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Women's Land Army - A Brief History

Updated on November 10, 2014

The Women’s Land Army (WLA) existed in England, Scotland and Wales from 1939 until 1950. A previous women’s land army had existed during World War I. The WLA was created to provide agricultural help to farms that had lost many of their male farm hands who were fighting in World War II and to provide extra food for a county that relied on many food imports.

The WLA was initially a voluntary organization but became mandatory in 1941 through conscription, giving those women the choice of entering the armed forces or working on farms or in other industries. Initially, only single women and widows between the ages of 20 and 30 were drafted, but later it expanded to include women between 19 and 43. However, there are many stories of women in the Land Army who were 17 and 18.

Source

80,000 Strong

There were over 80,000 women in the Land Army by 1943. After 1942, there was a separate Timber Corps (or Lumber Jills) who helped in sawmills or worked as wood cutters. The WLA members were known colloquially as Land Girls.

The pay was 1.85 pounds for 50 hours of work per week. It was increased to 2.85 pounds in 1944. The women didn’t necessarily always receive all of the pay because it was paid to the farmer first. They had to rely on the honesty of their employer. The women either lived on the farm or in dormitories.

According to the BBC WW2 People’s War archive the WLA uniform consisted of “green jumpers, brown breeches or dungarees, brown felt hats and khaki overcoats.” However, it was the woman’s choice whether or not she wanted to wear a uniform. Each WLA member did get a badge, with a wheat sheaf on it. They also had a magazine called “The Land Girl” and a song.

The head of the WLA was Lady Denham and her home in Sussex became the WLA headquarters.

Hard Work

The hours were long, the work was very physically demanding and the pay was low, but for many of the Land Girls their time in the WLA was one of the best times of their lives. Many made life-long friends and many others met their future husbands while working together on the farms. German and Italian prisoners of war were forced to work on farms often closely with the WLA women; there are several stories of marriage between a Land Girl and a former prisoner of war.

Many farmers were against having the Land Girls working on their farms initially as they thought women could not handle the hard work and the long hours. They were proven wrong and by the time the war ended the women had earned a new respect amongst British farmers and farm organizations. This was an early part of the long journey for all women to be treated equally in a work place originally thought to be the domain of men, a journey that is still ongoing today.

Recognition

Former members of the Women’s Land Army were honoured with a special commemorative badge in 2008. They were honoured for the part they played in Britain’s wartime effort, a recognition that was long over due. Over 30,000 former WLA members received the honour.

Personal Interest

My interest in the Women’s Land Army came from the fact that my mother was a member. She worked on a farm in Scotland. She often told me that her working conditions were bad and that she actually had to sleep in the barn. Sadly, she did not live long enough to see the Land Girls get the recognition of being important veterans of the war effort. Children can get the special commemorative badge but the parent had to have died after 2007. My mother died in 1998.

I would love to hear from people who served in the Women's Land Army during World War II or whose mothers, aunts, and grandmothers served. Please share your memories below in the comments field.

Source

Comments

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  • Mike Robbers profile image

    Mike Robbers 

    5 years ago from London

    This is an engaging and enlightening look into the impact WWI had on the working lives of brave, incredible women. Shared and voted up!

  • bgpappa profile image

    bgpappa 

    6 years ago from Sacramento, California

    Great article about a too often forgotten effort. Really enjoyed it.

  • JamaGenee profile image

    Joanna McKenna 

    6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Great hub, Susan! Author Anthony Horowitz featured the WLA in the episode of "Foyle's War" called "They Served In The Fields".

    As for the bias against women in the war effort, many U.S. Air Force pilots and Army soldiers bought into the myth that ammunition and planes would be jinxed if so much as touched by a female for any reason. Therefore, it remained something of a secret until after the war that women had not only built the planes those pilots flew against the Germans, but the bombs themselves. And since women built them all, only fate could be blamed if a plane was shot down or a bomb malfunctioned, because the majority did not.

    Being a "Rosie the Riveter" was the first taste of equality in the workplace for American women, and many did not take kindly to being sent back to the kitchen and nursery when the men came home from the war.

    One of my aunts worked in a munitions plant in Kansas, but far as I know, never talked about it.

  • Uninvited Writer profile imageAUTHOR

    Susan Keeping 

    6 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

    Sadly, I don't have any pictures of my mother's time in the Land Army.

  • profile image

    vero01 

    6 years ago

    My mother served in the Land Army at Swalcliff Banbury has anyone got any old photos?

  • LauraGT profile image

    LauraGT 

    6 years ago from MA

    Nice hub on an interesting and not much talked about topic.

  • GoodLady profile image

    Penelope Hart 

    6 years ago from Rome, Italy

    My mother was in the Land Army and I must ask her where. I think it was Shropshire. She had a wonderful time and through dating a man she knew there, she met his friend my Dad. They married, had 7 children, rarely spoke of their war experiences - except Mum always looks dreamy when she mentions her time in the Land Army.

    Really nice Hub. Thanks. Voting up.

  • profile image

    Elizabeth Patrick 

    7 years ago

    My mother-in-law was in the land army. She lived in Sussex before the bombing. She came over as a war bride on the ship Aquatania. It would give us great pleasure if she were to receive the Honor Badge. If possible. She is 88 now but she could tell us some stories.

    Thank you.

  • Uninvited Writer profile imageAUTHOR

    Susan Keeping 

    7 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

    Thanks for dropping by. Women definitely pick up the slack.

  • Ginn Navarre profile image

    Ginn Navarre 

    7 years ago

    Enjoyed this very much. Our history showes us that women have always been the ones to step up and fill the voids and we will continue.

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