married Sidney Player who was a soldier and had three children, two girls and a boy, Linda, Alan and Susan. I must say, having a little family was the best time of my life.”

Speaking to Elsie it is hard to believe that she is in her nineties.

The lively lady is bursting with energy and a giggle is never far away when she talks.

Elsie also has a thirst for knowledge and three years ago, at the age of 91, she decided to learn about computers.

“If you don’t learn about these things you get left behind. I went to college. I loved it and used to have my lunch there. I did it so I would be able to stay in touch with my sister Florence who is in Australia so we could Skype. Now I also send emails and me daughter recently showed me how to shop online.”

Elsie is determined to keep her independence.

“I do all of my own shopping and cleaning. I don’t take any medication, I have three tablespoons of cod liver oil each morning and garlic pills. My doctors says that is what keeps me going. I have arthritis for years but it doesn’t stop me. In fact if I do go out I feel much better.

“I also have a positive outlook on life, I can’t understand it when people don’t.

My bus pass runs out in 2018, they must think I will stop going out by then. But I won’t!”

To this day Elsie does hanker for the simple farm life she had during the war.

“I miss the countryside most of all now. I’m a country girl at heart and it is where I feel most happy.”

In 2008 Elsie’s daughter Susan inquired about Elsie receiving recognition for her work during the war.

“She took me out for afternoon tea and presented the medal to me. We never expected a medal for what we did, you didn’t really think about it like that.

“But looking back I am proud because we did our bit to keep the country going.”


THE WOMEN’S LAND ARMY THE Women’s Land Army (WLA) was established in World War One, but was re-founded shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, in June 1939, to provide extra agricultural labour.

The government feared that if war broke out there would be food shortages.

Britain, then as now, relied heavily on imported food, and it was thought that imports would be threatened by anticipated German blockades.

In addition, many male farm workers were expected to join up, leaving a shortage of labour.

The Land Girls did a wide range of jobs, including milking cows, lambing, managing poultry, ploughing, gathering crops, digging ditches, catching rats and carrying out farm maintenance work. Some 6,000 women worked in the Timber Corps, chopping down trees and running sawmills.