Another lovely article by Debbie James in Wales Farmer.
Article by Debbie James, please click here to link to the online article with images.
Back in the day, when the Milk Marketing Board brokered the first football sponsorship deal and the Milk Race was the most prestigious cycling event in the British calendar, a farmer’s daughter from Pembrokeshire was working hard to promote the dairy industry.
Mary Roberts, or Mary Llewellin as she was then, was crowned Dairy Queen for a year.
That was 50 years ago but her year as ambassador for the British dairy industry remains fresh in her mind, largely thanks to the vast collection of newspaper cuttings and photographs she acquired during her year in office.
Those memories have mostly been tucked away in scrapbooks and photo albums, at Lamboro Farm, Clarbeston Road, the dairy farm where Mary grew up and later farmed with her husband, Robert, and at nearby Willow Mill, where she and Graham retired to in 2009.
But, despite the challenges of living with Parkinson’s disease and losing Graham to cancer in 2014, Mary was keen to document her experiences of farming and her year as Dairy Queen for her children and grandchildren to enjoy.
That memoir has now reached beyond the family circle as the book is on sale at several retail outlets in Pembrokeshire.
‘Cows and Crowns’ takes the reader through Mary’s childhood years at Lamboro, a time when cows were milked by hand and the churns were transported to the end of the farm lane in a horse and trap for collection, through to 1965, the year when she was crowned Dairy Queen by the National Milk Publicity Council.
It was a huge honour because she had been selected from 6,000 competitors to represent and publicise the dairy industry. “It gave me a great insight into the dairy industry that was our livelihood,’’ says Mary.
“One reason I decided to put pen to paper about my experiences is that our children and grandchildren knew ‘Nanna’ had been Dairy Queen but didn’t know what it entailed. They were interested to know what it was all about.
“Writing doesn’t come naturally to me as I have doubts about my grammar and lack of confidence when I try to get things written down. It makes everything seem to final but I decided to give it a go.’’
Mary was one of seven children and the book is packed with anecdotes of those golden times on the farm. There was plenty of mischief too, including the time when Mary painted her siblings faces with waste tractor oil. “There was a huge hoo-ha trying to remove the oil and the only way to get it off was with butter rubbed gently all over their faces,’’ Mary reminisces.
Then there was the day a sow ate her favourite doll, named after a friend from Sunday School.
Fortune shone on the family when Mary’s father won £2,862 on the Football Pools. “A fortune in those days so we had our first car, a Morris Minor shooting brake, pale blue with wooden trims all round it.
“Before we had the car we would walk the two miles to Wiston church, sometimes carrying our younger siblings, and arrive just as the bell wasringing. Now we were getting to school in good time and with less mud on our shoes.’’
In 1965, the year of her 21st birthday, Mary, who was a leading figure in the YFC movement, entered the Dairy Queen competition. Among the judges were the Duke and Duchess of Bedford and it was the Duke who placed the winner’s crown on Mary’s head. Her prize included £100 and six dresses and, as well as a busy publicity schedule in the UK, she travelled to Canada and the USA promoting milk.
“I hadn’t been able to contact anyone about what time I was arriving in Clarbeston Road station on the Wednesday after the competition so I was overwhelmed when there was a great big sign welcoming me home. Everyone was very excited for me,’’ says Mary.
She visited all corners of the UK, notching up an astounding 70,000 in England and Wales alone.
Mary recalls her year in office was “exciting, glamourous, exhausting and full of contrasts’’.
“It was a sudden change in my life, one day the slow steady pace of farm life, next the dashing from one place to another for public engagements.’’
‘Cows and Crowns: Memoirs of a Dairy Queen’ is available to buy at The Victoria Bookshop, Haverfordwest, Brooklyn Stores, Clarbeston Road, The Welsh Farmhouse Company, Narberth, and Camrose Country Hardware.
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