Looking at Rural Life a Century Ago in Great Britain

A hundred years ago the first world war changed life in rural Great Britain with women being sent to the fields and horses sent to the battlefields.

| June 2018

Wind back a century in time: World War I was coming to an end, and Britain was almost on its knees. My grandfather, William Roberts, wasn’t in the best shape either. William was a young farm labourer who left his rural Welsh home to serve in the bloody battlefields of France. He was badly injured with shrapnel and was sent back to Britain to recover. He was one of the lucky ones of course. If the injury had been an inch or two to one side, perhaps he wouldn’t have made it, and I wouldn’t be here now.

After a spell recovering in a military hospital, my grandfather was sent by the army to work on a large farm in Shropshire, England. British farms needed all the help they could get. The war had massively diminished the workforce of both men and horses. So even a farm labourer recovering from an injury was better than no one at all.

My grandfather had worked on farms before being sent to the front, and he was already at this young age an experienced horseman, but even so this large arable farm in England must have been quite a different prospect to the small hill farms that he’d worked on back in Wales.

We’ll never know if my grandfather encountered a wartime tractor on this Shropshire farm, but if he did come across such a machine, it is likely that he would have avoided it at all costs. His knowledge was with horses. For the rest of his life, he had no interest whatsoever in tractors. In fact, he had an active dislike of these noisy, temperamental machines, and was, we believe, living in hope that they would never really catch on!

Living in a remote hilly region of Wales, a country that has always been less affluent than England, it was quite easy for my grandfather to continue to farm right up to old age in the 1960s without driving a tractor.

Newfangled machines slow to catch on

Of course there were tractors in Britain 100 years ago, but these would have belonged to wealthier landowners and successful contractors. The average farm labourer in the poorer parts of the country would be unlikely to have had much contact with these newfangled machines.


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