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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 October 2005, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Castle reunion for war land girls
Lillian McGrath an Joan Emery, former land girls billeted at St Fagans
Together again after 64 years - former land girls Lillian and Joan
Wartime land girls who were billeted at St Fagans Castle estate near Cardiff have been reunited for the first time in more than 60 years.

During the war the land army played a vital role helping to keep the UK fed while the men were abroad fighting.

Some worked at the nurseries attached to the castle estate, others went on to do more manual work on the farm.

On Sunday surviving land girls reminisced together at a celebration lunch at the Museum of Welsh Life.

Among them were Joan Emery and Lillian McGrath, now in their 80s, together again after 64 years.

"I recognised her at once. She had brilliant red hair and it was hard to forget her face, although I don't think she recognised me so easily," said Joan, now in her eighties and living in Bristol - although she grew up at Lavernock near Penarth.

Land girls based at Llandaff, Cardiff during the war (picture courtesy Museum of Welsh Life,  St Fagans)
This picture of land girls was taken in Llandaff, Cardiff

She recalled how difficult life as a Welsh land girl was - especially when her two sisters became ill and she was left alone at St Fagans.

"We were billeted in the grooms' quarters in bunk beds in the stables. We had to go up to the castle house and carry back huge enamel jugs of water out to wash.

"The food was good though. We went up to the village church rooms for our meals. Except the lunches. They were hard biscuits with margarine and pilchards mixed together, and often we were oiling tools and then having to eat that stuff.

"I've never eaten pilchards or sardines since," she said.

It was a turning point for us women, the war
Phyllis Condon

Mrs McGrath was from Pontyclun, although she now lives in Swindon.

She remembered her time working on the land as "wonderful".

"The nurseries was a boring job although it was necessary," she said, adding she had gone after eight months to work on the farms driving tractors.

And Mrs Emery, who left school at 14 with no qualifications and went to work as a nursemaid, said the war had given her independence.

After the land army, she joined the RAF and then worked delivering IQ tests from the institute of psychology to both men and women in the services.

"I consider the person I was at 18 and the person I became during the war. It gave me an education," she said.

Phyllis Condon and Mair Edwards
The land girls remembered how they went on strike on one occasion

Also reunited at Sunday's event were Phyllis Condon, who was a supervisor for 15 years at St Fagans, and Mair Edwards, who was billeted as a land girl there with her sister Irene.

"It was a turning point for us women, the war," said Mrs Condon, from Roath in Cardiff.

"I always wanted to work in the open and the war gave me an opportunity."

But she recalled how tough conditions were for them.

"Once the weather was so bad, and we were sent out in the woods to prune the trees, that that we went on strike.

"I marched all the girls off and we went down to the Land Army offices in New Street in Cardiff to square it with them."


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