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All Nations

Ruth GoodmanI was flicking through some back issues of Farmers Weekly today and came across an image of a line of Indian Troops armed with scythes.

The men, in turbans and uniforms suitable for the heat of the subcontinent, found themselves pressed into action in the fields of England between actions of a more military kind.

The picture was such a strong reminder of the vast geographical and cultural mixing that the war produced.

I felt how good it was to be reminded just how many people, from all across the globe stood shoulder to shoulder with us in our hour of need. And not just in the fighting itself.

Most of us are I hope familiar with the fact that troops from all over the empire and commonwealth did their bit, that Australians and New Zealanders, Indians and West Indians, Canadians and Africans were an integral and vital part of our armed forces and that our allies included Americans, and Poles fighting from our own shores.

Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the four corners of the world passed through our ports and camps.

A little less well known are the civilians who came to help. Over 30,000 people came from the Caribbean for example to help run the factories of Britain.

What must it have been like to stand in the British countryside and watch this great procession of people coming through?

The great cities of Britain had long had a degree of multiculturalism, but this was on an unprecedented scale, and not confined to the ports and other traditional settlement areas, this was everywhere.

What must those Sikh men have made of an English wheat field and what did the farmers make of them as they worked alongside.

Prejudices must have come to the fore, and just as often have broken down in the face of real people.

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