Land Girls

In 2020, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe is being marked around the country.  This exhibition looks at the role of the Women’s Land Army and its members, the Land Girls.

By coincidence, in May 2020 the Prince of Wales talked about needing a new Land Army to help pick the fruit and vegetables that are under threat following the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Beginnings
The Mission 
Women’s work 
Contemporary Portraits
Mrs Hannington
Mrs Shanks
Working lives
Recognition 
Remembrance
Mrs Simpson
Mrs Armstrong
Mrs Aldiss
The first afternoon...
Selected items of Uniform
Selected items of Uniform
Beginnings

Beginnings

 

The British Women’s Land Army was first set up in 1917, towards the end of the First World War.  Recruits worked in agriculture, filling gaps left by men fighting on the Front. 

Lady Gertrude Denham was asked to reform the “WLA” in 1938.  Between June 1939 and November 1950 over 200,000 women took up the challenge and joined the WLA. 


Image Caption: Squash Court at Balcombe Place, Sussex, used as a Women’s Land Army uniform store.  P FS PH1_K26519.

close
The Mission 

The Mission 

“The Land Army fights in the fields.  It is in the fields of Britain that the most critical battle of the present war may well be fought and won.” 

Lady Denham, Director of the WLA 


Image Caption:  Women’s Land Army members stooking Red Standard Wheat, Kent War Agricultural Executive Committee’s farm. P FS PH1_K28879.

close
Women’s work 

Women’s work 

HM Queen Elizabeth was the WLA’s patron, but it was a “Cinderella” service.  Women earned 28 shillings per week, whereas men averaged 38 shillings a week. Money was deducted for board and lodging, on farms or in hostels.  

Women worked 48 hours in winter and 50 in summer.  From 1943 they received one week’s holiday and a fairer minimum wage.  


Image Caption: Women’s Land Army member ploughing out heavy grass land, Buckinghamshire War Agricultural Executive Committee, Oakley. P FS PH1_K26395.

close
Contemporary Portraits

Contemporary Portraits

In 2005, to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, photographer Rory Carnegie was commissioned by the Museum of English Rural Life to create contemporary portraits of members of the Women’s Land Army. 

Around the same time, we were able to build up our collection of artefacts, images and archives relating to the WLA.   


Image Caption: Mrs Macleod (top left), Miss Kift (top right), Miss Dottridge (bottom left), Mrs Stone (bottom right).

(c) Rory Carnegie

close
Mrs Hannington

Mrs Hannington

“When I got to the farm, there was a chap there with three weeks growth of beard, a very elderly man with him, and they were repairing a tractor.  And the farmer said…’Beggared, y’see Ralph. This is the young lady that’s come to ‘elp us on the farm’. And Ralph was his son and this other chap, he doubled up and laughed ‘Ha ha ha’ you know, really outlandish, outrageous really. “


Image Caption: Mrs Hannington

(c) Rory Carnegie

close
Mrs Shanks

Mrs Shanks

…I think it was when we became nineteen, that was the age that we always had to do something…I was going to join the Air Force because I thought the uniform looked nice, you see. But I didn’t have any choice. My father and the farmer he worked for wanted a land girl to replace the farm chappie who was going off to the army.”


Image Caption: Mrs Shanks

(c) Rory Carnegie

close
Working lives

Working lives

“Land Girls” were deployed around the country.  They worked on land reclamation in the Fenlands and elsewhere as “Lumber Jills” in the Timber Corps. 

Some worked alongside POWs and other volunteers bringing in harvests.  Their lives and work is recorded in their monthly journal, “The Land Girl”.  One issue gave advice on disabling a tractor in the event of invasion. 


Image Caption: Women’s Land Army tractor mechanics training at Wye College, Kent. P FS PH1_K21433.

close
Recognition 

Recognition 

In February 1945 Lady Denham, Director of the WLA resigned over the decision to exclude members from post-war financial benefits. When a woman left the WLA following the end of the war she received:  

  • Their last week’s pay 
  • A letter from the Queen thanking them for their efforts 
  • Sometimes some money from the Land Army Benevolent Fund (most of this money came for the Land Girls themselves) 
  • A Greatcoat, but only if dyed blue 
  • An armband 
  • 20 clothing coupons in return for their uniform.  

Image Caption: Women’s Land Army threshing team in Kent. P FS PH1_K24653.

 

close
Remembrance

Remembrance

From 2000 until 2012 the WLA were invited to march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day.  Following some important campaigning it was announced in December 2007 that surviving Land Girls would receive a special veteran’s badge. These badges have been awarded since July 2008. 

In October 2014, HRH the Countess of Wessex unveiled the memorial to the Women’s Land Army and Women’s Timber Corps at the National Memorial Arboretum.


Image Caption: Women’s Land Army Beet Singling Competition, Braintree, Essex, War Agricultural Executive Committee and Felsted Factory. P FS PH1_K26522.

close
Mrs Simpson

Mrs Simpson

I had that [photograph] done privately I think it was for my 21st birthday, as I was away from home and it was to send home to my parents…I did the forestry at first and it must have been a year or more, because I can remember all the different weathers because in the winter it was pretty ghastly…Some days you were sat in there chattering and playing cards.  Not very often though, they used to turf you out! “


Image Caption: Mrs Simpson

(c) Rory Carnegie

close
Mrs Armstrong

Mrs Armstrong

I went home every month. I met a young man with a motorbike and we went home by motorbike. It’s a long way from Chippenham on…a motorbike and when we got near London, I remember we went round a corner and the bike slipped and we both came off… My breeches, (I always put my uniform on to go home because you could get lifts easier,) my bottom was quite wet.”


Image Caption: Mrs Armstrong

(c) Rory Carnegie

close
Mrs Aldiss

Mrs Aldiss

When I first left Reading University, it was the beginning of the war. I went along to the recruiting office and they said I that was already trained. I had been doing the diploma course in dairy… And so, I knew how to milk…I never was actually in the Land Army. I trained Land Army girls from about 1943. I worked on farms myself.”


Image Caption: Mrs Aldiss

(c) Rory Carnegie

close
The first afternoon...

The first afternoon...

“The first afternoon, about 3 o’clock…I had to sit under the biggest cow I’ve ever seen and her name was ‘Roughy’ because she was very, very dark brown and ever such a curly coat.  Well, I struggled for three milkings to try and get the knack, which I couldn’t, and it would have been easier if I’d sat still and the cow jumped up and down, you know?”  – Mrs Hannington.


Image Caption: Members of the Women’s Land Army milking at Carpenders Park Farm, Hertfordshire. P FS PH1_K21983.

close
Selected items of Uniform

Selected items of Uniform

Here are some pieces of uniform donated by past members of the WLA.

This armband belonged to Doreen Thorp. – MERL 88/62

Another “Land Girl”, Lucy Shanks explained to us the significance of the decoration;

“When one first joined the WLA you were given a plain arm band but the longer you served, the bands became more decorated. We were issued with the half diamonds after every 6 months on the land … The County Secretary… suggested sewing them on to the armbands, I seem to remember we made a wider band that we wore on our greatcoat sleeve, a sort of status symbol!!”

This tie belonged to Miss P Genever who served in the WLA from 1942-50. – MERL 96/75

Another “Land Girl”, Lucy Shanks explains its significance:

“The tie was not standard issue but was brought out by the Tootal firm and we liked to wear it as we felt it brightened up our shirts.”

This jumper belonged to Margaret Edmunds, nee Roberts. The proficiency badge pinned to the jumper also belonged to her. Margaret worked at Windsor Great Park on food provision that was sent to hospitals and nursing homes. – MERL 2003/1

These shorts belonged to Doreen Thorp, who made them by cutting down stand issue dungarees. Although they were not strictly part of the authorised uniform for “Land Girls”, shorts were quite popular and worn in hot weather. – MERL 88/50/1

close
Selected items of Uniform

Selected items of Uniform

Here are some pieces of uniform donated by past members of the WLA.

These brown corduroy breeches belonged to Beatrice Clasper. Manufactured by Sternberg and Sons Ltd, they are perhaps the most recognisable of WLA clothing. – MERL 95/4

This regulation coat and WLA armband belonged to Doreen Thorp. She joined the WLA in September 1939. By October she started training at the Midland Agricultural College in poultry, stock and general farm work. – MERL 88/44/1-2

These socks belonged to WLA member, Gwendoline Hayes.

These shoes also belonged to her. Gwendoline enrolled in the WLA in November 1941 and left in March 1946. She was trained in market gardening in Devon and then worked in both Cookham Dean and Wokingham. The shoes also feature in the Thinking Rationally online exhibition. – MERL 2011/43/1-2 & MERL 2011/45/1-2

We are still collecting stories and material about Land Girls. If you would like to contribute or learn more click here.

 

close