Ploughing with the War Ag: Sam Pennal and His Caterpillar D2

North Wales man’s contribution to a struggling England during World War II was ploughing with a Caterpillar D2 with the War Ag.

| September 2012

Nicknames are very popular in Wales, no doubt because there are a lot of people around with the same name. In a small area there might be two men called Wil. One of them might become known as “Wil Ty Hen” (which means “Wil from the Old House”). It is a simple way of differentiating people. If you are lucky, your nickname comes from your house or your farm name, but sometimes your nickname stems from something rather more personal, such as the shape of your head (“Idris Square Head”), your beard (“Bearded John”) or your habits (“Glyn the Gin”) — which can of course lead to you being given a nickname that might be really rather unsavory!

Generally though, in a close-knit community, people are known by the names of their farms rather than their surnames. Jones, Thomas, Roberts, Williams, Evans and Owen are common surnames in Wales, and especially in the case of farmers it is more important to link people with their family farms than with their surnames.

The man who is the focus of this article is a gentleman of great character called Sam Evans, but everyone knows him as Sam Pennal because Pennal is the Welsh village that he comes from. Ask almost anyone in North Wales who is vaguely connected with tractors if he knows Sam Evans and he might shake his head, but Sam Pennal he will almost certainly know.

Sam Pennal on his own two feet

The son of a Welsh hill shepherd, Sam was born in 1924. For some time he followed in his father’s footsteps, keeping the sheep where they should be on unfenced mountainsides. As one of the oldest professions in the world, shepherding has a certain romance to it, but the truth is that it was a hard life. Sam left school at 14. Two days later he was sent away to work on a large farm in England. Young people weren’t mollycoddled in those days, and Sam reminds me that back then, at 14 years of age, a lad had to stand on his own feet, “no two ways about it.”

Later, Sam returned to his beloved Wales and continued to work on farms, which is where he learned to plough with horses. On a rare day off in 1941, he was walking over the mountains to visit his parents when he saw the most remarkable sight: a Caterpillar D4, ploughing. “It was the first time I had seen anything like it,” Sam recalls, and he was awestruck. “Forget the horses,” he said to himself. “This is what I want to do!”

So in 1943 Sam joined the Meirionnydd branch of the War Agricultural Executive Committee, known as the “War Ag.” Every county had such a committee to determine wartime land usage. The War Ag was responsible for deciding which crops should be grown to feed the struggling, blockaded British Isles, and it also deployed prisoners of war to work on the land. But the committee’s most immediate task was to oversee a plan to increase the arable acreage in Britain.