30 May 2024

‘She was always a country girl at heart’

by Rebecca Hannant

Tributes have been paid to an Aldbrough woman who was one of the last remaining members of the East Yorkshire Women’s Land Army, after her death at the age of 99.

Muriel Berzins, who was described as “a country girl at heart” was born in 1924 in Villa Place in Hull. Early into her life she experienced the effects of the war on the community.

Her son Andy Berzins recalled: “They got bombed out of their first house. They were out of the house at the time. They had a toilet at the end of their garden and her dad was on the loo at the time this bomb hit – he got a bump on the head and no more. He was quite lucky. They had to move to another house.

“While she was there, she met with her brother in Hull. There was an air raid and her brother mentioned to hide in the pub doorway. She said, ‘No, we should go to the shelter.’ When they came out, the pub was destroyed.”

Midway through the Second World War, 19-year-old Muriel was working at the Jacksons grocers in Beverley Road. One of her friends who was in the Land Army told her and her family the benefits and encouraged her to join.

Muriel then moved to a hostel to live alongside a group of women who worked on the farms. Each day they would be taken to farms across the region and would help them with the jobs that needed doing, from picking sprouts, looking after the animals and cutting back hedges. She did all the jobs available to her while helping to feed the nation. Her son recalled that despite being only 4ft 9in, she was able to carry more than 100kg of potatoes.

Andy added: “It was very hard – they didn’t get a lot of time off. They used to get a couple of travel passes every year where they could go to Edinburgh or London. They all went to London for the VE Day celebrations.”

It was while she was in the Land Army that Muriel met her future partner, a Latvian man named Arvids Berzins. His country had been taken over by the Russians and he ended up walking from Latvia into Lithuania and then Poland. He ended up in Germany, where he was put into a refugee camp. After the camp was liberated by the Allies, he came over to Britain and he was placed into a camp where he worked on the farm.

He later met Muriel and they fell in love, later married and had a family together.

Muriel then became a housewife, looking after her husband and three children. Arvids got work on a farm, but Andy said that the wages were not great, and they had to do what they could to make ends meet. They later moved to Aldbrough, where she spent the rest of her life at the centre of the local community.

Using her farming skills, Muriel would grow fruit and vegetables, bake cakes and bread for the community, and help those in need.

Andy added: “She joined the Women’s Institute and would make things and help. She would sell poppies up until just a few years ago.

“The church was very important to her – she was on the PCC and she used to help with the coffee mornings and the upkeep of the church. She was always very busy. She never seemed to complain.

“She continued to keep in touch with all her friends. Each year the group would dress up in their uniform and go to the war weekend in Pickering. They would march in the street and chat to people about their time in the Land Army. She made some friends while she was there – they were her friends up until they all died. Muriel was the last one of her group left. They stayed together forever.

“She was such an amazing character. Everyone who met her said the same. One of the things
I put in the eulogy was, ‘People who met the Queen would always remember where they met, what circumstances and what they spoke about. Mum had a similar presence.’”

Muriel died peacefully earlier this month at the age of 99. Her funeral took place on March 25 at St Bartholomew’s Church, Aldbrough.