My First Day At the Plough – Pte. E. Whitehead

My First Day At the Plough ~ Supplied by Jean Smith

Dear Sir,

“I am a soldier on the land and have lived practically all my life in Birmingham. I wondered whether the enclosed would be of any use to you; it is a true record of what happened to me on:

My first Day At the Plough

I belong to Birmingham but having donned H.M. uniform and had a little training, was sent, with many others, into Warwickshire. I was the only soldier on this farm and was fortunate in having for my guide and instruction Tom the Waggoner who never tired of showing me. He laughed at my mistakes but was always ready to help and put me right though sometimes my stupidity tried him past bearing and then, I am sorry to say, he gave away to most regrettable bursts of profanity.

One morning the Boss says, “You can help Tom plough if he wants you”. Tom says “Oh arr: he can lead the horses”. So off we started with four of the quadrupeds and an amazing amount of leather and chains to fasten them to the plough. They were put in front of each other in single file, Tom himself behind the implement between the shafts. He gave me the whip and we set off on the march. I noticed it had already been ploughed and asked why we were to do it again and Tom said, “It was fallow and all self-respecting farmers kept some work for new hands to practice on”. I tried to crack the whip but only succeeded in wrapping it round myself and cutting my right arm. Tom shouted, “Gee up!” and we got going. I caught hold of the bridle of the old mare (Blossom) in front and we managed to get fairly straight down the field, this child floundering and stumbling all about the rough ground. Tom had previously told me that when we reached the bottom, I was to turn them to the right as he wanted to go up again opposite an Ash tree, so taking Blossom to the tree I turned and started up the field but that didn’t suit Tom who yelled, “Whoa. Where yer going?”. “Up opposite the tree”, was my natural reply. “Yes”, he said, “But I want the plough to go as well. Bring her back and pull the plough up before you turn.” I saw then that although Blossom and I had turned right the rest of the team were taking a short cut after us instead of going round, so I put that matter right and eventually arrived at the top, me struggling behind, so Tom did not wait he simply shouted, “Gee”, again and Blossom turned right and solemnly led her file down the trench we had made before, so I went across and met them. This happened several times so Tom said at last, “Ain’t you going to lead her at the ends? You might just as well as me shout my guts out”, for he had been yelling, “Gee up! Eee-ta! Whoa! Come Back!” All the time. So I again took charge and we got on fairly well I thought, but it was tiring work and Blossom seemed to know better than I did where to go so Tom said, “Just turn her right at the ends, that will do.” That seemed a much better arrangement, so when we got to the end I vociferated, “Come Back! Eee-ta! Whoa! Gee-up!” I am sorry to say Tom address to me an assortment of words quite unfit for print and finally asked me what I was at. My reply was so reasonable that it quite shook him up for, as I pointed out to him, Blossom was an intelligent animal and if I simply issued the orders she could pick out the one applicable to the occasion and act on it. Thomas looked at me for a bit then a pleasant grin spread over his face and he said, “Come on then”, but after about three turns Blossom became so muddled in endeavouring to obey orders from both of us that I started to lead her to where I wanted to go which Tom made use of a most offensive remark to me that I took no further interest in ploughing. So after he had passed me several times while I was vainly trying to make the whip crack he got conscience stricken and repentant and said, “Can’t you keep up with us?” I replied with dignity that it was possible I could do so if I had something to hold on. “Come and hold the plough then”, he said. So I caught hold and by keeping a firm grip managed to be there when the team reached the top of the field, then Tom caught hold of the plough and turned it and I clutched the handles again. This went on for some time and then we had to go 10 or 12 yards further along the field and start another piece. We went up and down that till it left a piece between that ploughed, of about 10 yards, which we started to go up one side and down the other. All this time I had held the plough up and down the field and Tom had turned it at the ends. At last he seemed to get tired of it and said I could turn it so I tried. I lifted the handles to get it out of the furrow. It followed the horses to the left like it had been doing before, but beyond that point its whole manner changed. It refused to run round the end and into the other furrow like it did when Tom was turning it. No! That plough knew in a minute when I’d got it and went on ploughing round the end. “Tip her on the big wheel” shouted Tom. I had better state here that a plough runs on two wheels, a larger one, which runs in the furrow, and a small one that runs on the top of the ground. Now this little wheel took a dislike to me straight away, and so, as I said, started ploughing that part of the field which you use to turn on. So I tried to get it over on the big wheel, but the more I pulled the more delightedly that little beggar burrowed in and I was helpless till that grinning fool of a Tom came and put it in the furrow and we started down the field. When we got there I remembered Tom’s advice and tipped it over the big wheel before the little beauty had a chance. Well, would you believe it, that big wheel started straight off for the ditch as the horses pulled round, got to the bank, and as the criminally careless Tom yelled “Gee-up” that infernal implement turned completely over. “Stop!” I screamed. “Whoa!” said Tom gently, so once more he had to put me right. You should have seen the mess that plough made at the ends of the field where we turned. Four times I was scornfully thrown into the hedge at the top of the field and the longer we went on the more unmanageable the plough got. Tom alternately grinned and cussed each time I dropped into the hedge. The silly ass guffawed and said, “If we only had a cinema man here our fortune’d be made”, but I stuck to the blamed thing. Once at the bottom of the field it gave me such a fling that I went across the ditch and landed on the bank opposite. Just after that the boss came to see how we were getting on and much amused at my efforts to get the plough round, roared with laughter when this tool of Satan ran round at the bottom, stuck its nose in the ground and a Gee-up from the boss caused such a jerk that I was tipped most beautifully at the bottom into the ditch. “What did you do that for?” he asked. “That’s all through having odd wheels on the plough,” I said angrily. “Odd wheels?” was his puzzled reply and then he roared again and Tom held his sides and I could only glare at them both and left the offending article to itself.

Yours sincerely,

Pte. E. Whitehead