Women of WW2-Land Girls

Poster for the Women's Land Army - usually referred to as 'Land Girls'
Poster for the Women's Land Army - usually referred to as 'Land Girls'

Why Were They Called Land Girls?

The Land Girls when known by their official name were called the WLA (Women's Land Army) but they are rarely known by that name. Most people remember them as 'Land Girls' - fresh-faced, hard working women who served their country in agriculture in both World War I and World War 2.

The British government knew that their involvement in World War 2 was inevitable and faced with the possibility of being isolated, they knew that Britain would need to produce more of its own food.

That and the need to send men working on farms off to serve their country in the military led to the reformation of the Women's Land Army, thereafter usually called The Land Girls in June 1939.

Lady Denham became the honorary head of the Land Girls but it was probably the one organisation which needed little in the way of organisation, having already worked so well in World War One.

It needs to be acknowledged that many of those who served in the Land Girls were already farm girls or already lived out in the countryside. Only about one third of its membership came from the cities, but they were a significant number.

Ther job of the land girls was to slot into the jobs traditionally done by men on the farms.

The Women's Land Army also had successful counterparts in the USA and Australia. They were also lovingly called Land Girls there as well.

Land Girls on a tractor
Land Girls on a tractor
Land Girls holding dead rats
Land Girls holding dead rats

Land Girls - Unglamorous Work

There is a school of thought that suggests that becoming a land girl was an opportunity to strike out alone.

For the vast majority of those who came from the cities, it was their first time to be away from home but this came with its own challenges.

Unlike the WAAF or WRNS, the Land Girls were ordinary girls with no affiliation to military organisations like the Navy, Army or RAF.

In spite of not being a military organisation, they were issued with a uniform comprising 2 short sleeved shirts, 1 pullover, 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair of shoes , 1 pair of overalls, 1 hat, wellington boots and a mackintosh. It is clear that it was mainly put together for the outdoors and they were even issued with a tie!

For those land girls new to being away from home, it offered an opportunity for some adventure but it didn't necessarily follow that that's what they would get.

When the land girls left cities like Manchester, London and Newcastle they were often billeted with families in the villages. This meant that they lived with a family for the whole stay in the countryside, often only seeing their workmates at work.

With houses often far away from their closest neighbours, the land girls were lonely and isolated. Home sickness was a regular complaint and they relied on letters from their families and the camaraderie they got at work to sustain their wellbeing.

It needs to also be added that not all of the British country folk wanted these young women from the city in their villages - they felt that they were an unwanted influence and more of a hindrance than a help on the land.

In time though, the villagers in the countryside came to appreciate the huge contribution made by the land girls.

All evidence suggests that they were very much a core part of keeping British farms turning out food for the general public. Men had to go to war, women stepped in.

Baling hay
Baling hay

Land Girls Learning to Be Farmers

Land Girls living in billets were often closer to the farms but even then, they sometimes had a two or three mile walk or trap ride to the farm wrapped up warm for their early morning job of milking cows.

They received breakfast after that and then set to work in the fields threshing crops.

They learned how to drive tractors and at harvest times, September and October in the UK, they were responsible for emptying the threshing machines, a dirty, unpleasant job.

Leand girls learnt to tie their trousers up with lengths of string to keep out frightened field mice escaping the thresher blades.

At the end of the day, the girls were exhausted. They returned to their billets to be fed and were permitted to have a bath (often in a tin bath) of 5 inches of hot water.

Yet, notice many of the photographs found on the internet show girls smiling - they're even smiling holding dead rats! Maybe the camaraderie was what kept the land girls going.

Those billeted together in a hostel had the opportunity to have a social life, this was not really able to be taken up by land girls billeted in local villages with families.

For a wonderful first person account of working as a Land Girl, visit Emily Braidwood's account at the BBC's World War Two site.

Womens Timber Corps
Womens Timber Corps

Land Girls - Animal Husbandry

Land Girls may well have been an unwanted part of country life for some but their work rate was admired by everyone with whom they worked.

As well as milking cows and doing jobs like fruit picking, vegetable picking and harvesting crops, land girls also had to care for animals on the farm.

Some land girls from the city had not ever seen a cow or a bull and struggled to tell the difference between them; they also feared these enormous beasts. But they were not allowed to opt out of any jobs. Afterall, they were supposed to be replacing men on the farm so it was only right that they did all of the jobs that the men would normally carry out.

Land girls cared for cows but also did a lot of the work with pigs on the farm, basically feeding them and caring for them from birth to slaughter. Pigs were an important food source in Britain and the work with pigs had to be carried out properly.

The land girls also cared for sheep during lambing - a job which was probably more enjoyable as it often involved a 'mothering' type of role where baby lambs were given their first milk from bottles given by the land girls.

The Land Girls were also closely tied to another organisation, the WTC (Women's Timber Corps) who were responsible for replacing men working in forestry. Their work was also civilian in nature - they were not connected with any military organisation but like the Land Girls, they worked very, very hard for their country - not shirking any task.

Australian Land Girls
Australian Land Girls | Source

American Land Girls & Australian Land Girls

The British Land Girls proved that a non-military team of women could be organised to carry out invaluable work.

The land girls in Britain were paid a shilling a week to do some back breaking work in really difficult conditions - away from their families and friends, the work became the most important part of their lives.

That was why they did it - not for themselves but for the honour of saying they were working hard for their country.

It was not long before other countries looked to their example and found ways to emulate their work.

The formation of the Women's Land Army of America in 1943 was American women's opportunity to fill the boots of farm workers in their own country. Wikipedia informs us that in Oregon alone, there were some 135,000 land girls working the farms. Even Mexico worked with the USA to produce more food for the country.

The Battle of the Atlantic was one of the main causes of the formation of the Women's Land Army on both sides of the Atlantic with terrible loss of life on a number of Merchant Navy ships - this meant that cargo never got to its destination - devastating when trying to feed civilians.

The Australian Women's Land Army formed in 1942, also covering the vast farmland of Queensland, filling the roles of the many Australian men who had come to fight in Europe and Africa.

Land Girls Popularity Even Now

It is a strange phenomenon, the prevalence of Land Girls in popular culture. We have not seen the WAAF, WRNS, ATS or any other organisation come in for the kind of scrutiny that the Land Girls did. This is probably to do with the fact that they were city girls moving to the country to work.

Out of their elements, they created 'otherness' in their lives and people wanted to be part of their experience; to learn what it meant to do real men's work, to watch this 'hero's journey' at close quarters.

Land Girls started their work as homesick teenagers but grew into their roles and came to understand the sacrifice they were making and the importance of the work they were undertaking.

The position of Land Girls in popular culture remains even today- people love these life changing experiences and is there anything better than scenery set in the countryside?

I'm not being cynical, it is true - we love the 'different' and there was nothing more different than the experiences of these wonderful Land Girls, another group of women in World War Two who made a huge contribution to the war effort, both in Britain and abroad.

Thanks so much for reading.

More by this Author


Women of World War Two-The Land Girls Comments 50 comments

wendy 3 years ago

i think the plot of this is well out written and is the best thing ive ever read or seen! i would like to know more about the land girls.


Randall 3 years ago

awesome


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

nanderson, thanks for your comment. There was a movie made about them too, 'Land Girls' starring Anna Friel.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Michelle, many thanks for your comment. They certainly were a hard working bunch of girls.


nanderson500 profile image

nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

Interesting, I was only vaguely familiar with this subject. Voted up and interesting.


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

These ladies led such active lives and showed positivity in the midst of war. A great share on a couple of great ladies! Am sharing and tweeting.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mary, many thanks for reading; they certainly inspired me.


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I enjoyed reading this even though I have never heard of these women. I do remember WWII though.

I voted this Hub UP, etc.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Thomas, many thanks for the visit and the comment. Rosie the Riveter is my next hub!


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

jools99,

Although I was well aware of the role "Rosie the Riveter" played in the war effort, I was completely unaware of the contribution of these ladies on either side of the Atlantic. This is an awesome story that you have told very well.

Thanks,

Thomas


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Audrey, many thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, I appreciate it.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

UninvitedWriter, many thanks for your comment - I will check out your hub later today. It must have been great to have such a close relative involved in this organisation - they did an amazing job.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Alecia, many thanks for your comment - I would like to do a hub on Rosie the Riveter, America's most iconic woman of WW2.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

Wow--great hub and cool pictures!


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 4 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

I wrote a hub about this a while ago...a short history. My mother was a land girl in Scotland during WWII. I've shared this on my Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/awomanslifeswork


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

Up until this point I had only heard about factory women. This hub has a lot of interesting information. But it's definitely cool that women in the war had an active role serving their country. Cool hub!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

teaches12345 and travmaj, thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your comments. I appreciate it :o)


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

What a great story on these women who supported the war efforts with their "backstage" effort. These were women of character and strength! Great write up and history lesson. voted up.


travmaj profile image

travmaj 4 years ago from australia

I loved this - I recall my sister desperate to be a Land Army Girl in the Uk. The war was over before she had the chance - ahhh thanks brought back many memories.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

old albion, many thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I would love to have had a conversation with a real land girl.


old albion profile image

old albion 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi Jools. My compliments on a first class hub. As always your research is first class and informative. You offer such a wide range of information as well. My mother in law was a land girl, she's gone now but she would have loved to have read your hub.

Voted up and all.

Graham.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

rcrumple, Hee Hee, yes women in tractors seems like a strange proposition but you know, if you see any old videos of them, they did quite well. I'm sure they were happier feeding the lambs but everybody probably wanted to at least 'try' the tractor :o)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Gypsy, many thanks for your comment. If it hadn't been for their contribution, Britain would have struggled to feed its people.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Loveme...., many thanks for your comment - so glad you liked this hub and yes, these women have a thing or two to teach us.


rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

Again, you have provided an enlightenment.

(You must understand, I am seriously restraining myself from commenting on a comparison concerning an old stereotype about women drivers, especially since tractors have entered the pictures.)

Perhaps, the townspeople were not honestly upset that women were coming to assist. It may have simply been that any "city folk" didn't know a hill of beans about farming, and would be more of a nuisance than assistance! Great Hub once again!


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Thanks for this interesting and wonderful hub. Voted up. Hadn't heard about the Land Girls. Great tribute to these great and amazingly hard working women. Passing this on.


Lovelovemeloveme profile image

Lovelovemeloveme 4 years ago from Cindee's Land

Very interesting. The contribution of these women are amazing. Although women did not go out to battle, our efforts and hard work, intelligence and sacrifices were no less. thanks for the hub.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mohan, thanks for your comment - I saw the Land Girls movie and series and they did a decent job I suppose. The directors managed to mix the work in with a bit if romance to make it more watchable. I suspect the reality was not quite so romantic :o)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Barbara, many thanks for your comment - yup, they were a pretty fearless, hardworking force in all of the Allied countries.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Audrey, thanks so much for your comment and share, I appreciate it. Researching these hubs has been such an eye opener, I am humbled by what these girls did. I can't even imagine this kind of sacrifice.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Keith, thanks for your comment - the Land Girls were often referred to as an 'invisible army' because they were hidden away in rural areas. They did the work of men though often working from 5am in the morning until dusk - they must have been exhausted.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

Really interesting history of the Land \girls \julie. These tales of hard work among adversity that kept the war effort ad the country standing needs to be remembered and reflected on. Far too often we take what we have for grated and many of the successive generations hardly know the struggles that have led to their independence and prosperity. A truly engaging history. I remember the BBC TV series of the same name and learnt much about the history of Land Girls through it albeit fictionalised storylines. voted up!


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 4 years ago

Another Wonderful and Inspiring Hub, Jools. Makes me proud to be a Woman, but Humble around these Terrific Women of WW two. What true American Spirit they showed, in our Countries time of Need.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

This is such a good tribute to the women of world war two. It gives us all something to think about and remember. I doubt that most of us even knew about these hard-working and courageous women. I really like this Jools and thank you for your hub. Voted up and across (not funny.) Will share as well.


KDuBarry03 4 years ago

Very insightful and informative! I have never even heard of Land Girls up until I read this hub. Excellent job! it is great to see such organizations and cultural propaganda like these taking a positive effect on our history and during our current times :)

Voted up and sharing!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Josh, thanks so much for the visit and the lovely comment - I have really enjoyed writing these hubs.


josh3418 profile image

josh3418 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

Julie,

Another awesome tribute Julie to the woman of war. This one was really interesting, I didn't know anything about these Land Girls. From what I have read, they definitely deserve the tribute. And, you did a great job with it! Thanks Julie!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

xstatic, many thanks for stopping by again and leaving such a kind comment. These hubs are not receiving many views but are personal favourites of the hubs I have written - I appreciate your support.


xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

Another great and informative Hub about a part of the war effort that I had not heard of even here in the US. Up & awsesome !


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

joanveronica, Hi! So glad you liked this. It is always nice to receive positive feedback. I appreciate it :o)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bill, I like the idea of it but Britain tried something a bit like this in the 80s under Mrs Thatcher called YTS Schemes. It certainly got teenagers into work then when we had 3 million unemployed but they got paid nect to nothing, it was like slave labour. I personally favour conscription again, we should all have to do military national service - and the sort of work the Land Girls did could be part of this - infrastructure and civic improvements.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Dwachira, many thanks for dropping by to read :o)


joanveronica profile image

joanveronica 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

Hi, I enjoyed this read very much! I felt it was written with feeling and sensitivity for the realities these women faced. Voted up, awesome, beautiful(ly written) and interesting! Good job!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I love it Julie! I am convinced that the U.S. needs to go back to programs like this and others that were instituted during the Great Depression and WWII....put people to work....give them some pride back.....wonderful hub.


dwachira profile image

dwachira 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

I enjoyed reading all the information here. Thanks. Voted up.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Thanks Jools - my WW1 hubs aren't snowed under with views either!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

jainismus - many thanks, as always for your kind comment, I appreciate it.


jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 years ago from Pune, India

Interesting information.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

And I will put your link here if that's ok? Thanks for your comment Judi, I appreciate it. These WW2 hubs are not viewed very much but I have loved writing them :o)


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Interesting hub Jools - I'll put a link into my hub about women in WW1 - it's got a bit about the WW1 land girls - if that's OK with you.

Voted up etc.

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