#BookReview Green Hands by Barbara Whitton @I_W_M

Welcome to today’s stop – which is also the final stop – on the blog tour for Green Hands by Barbara Whitton. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Angela Martin and the Imperial War Museum for my review copy.

About the Book

It is 1943, and a month into their service as Land Girls, Bee, Anne and Pauline are sent to a remote farm in rural Scotland. Here they are introduced to the realities of ‘lending a hand on the land’, as back-breaking work and inhospitable weather mean they struggle to keep their spirits high.

Soon one of the girls leaves, and Bee and Pauline receive a new posting to a Northumberland dairy farm.
Detailing their friendship, daily struggles and romantic intrigues with a lightness of touch, Barbara Whitton’s charming novel paints a sometimes funny, sometimes bleak picture of time spent in the Women’s Land Army during the Second World War.

Written under a pseudonym and based on its author’s own experience, this new edition of a 1943 classic includes an introduction from IWM which puts the novel into historical context and shines a light on this vital aspect of Britain’s wartime home front.

Praise for Green Hands

Tales from the home front are always more authentic when written from personal experience, as is the case here. Barbara Whitton evokes the highs and lows, joys and agonies of being a Land Girl” (Julie Summers, author of Dressed For War: The Story of Audrey Withers)

Witty, warm and hugely endearing, Barbara Whitton’s Green Hands is full of engaging characters, burgeoning friendships and pure hard-graft. A lovely novel for anyone interested in wartime Britain, it leaves the reader with renewed admiration for the indefatigable work of the Women’s Land Army.” (A J Pearce, author of Dear Mrs. Bird)

About the Imperial War Museum’s Wartime Classics series

The Wartime Classics series was launched in September 2019 to great acclaim. The novels were all written either during or just after the Second World War and are currently out of print. As part of the Imperial War Museum’s commitment to telling the stories of those who experienced conflict first hand, each novel is written directly from the author’s own experience and takes the reader right into the heart of the battle. Browse all the titles in the series released so far here.

Format: Paperback (196 pages) Publisher: Imperial War Museum
Publication date: 3rd September 2020 [1943] Genre: Modern Classics

Purchase links*
Publisher | Amazon UK | Hive (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience not as part of an affiliate programme

My Review

For Barbara, Anne and Pauline, their first impressions of what life as a Land Girl entails are not promising. The farm to which they are sent is cold, dark and rather cheerless. And its owner, Farmer Thompson, is scathing about their likely abilities. As they soon discover, the days are long and the weather veers between rain, sleet and more rain. Their initial task – throwing harvested mangolds into a cart – is back-breaking and more difficult than it sounds, especially when your aim is as poor as Anne’s. However, I was enchanted by the description of the mangolds flying in “a golden arc through the air”. (By the way, a “mangold” or mangel-wurzel is a variety of beet.)

Food portions at the farm are rather meagre, so much so that a meal of cold meat, rice pudding and prunes is looked upon as a “gala lunch”. It’s this sort of gentle humour and the camaraderie between the Land Girls that makes Green Hands such an engaging read. For example, I loved how Farmer Thompson is nicknamed ‘Mr Doomsday’ and the son of the family referred to as ‘the woeful Walter’. Ah yes, Walter, with his interminable talk about subjects of very little interest to anyone apart from himself and his inability to realise when he’s out-stayed his welcome. Having said that, he is responsible for a much-needed evening outing, to the cinema in the nearest town to see a Western. Barbara is surprised when the audience join in enthusiastically. “They boo the villain whenever the poor man shows his face and they stamp their feet and shriek with excitement in the final shoot-up.”

Things improve for Barbara and Pauline when they are redeployed to a dairy farm in Northumberland. The family are much more welcoming, with the exception of young Cecil “the Mussolini of the entire farm”. To Pauline’s delight, the food portions are more generous too. Barbara is given responsibility for a milk round and, as she carries out her deliveries, the reader gets a glimpse into the lives of people at different ends of the social spectrum.

As the Land Girls discover, many of the tasks on a farm are characterized by monotony: gathering stones, manure spreading, cutting thistles. The routine is relieved at intervals by the fun of driving the tractor or working with horses. And just occasionally there is time to pause and appreciate the surrounding landscape. “The country is spread out at our feet in all colours of green and golden brown, and looks like a giant patchwork quilt… A black bee, heavy with honey, blunders like a ball of sooty thistledown into the hay beside me, clings for a moment, and then zooms away again high into the sky.”

The great thing about the Wartime Classics series is that, not only does it introduce you to authors you may never have otherwise come across, but the introductions to each book provide fascinating nuggets of information. For example, I was surprised to learn that compulsory conscription of single women was introduced in 1941. I had always assumed that service in the Women’s Land Army or the Auxiliary Services was voluntary. I also hadn’t realised that the Women’s Land Army had originally been formed during the First World War.

Green Hands recounts the realities of life working as a Land Girl with wit and humour, demonstrating the vital role these remarkable women played on the Home Front during World War Two.

In three words: Charming, authentic, funny

Try something similar: Blitz Writing: Night Shift & It Was Different At The Time by Inez Holden

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About the Author

Margaret Hazel Watson was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1921. She volunteered for the Women’s Land Army in 1939 and worked as a Land Girl for around a year before moving to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and later joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service. After the war, she wrote a number of accounts of her wartime experience under the pseudonym Barbara Whitton. She stayed in touch with her fellow Land Girls for the rest of her life – a testament to the deep bonds formed during their time together. She died in 2016.

2 thoughts on “#BookReview Green Hands by Barbara Whitton @I_W_M

  1. I did not know about the Land Girls, but just read a Shirley Dickson book where they were mentioned several times. This one sounds quite good and informative. Nice review Cathy.

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