Ninety-one-year-old Libby Buchanan was reminiscing about her time as a land girl during World War 2 when her daughter apologised for interrupting but said her mother was needed to help move some cattle.
She got up, pulled on her wellies, climbed onto a quad bike and disappeared over the hills, writes Cathy Watson.
Earlier Libby had posed for a photograph on her favourite tractor, Thomas, which she drives regularly, harrowing, rolling and pulling trailers around Black Ven Farm at Nutley. She climbed in and out of the cab with ease.
Recently Libby rooted out a Land Army proficiency certificate showing she had earned distinction for tractor driving during the war years.
It was dated March 1944 and signed by Lady Denman, head of the Land Army, who signed every proficiency certificate herself.
Libby’s award, which is in pristine condition, has since been framed by the Uckfield Framing Company arranged by her proud family.
More memories of war-time tractor driving were revived a few years ago when The Queen invited Libby to a tea party along with other former Land Army girls. They were each presented with a badge recognising the work they did.
Lambing in the Dales
From a very young age Libby wanted to farm and spent her childhood working on the farms surrounding her parents’ cottage in the Yorkshire Dales helping out where she could, particularly with lambing.
Her family lived in Leeds, with her father being involved in the coal industry, but most of their free time was spent at their country home. “My family loved the land,” she said.
Her dream was to be a farmer and as a teenager she had a pony and used to earn money by giving shooting parties rides up onto the Moors. One day she was asked what she planned to do when she left school with the war approaching and she answered that she was going to join the Land Army.
She was offered a place at a farm near Swaffham in Norfolk. On her first day she was told by the foreman to spread dung with a fork from heaps across a 20-acre field. “I was being tested”. The next day she was told she could use a tractor.
After three happy years on the land, she had appendicitis and wasn’t allowed to do any lifting for six months so found herself a new role by joining the Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens).
She stayed for 18 months then felt the pull of agriculture again and was the first girl to read agriculture at Oxford. Both her parents had been to Oxford and her sister was just finishing medicine there. Since the university had a small school of agriculture it seemed the perfect place for her.
Afterward she was lucky enough to get a job as an agricultural specialist in the Conservative Research Department until she went to Canada and met her future husband, Bill, who worked for Canadian National Railways.
They moved back to this country with two young children and Libby was determined they should get out of London at the weekends and they found a cottage ideal for their needs in Maresfield.
One day the family was at a horse show at Black Ven Farm in Nutley and, sitting on the tail of the horse box having lunch, Bill looked across to the farmhouse and said to Libby, “if we ever manage to get that farm you dream of, this should be it”. A young family lived there at the time and it looked unlikely that it would ever go on the market, but six months later it was for sale.
Somehow they brought together the funds to buy it and the Buchanan family has farmed there ever since. The farm is equally loved by Libby’s two children, Elizabeth and Jamie and her grandchildren.
The family farms organically and breeds pedigree Sussex beef. They have more than 70 head of cattle and this year won a national prize for most improved herd.
They also have 50 ewes which give them about 80 lambs. They sell lamb direct to the public – prepared for the freezer, with leg, shoulder, lots of chops and mince available in a box for £100 – and to restaurants such as Mosimann’s in London. The Griffin at Fletching has taken their lamb too.
Did Libby ever think of retiring? No, was her firm answer. She planned to continue for as long as possible and judging by the way she jumped into action yesterday when she was needed to help move cattle she is pulling her weight now in the same way she did when she spread piles of dung on that Norfolk farm all those years ago in the middle of war.
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