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Annie Catchpole (nee Tooley) reminisces about her days in the Land Army following her 102nd birthday.

Updated: Feb 16

Annie Elizabeth Catchpole (nee Tooley) was born in Dudley on January 30th 1922 and subsequently moved to London to live with her uncle following the death of her father. She enrolled in the Women's Land Army at the age of twenty whilst working as a shop assistant in Bourne and Hollingsworth on Oxford Street in April 1942. She was initially posted to Grundisburgh Hall to work on the estate of Lord and Lady Cranworth but was then posted to Crowe Hall in Stutton, near Holbrook. Annie was disappointed about this at first but soon settled into her daily routine of growing vegetables for the sailors of HMS Ganges at Shotley and of working in the fields on a neighbouring farm.

Annie loved being a land girl and didn't mind any of the jobs that she was asked to do. As well as gardening and fieldwork, she helped to cut down trees on the estate and had to boil up food for the pigs. She was working with older men and was treated well by all of them.

After tea she would sometimes work on a local smallholding - dropping potatoes into holes. Annie was a fast worker!

She loved her uniform, especially her dungarees and blanket-lined overcoat and found it very practical. She recalled having rubber boots, hard leather shoes and walking boots that clicked as she walked.

Annie was not keen on her first billet and was very pleased to be invited to lodge with Frank and Ivy Willis. They had no children and were very kind to Annie. Their home was a real home from home for Annie. She lived with Frank and Ivy for most of her WLA service and Frank gave her away at her wedding.

Some Americans who were stationed nearby would send a conveyance around the villages to collect land girls and take them to dances. Annie really enjoyed the dances.

Annie met the love of her life, Stanley Catchpole, a gardener at Sutton Manor, during her WLA service. He was called up to the Suffolk Regiment during the war; he served in Dunkirk and was later taken prisoner of war. After the war Annie and Stanley married and set up home in Stutton. They lived there for a few years and had their son, Peter. Stanley then took a job as a gardener in Christchurch Park and they moved to Ipswich. Annie worked as a doctor's assistant.

Annie celebrated her 102nd birthday in style at Henley House care home near Ipswich with members of her family, fellow residents and staff and old friends, many of whom she has known for more than 70 years. She was also visited by TV and radio presenters, the mayor and members of Ipswich Town Football Club. She was delighted to receive her own football shirt with ANNIE 102 on the back.

Annie with Ivy and Frank Willis.

Annie's official WLA photo, badge and a WLA Christmas card.

Annie's special Ipswich Town Football Club shirt that she was presented with on her 102nd birthday.

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