Sandford, Winifred (b.1898)

In 1918 Winifred Sandford was studying at Teacher Training College in London when a government request was made for female students to join the Women’s Army. Winifred decided to go and ended up at Barwick, near Yeovil, where she joined six hundred other women.  They were accommodated in tents, with eight girls to each tent. When the weather was good some of them slept outside.


During her ten-week vacation, Winifred pulled flax for aeroplane construction. The flax had to be pulled by hand and it was very hard work especially on the hands which often had festering sores.

Flax picking near Illminster during the First World War. Flax picking near Illminster during the First World War.
Sound File
Listen to Winifred Sandford - 1.56MB Duration 3:23 min.

SW: Flax must be pulled by hand, not by machines, we were told.  We had ten weeks vacation ahead of us, one of which must be spent on teaching practice and as I did not want to be a burden on my parents all that time, I took my chance to earn a shilling a day and my food.  We were sent to Barwick near Yeovil where the house and grounds were turned over to us with six hundred girls settled there as a Women’s Army for the war effort.  The officers, commandant and so on, were women.


We slept in bell tents, eight to a tent, and one girl from each gang was kept back from the fields each day to be an orderly.  The orderlies had to help prepare food, clean the mess tents, and the canvas lavatories, run the Post Office in Barwick House, stand guard over the numerous gates in the grounds to keep out sheep and cattle, see that pedestrians shut the gates on the footpaths, and all the other jobs that had to be done around the camp.


In the first days only about six girls were sent home as potential flu victims although at night many of us made up our beds outside the tents as they seemed very crowded. We had no proper camp equipment.  We carried out luggage in pilgrim baskets.


I don’t know how, but at night cows would get into the field where we slept and we could hear them munching in the, munching.  In those days we had not yet cut our hair and many of the girls with abundant long hair thought that the cows would mistake our hair for grass and eat it while we slept, so we wrapped up our heads in scarves before we lay down.


And that reminds me of our clothing.  We wore breeches but I cannot remember how we got hold of them.  Were they donated by male cousins who found them for us?  Girls had never worn trousers before.  We made ample overalls and smocks and we wore any stockings that we could beg, borrow or steal.  I remember one pair I had was brown lace.  We never thought of going in bare legs.  When the overalls got dirty I sent mine home for Mother to wash, and inside the parcel I put an ample portion of cheese, sometimes dry and grubby, but cheese which they had not seen at home for many a day.


We were taken to and from the fields in lorries, a jolly ride bumping over the country roads, standing up and holding on.  We were a welcome amusement for the folk who lived around and in Yeovil, and on Sunday evenings they came out for a walk across the footpaths that bordered or crossed the park.  They came in hundreds to see girls in breeches, living in tents, girls who were helping to make those aeroplanes that zoomed low over the fields of Somerset.  I had my bike with me and I liked to get on gate duty on my orderly day.  I would ride across the fields and sit on my bike and read while minding the gate.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Ann Heeley in October 1984. Photograph ©Dr Denis Chapman. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.