National Geographic : 1944 Jul
Britain Fights in the Fields BY FRANCIS A. FLOOD THE KENT County farmer, who has farmed for three years within range of Hitler's guns across the Strait of Dover, looks up from his plowing, sees the flash, counts 70 seconds, sees the shell land in his field-and keeps on plowing.* "I'd think you'd feel like quitting," I told one farmer after we had counted 53 bomb craters in his fields. He had fenced off some of the holes and farmed around them. He had filled others and farmed over them. It meant extra work either way for his limited labor supply. "Quit?" His answer was instinctive. "Why, we won the battle of this farm." Won it? I looked at his blacked-out barn, at his corrals where he has done his chores for four years in total darkness without even carrying a lantern. Tank traps and Home-Guard trenches cut his fields into small patches with point rows and short turns. They were dotted with poles stuck in the ground every few rods to keep invasion planes from landing, and he had to farm around them by. the hundreds. His cows were scattered in different pens, by order of his county committee, to prevent his herd from being wiped out by one bomb hit. "Sure, we won the battle of this farm. I produced more food here this year than I did before the war. "Besides, figure it out. It cost Hitler more to make those 53 bombs and deliver 'em over here on my farm than the farm is worth. He can't win that way." Perils of Planting Wheat A damaged wheat drill stood in a field. "Yes, they hit us when we were planting this wheat. Killed two horses and cut up the driver and smashed my drill." We walked over the field toward the scar at one end. "But I fixed the drill in a blacked-out barn that night and finished planting the field next day. Wheat looks good, too, doesn't it? Yes, things like that are a nuisance, but we can't let them inter fere, you know. No, that scar there is not where they hit my drill; that's what's left of a Stuka. "You see, the RAF fields are so thick around here." He grinned. "We just farm the strips between the landing fields. When Jerry misses the airfields he hits our farms, and that doesn't do so much damage. So our farms here serve just to catch the bombs. "And then when we produce more food than we did before the war besides, that's licking him twice in the same place. Won this battle? Why, man, it's right here that we won this war!" Churchill gave the British farmers their assignment as a war task force when he made his historic challenge after Dunkirk. Then Britain stood alone against the Axis, and in vasion seemed inevitable: "We shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets, and on the hills. We shall never surrender." The British farmers' 70-percent increase in food production above their prewar level, in the face of their wartime farming difficulties, is their answer to Churchill's challenge to fight in the fields. Farmers Rank with War Heroes There are many in England today who rate British farmers along with the RAF, "the Rats of Tobruk," and the veterans of Montgomery's Eighth Army as the real heroes of this war. The story of their fight in the fields is an im portant chapter in the history of the war. Over 120,000 bombs, in addition to in cendiaries, were dropped by the Germans in Kent and Sussex Counties alone in one year.t I was on a Sussex farm from which the owner told me he had hauled 500 incendiaries in cartloads one morning. German planes shot down on Kent and Sussex farms have been numbered by the hundreds. "But here on the White Cliffs of Dover (page 58), of course, farm production must have fallen off since the war began," I said to the Kent County Farm Committee chair man. "You've lost land to airfields, tank maneuver grounds, army camps, and fortifi cations. You've been bombed from the air and shelled from the guns across the Strait. You're short of labor. You're short of ma chinery and fertilizers. But how much has it fallen off?" The county chairman looked up the figures. "In 1930 this County had 250,000 acres under the plow. By 1942 it was more than 380,000." In total, wartime Britain has increased its plowed acres by more than 50 percent above the prewar level and its food production by * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Dover, Front-line Town of Britain's Siege," by Har vey Klemmer, January, 1944, and "Charm Spots along England's Harassed Coast," 16 illustrations, August, 1940. t See "Penn Country in Sussex," by Col. P. T. Etherton, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1935.