Interview with Edith Russell
This is a summary of an interview with Edith Russell recorded by Ann Kneif on 2nd October 2012 at her house in Harvel.
Born Edith Alice Marion Yates in Hackney, London on 11th March 1925. Father had served in navy in WWI. He was a glass blower and then later, after WWII, a bookmaker. Mother was a housewife.
Went to the Junior School and then to South Hackney Central. Apart from school, her typical day as a child was playing in the park and ice skating. Her father was strict and she was not allowed to do what she liked. There was no television so she read books.
Moving to Meopham
In 1940 the family moved to Meopham as the house in Hackney suffered bomb damage. Edith's father had friends at Wrotham so they moved to the area and found a bungalow at Hodsoll Street, where they lived for a couple of years. Eventually, her father bought Greenfields in Meopham.
Meeting her husband Len
When she moved to Meopham, Edith became friends with other girls in the village. One of them had a brother who was friendly with Len Russell so she knew him vaguely. After the war she went to a local dance where Len asked her to dance and it went from there. They were married in 1947. Edith was in the Land Army from 1942 until 1946. Len had to do National Service in the Airforce until 1948. Her family liked Len right from the start and their fathers were acquainted.
Edith joined the Land Army at 17 and was stationed at Lydd on the Romney Marshes. Until then she had led a sheltered life so it was a shock to live in a hostel. It was work she had never done before but she enjoyed it. She started at a distribution centre at Herne Bay, where she went on a tractor driving course and was then sent to the Marshes. There it was mainly sheep, turnips and cereals. She liked working with the sheep, especially the new born lambs that had to be bottle fed if rejected by their mothers. When the war finished the hostel was closed down so she returned to Meopham and worked for a farmer who wanted a Land Girl. It was a large smallholding with a cherry orchard, nut orchard and a mixture of animals. It was the first time she had milked a cow. It was more varied than the work on the Marshes, where the weather could be grim. She describes the hostel, which held 40 Land Girls and had originally been built for the army. It was very basic and everything always felt damp. She spoke of a stray German plane machine gunning the hostel whilst some of the girls were inside but no-one was hurt. Land Girls based at the farm were much better off as there was more food. Life in the hostel was basic. They often went to the Salvation Army for a cup of tea. Edith worked at Leylands Farm when she returned to Meopham. It belonged to Mr and Mrs Ward. She was able to live at home and was able to get back for meals. She quite enjoyed the work.
Contact with other Land Girls
Edith has continued to go to reunions and has kept in contact with Land Girls she met in the war but has also made friends with some she has only met since. The Land Girls were allowed to march at the Cenotaph a few years ago but the majority of those surviving are now too old to stand around for so long. They have organised a local reunion but the last one was planned for October 2012. She spoke of other Land Girls with whom she was friends, some of them now dead. She received a medal and certificate from the Government a few years ago and was also given a Frontline medal as the marshes were considered 'a dodgy spot'.
Early married life
Edith's husband was still in the RAF when they married so she went with him where he was stationed. When they returned to Meopham in 1948, they were given a farm cottage belonging to her father-in-law. There was no bathroom or indoor toilet. It was 12 years before they could afford to move. She liked the cottage and was sad to move. They moved to a two bedroom bungalow, which they extended, at Harvel, where she still lives.
Shops in Meopham
The butchers shop near the Green belonged to her husband's uncle. There were two pubs, the King's Arms and the Cricketers. Her mother-in-law had a drapers next to the King's Arms and sold dresses etc. When she gave the shop up it became a Post Office. Opposite was a grocer and a builder's yard went away from the Green. When it came up for sale, Edith's father bought it for her brother, who was a coach builder. The office of the yard was pretty and Edith used it as a shop for about eight years. She started by selling baby things and knitting wool gradually enlarging to sell dresses. After she sold it to a local lady she went to the Army and Navy Store in London for a Christmas job and stayed there for 5 years. Parsons, the grocer, sold everything and Derhams was a very good baker. He made Edith's wedding cake.
A bus went to Gravesend every hour and cost 1/- return. When Edith worked in London she went by train, although for a while her husband worked in London so they went by car.
Edith married into a farming family but her husband did not work on the farm so they were not involved much in the business. When Edith first met them it was a dairy farm but her father-in-law became ill so Len's brother sold the milk side of the business and went into beef. Len found a job teaching at Imperial College, where he stayed for 30 years.
The Len Russell Combo
Every Friday and Saturday evening Edith was a band widow. The Len Russell Combo played every year for the British Legion dance, where the women all wore long dresses unlike today. They were the resident band at Laughing Waters, now the Inn on the Lake. After 40 years of running the band, Len decided it was time to retire and he then played for Gravesham Borough Band, where he stayed until shortly before he died.
Edith could not remember anything spectacular. She did not get involved with any clubs or societies in the village.
Landowners and other important people
The French's had a lot of land towards Gravesend and Longfield. The Jackson's were farmers in Norwood Lane.
Work for charity
Every year Edith opens her garden for charity. She used to collect for guide dogs for the blind but now collects for 'Help the Heroes'.
Changes in Meopham
Pitfield Drive and Cricketers Drive were not there, it was all orchards. The surgery used to be a house on Hook Green but now it is a medical centre. The shops on the Parade have changed. There used to be a newsagent. There was a baker, who served tea. The Spar has been there for a long time. There was a Barclay's Bank and another bank at Meopham Green, next to the baker and which is now a picture framing shop.
Edith's family were not involved in the cricket but Len's brother was the team captain. When her husband died she wanted the wake in the church hall but it was booked so she used the cricket pavilion instead. She was invited to the children's birthday parties at Pitfield House. It was like a manor house. She went to the wedding of Mr and Mrs Alexander's niece. They were nice people. Mr Alexander was quiet but Mrs Alexander was very active in village life. Edith was not allowed to be like teenagers today. There have been lots of ups and downs in the village but 'I like village life and all the things that go on and could never live in a town'.