“ON the farm where I worked, there were five Land Army girls and four of them found romance – including one with me,” says Tom Elder, of Sacriston. “I wonder if this is a record.”

Tom grew up on the land at Newbiggin-in-Teesdale where his parents ran an extraordinary socialist scheme called Fairfield Acres, named after the Christian academic at Cambridge University who had helped fund it. Some acres of land had been bought, wooden huts from the First World War Belgian munitions factory at Birtley had been erected, and workless County Durham families had been moved in to grow produce.

Fairfield Acres became a noted gathering point for Communists and Quakers who were against the Second World War. It was successful agriculturally until a run of poor harvests caused it to close in 1943 and Tom was sent to Southill Hall Farm, near Plawsworth, between Durham and Chester-le-Street.

The hall is a grand building, designed in 1821 by Newcastle architect John Dobson for banker Thomas Fenwick. Now it is judge’s lodgings; when Tom arrived, it was the home of Sir Frank Nicholson, the managing director of Vaux brewery.

The Land Army girls were based in a hostel in the Cookson pub in Chester-le-Street, and had to get a bus and then take a long walk to get to work every day.

“I was going with another girl full time when I saw this new girl walk down the field,” remembers Tom, now 97. “Something just hit me. It sounds daft, but it was like a bolt from the blue.”

Tom and Terri – full name Henrietta Therese Aloysius Hargreave, from a good Catholic family in Sunderland – worked together for about four years until the Women’s Land Army was stood down in 1948.

“Eight years later, I had a new job selling tractors and I was driving through Sunderland when I suddenly thought I must find Terri again,” he remembers. “I went searching for her street, but I couldn’t remember the number, so asked at an off licence and they said it’s two doors away. I knocked, asked if she was married, ‘what, our Terri?’ they replied, and I was invited in, and I waited until she came in at five o’clock and she just stood there, looking at me, as if to say ‘you’re late – where have you been’.

“We were married two years later.”

So Terri was the last of four of the five Southill Land Army girls to marry. Cissie Morris married the farm foreman, Peggy Kennedy married a farm lad and Sadie Bell married the brother of another farmhand. Only Doris Kelly did not find her match.

“The thing is they never got any recognition until Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and it was too late for Terri,” says Tom. “She had Alzheimers and was lying in a hospital bed when we got a letter from the council inviting us for a Land Army get-together. I was in a bad temper when I wrote the reply, because for most of them it was too late – she was 82 and one of the youngest.”

A fortnight ago, we used Joan Birtle’s autograph book to tell of the Women’s Land Army hostel at Sadberge beside the A66 where 80 girls were stationed from 1943 to 1948 to work on the farms between Darlington and Stockton.

One of the farms they cycled out to was Town Farm which was then in the centre of Bishopton, near Stillington. Now a little housing estate, called Town Farm Close, is on its farmyard.

During the war, Tom Lowther, 90, and now of Darlington, got his first job on the farm where there was a Case Model C tractor, registration FT5095, which a few years earlier had killed the farmer, Mr Twizell.

The Case Model C had an exterior clutch at the rear which allowed someone outside the tractor to move it. It was meant to enable a farmer to manoeuvre the tractor so that he could hook on his plough. However, Mr Twizell was standing between the tractor and the implement, and when he moved the tractor back, he slipped and was crushed to death.

It was the same tractor that the Land Army girls used in their work.

“I remember my first job working with Betty and Joan from Sadberge,” says Tom. “We were harvesting the corn, and Betty was driving the tractor – she had to lead the corn to the stackyard in Bishopton.”

The trailer that was attached to FT5095 was a former horsedrawn dray that had had corn rails, or greedy bars, added to its side to increase its capacity.

“It didn’t have pneumatic tyres, it had wooden wheels with iron tyres, and Betty was driving the tractor in the field near the reservoir between Bishopton and Redmarshall,” says Tom. “She got to a place where the grass was soft and the wagon sank down until she was skidding.”

In her bid to escape, Betty managed to jack-knife the tractor so that it formed a right angle with the trailer. She then got up off her seat to try to disengage the rear clutch and the trailer, but at that moment the trailer toppled over…

“The corn rails crashed into the seat where she had been sitting – if she had been on it, she would have been killed instantly,” says Tom, whose respect for the Land Army girls was increased by the incident.

“So the clutch saved her life whereas unfortunately Mr Twizell had lost his life because of it.”