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Dora's journey from Suffolk land girl to GI bride

Dora Abel (nee Finbow) recounts her time in the Women's Land Army in various locations in East Suffolk and meeting her future GI husband, Otis Abel, in Wickham Market.

Memories of Dora Abel nee Finbow 1923- 2004 – extract taken about her time in the Land Army from her life story which she wrote in 1991/2

In July 1943 we saw a lot of new faces about the country as thousands of American GI.s arrived and airfields appeared all over the County. This brings me up to another part of my life. When girls reached the age of twenty they had to do war work. That meant working either in a factory making shells and guns, in one of the armed forces, in an army canteen or in the Land Army. Well, I chose the Land Army. This service had been organised to replace the men that had been working on the land, but had been called into the services leaving only the very old to work in the fields. This was the first time I had been away from home. They gave me a uniform, of sorts and clothes to work in. We had dress britches and corduroy work britches, green sweaters, beige colour shirts and blouses, wool socks and strong flat heeled shoes and a big overcoat and a brimmed hat. The first place I stayed after joining the Land Army was in a large house in the country near Stowmarket called Buxhall. The lady who owned the large house was our Matron. She had a cook and a house keeper who fixed our food. They had turned one large room, with beds and lockers for each of us.

Jean Philpot, Joan Ball, Micky, Olive, Gladys and myself, I can’t remember the rest. They had a dining room and siting room and on certain nights for a couple of hours we could invite a friend in. We listened to records and played billiards or cards. The record they played most of all was ‘I love Paris in the spring’. I can’t remember how long we were there it was only a few months. We rode our cycles to Stowmarket 3 miles then took a train home on Saturday afternoons and came back on Sunday evenings. Then one day they moved us to a new hostel. They took us in the back of a van so we could not tell where we were going, but we soon found out it was another large house near the village of Badingham. There were ten of us sleeping in a room some of the same girls and a few new faces, Gertie, Greta, Peggy E and Peggy, who we called little Peggy. In the room upstairs there were about ten more girls, including our forewoman whose name was Betty. Sometimes we all worked together like when we picked up potatoes at Peasonhall in a twenty three acre field. Gertie and I worked near Framlingham Castle on Horace Sly’s farm. We used to cycle almost every night after supper to Framlingham, I also went with Olive and Peggy E. Once or twice a week I would go to visit my cousin Beatie and her two small daughters. Beatie’s husband was in the army overseas. The places we went in Framlingham were the Red Cross, the movies, The Crown. We had to be back in the hostel by 10p.m. so we did not have very long to stay out. It was about 3 miles to Fram from the hostel and we had to ride our cycles.

We worked the fields together hoeing sugar beet a lot in the spring. On June 6th 1944 we were doing this when we noticed more of the usual amount of planes leaving the air bases and going south, hundreds of them. We knew something was going to happen but we did not know what or when. So many of the English, Polish, Belgium, Australian and New Zealand solders had been moved inland and to the south of England. Later we heard about the big invasion called D Day. I really don’t know why they decided to break us up anyway some of us moved to Wickham Market. This happened in September or October of 1944. Peggy E Gertie and I and some the girls from upstairs. We met Maudie there and other girls I can’t remember their names. I still used to go back to Fram at night only it was a much longer ride, more than ten miles so I could hardly stay long, enough to see a movie and get back on time by 10 p.m.

Soon after we moved to Wickham Market Gertie met a GI named Joe Penecost there was nothing serious in this and most of the time I would walk up to the ‘Georges’ and sit with them and some of the other girls. Well Joe said he knew someone on base that he was going to bring around for me to meet. That was Otis Abel my future husband. One day we had a very scary time working on a field there were about twelve of us when suddenly a German plane appeared out of nowhere and started firing a machine gun at us. Thank the good Lord he missed us but it did make us run for the ditches that surrounded most fields in England. Another scary time was one evening just about the time Otis arrived at the hostel we were still standing on the sidewalk when this buss bomb as we called them went over our heads. They were a rocket type of bomb with fire shooting out of the back of it. It seemed close enough that it would drop any moment but we heard later it had done its damage in Ipswich

Dora’s parents were Horace and Margaret Finbow she was born in Finchley Road, Ipswich and after the house being bombed in WW2 the family moved to Cromer Road, Ipswich. Dora married Otis Abel on 18th August 1945 at St Thomas’ church Cromer Road, Ipswich they settled in Cedar Bluff, Virginia USA after spending three years in German. They had a daughter and son Karen and David. Dora suddenly died on Christmas Eve 2004 after only speaking to her brother in England, my Dad a few minutes before.

Glenis Fisk nee Finbow.

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