While the men fought for Britain overseas, the women kept the country afloat back home
During the First World War, in order to free men up for the front, the British government created the Women's Land Army, an organisation that took women from cities out into the countryside in order to provide agricultural labour to keep food on the nation's tables. In June 1939, the Women's Land Army was revived. With war with Germany being a distinct possibility, the government wanted to be prepared for a variety of situations, including men leaving the land for the front and German blockades of British ports creating food shortages.
The Land Girls at Work
A Land Girl, Joan Coleman, who used to be a city typist, with a forkful of Mangold Wurtzels working on a farm during the Second World War
Land Girls, Mrs. Gosden, Miss Peggy Rose and Miss Ivy Baldwin, with a horse and hay cart farming on a farm in Tooting during the Second World War
Two women at the Cheshire School of Agriculture pictured carrying milk pails to the dairy. Here, Women's Land Army volunteers learnt all classes of farm work from feeding pigs to milking the cows.
Many of these images were published in the newspapers of the time and can be found in our ever-growing newspaper archives.
Beginning as a voluntary service – the Women's Land Army would later come under the National Service Act, meaning single women and widows without children could be called up to either industry or agriculture – the Women's Land Army consisted of women from all walks of life, with a large number leaving the cities to work on the land for the first time. This often created feelings of homesickness and conflict with locals, which - coupled with low pay and very hard work – meant that many members of the WLA, or Land Girls as they became to be known, didn't enjoy their time spent in the fields.
The hours were long and the work varied and often back-breaking. They included ploughing, milking, caring for livestock and a wide range of other jobs and maintenance that many had no experience in, and were expected to learn as they went along.
In spite of this, many Land Girls enjoyed their time with the WLA. Many farmers realised how important the Land Girls were to their productivity during the war, and the WLA created a camaraderie that in many cases was excellent for morale in trying times. You can find out more about the continued efforts to have their history celebrated more widely here.
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