Orwell Diaries 1938-1942


A day or two ago a couple of lorries belonging to the Navy arrived with a party of Wrens [1] and sailors who put in several hours work weeding out the turnips in Mr. Phillips’s [2] field. All the village women delighted by the appearance of the sailors in their blue trousers and white singlets. “Don’t they look clean, like! I like sailors. They always look so clean”. [The sailors and Wrens also seemed to enjoy their outing and drinks in the pub afterwards. It appeared that they belonged to some volunteer organisation which sends workers out as they are needed] Mrs Phillips explains it: “It’s the voluntary organisation from Malvern. [3] Sometimes it’s A.Ts [4] they send and sometimes sailors. Of course we like having them. Well, it makes you a bit independent of your own work-people you see. The work-people, they’re awful nowadays. Just do so much and no more. [they know you can’t do without them, you see. And you can’t get a woman to do a bit indoors nowadays. The girls won’t stay here, with no picture-house in the village. I do have a woman who comes in, but I can’t get any work out of her.] It helps a bit when you get a few voluntary workers. Makes you more independent, like”.

How right and proper it all is [when you consider how necessary it is that agricultural work should not be neglected, and how right and proper also that town people should get a bit of contact with the soil.] Yet these voluntary organisations, plus the work done by soldiers in the hay-making etc., and the Italian prisoners, re simply blackleg labour.

The Government wins at Salisbury. Hipwell, [5] the editor of Reveille, was the Independent candidate. Wherever this mountebank stands the Government wins automatically. How grateful they must be to him, if indeed they aren’t actually paying him to do it.

The “Blue bell” again shut for lack of beer. Quite serious boozing for 4 or 5 days of the week, then drought. [Sometimes, however, when they are shut the local officers are to be seen drinking in a private room, the common soldiers as well as the labourers being shut out. The “Red Lion” in the next village, goes on a different system which the proprietor explains to me: “I don’t hold with giving it all to the summer visitors. If beer’s short, let the locals come first, I say. A lot of days I keep the pub door shut, and then only the locals now the way in at the back. A man that’s working in the fields needs his beer, ‘specially with the food they got to eat nowadays. But I rations ‘em. I says to ‘em, ‘Now look here, you want your beer regular, don’t you? Wouldn’t you rather have a pint with your dinner every day than four pints one day and three the next?’ Same with the soldiers. I don’t like to refuse beer to a soldier, but I only lets ‘em have a pint their first drink. After that it’s ‘Half pints only, boys’. Like that it gets shared out a bit.”].

[1] Women’s Royal Navy Service.

[2] Presumably the farmer at whose farm Orwell was staying. There is no indication as to whether Eileen was able to get leave at the same time as her husband.

[3] Malvern, far inland, might seem an unlikely setting for a naval establishment, but a radar research base and an initial training unit were sited there.

[4] Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s army service, now the WRAC, Women’s Royal army Corps.

[5] W.R. Hipwell.