Pigs might not fly but they certainly caused confusion on the runway at the South Marston airfield, built in 1940 to serve an aircraft factory on the same site. One persistent escapee proved to be a large sow who managed to lift a heavy iron barred gate with her snout. But catching pigs was probably one of the more unusual jobs former Land Army girl Monica Tovey found herself doing.
In 1943 Monica joined six other Land Army girls at a farm in South Marston. She explains that the girls only knew the farm as Owl’s Roost, the name of a nearby cottage, which lent its name to the farm during this time to avoid identification in the event of invasion.
Hunt's Copse Farmhouse, South Marston dates from around 1700 and was once at the centre of 370 acres farmed by Charles Pinniger.
Charles took over the tenancy from his father William and in 1861 he lived in the stone built farmhouse with his wife Harriet, their seven children and an assortment of servants. Charles employed 13 men and three boys and living at the farmhouse on census night were Elizabeth Bridges 17, a dairy girl, William Yeates 16, a cow man and Charlotte N. Piper, a twenty year old governess.
“Another track known as Green Lane, or Gipsy Lane, branches off and conducts you through the fields and under a magnificent avenue of elms till you strike the main road opposite Kingsdown,” Alfred Williams, Swindon’s Hammerman poet, writes in his book ‘A Wiltshire Village’ published in 1912, as he takes the reader on a virtual walk through South Marston. “A footpath brings you past Hunt’s Copse Farm and Broadmoor into the road leading through dense lines of beech to the pretty village of Stanton Fitzwarren.” He describes the South Marston farms, including Hunt’s Copse, as picturesquely situated and rich in timber, pasture and corn land.
In 1943 fifteen year old Monica was already doing her bit for the war effort and was working as an assembly worker at the South Marston aircraft factory, a job she found repetitive and boring and decided she would much rather be a Land Army girl.
The minimum age for Land Army recruits was eighteen, but as Monica was already employed in war work a simple sidestep saw her move from the factory to the farm. While all the other women were employed by the farms on which they served, Monica reveals she was the only one to be employed by an aircraft factory.
“It was very hard work,” she said. “With double British summer time in practise the working day could go on to 10 o’clock at night.” The average working week was 48 hours in winter and 52 in summer.
Today the Grade II listed building is surrounded by factories and offices. The garden and orchard behind the magnificent farmhouse have been carefully preserved, but sadly Hunt’s Copse farming days are now long over.