Set My Hand Upon The Plough by E.M. Barraud

4 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided a copy of this, free of charge, in return for an honest review.

Barraud was stuck in a tiny stuffy room in a house on Ludgate Hill. She had an uninspiring job entering figures in the premium register, and it was only the though of the weekend that got her through the week. She had filled in the form for the National Service and promptly forgot about it.

It was only after she received a letter saying that she had been accepted that her life changed forever. She arranged for a week’s training in her home village beginning on the 4th of September 1939 and she would work on the land in various capacities over the next five years during the war. Every day on the farm she used different muscles and there were some days that she could barely walk. She was taught how to use a tractor, and even though she never considered that she was a tractor driver when she compared  herself to others on the farm, she was obviously competent enough not to break it.

The more I see of the average countryman, the more I am sure his slowness is the slowness of certainty: all his life he has pitted his wits and his strength against nature and his wisdom is fundamental.

I really enjoyed this book. Barraud’s prose has an easygoing quality about it and I found it to be descriptive and insightful about farm and rural life, whether it is breaking ice in the water butts to fill buckets, leading a horse across a field hoeing the weeds or the daily routines of feeding the horses and other animals around the farm.

She gets involved with the local library as a way of giving something back to the local community. It had been shut for two years and she was concerned about stepping on toes, but they were delighted to have her and gain access to the books there. The descriptions of the villagers and some of her thoughts on the books they choose makes for interesting reading.

The contrast between this and All Around The Year by Michael Morpurgo is quite stark. Even though they are only set 30 years apart, the methods that they use to carry out similar tasks is so very different. I thought that it was quite amusing that she thought that if anyone had time to realise that she was inept she never would have lasted. I somehow doubt that she was that bad, but you can see how she had such a steep learning curve.

Her domestic arrangements of living with her partner, Bunty, must have raised a few eyebrows in this conservative rural setting. But if she had faced any prejudice or comments from the others in the village, then she didn’t mention it in this book. It would have been nice to hear more about her, but I think that when this was first published in the 1940s that might have been too much for people to read about!

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Ooh, that looks like a very good one! I know Luke Turner, I worked on his latest book, if he’s the one who wrote about gay servicemen. Onto the Wish List it goes!

    • Paul

      It is the very same Luke Turner. I have met him at the Wainwright Prizes and he is a lovely guy

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