The Women’s Land Army was a British civilian organization created during World Wars I and II. Its purpose was to enable women to work in agriculture thereby freeing up the men to join the military.
The WLA played a significant role in helping Britain win the war as it helped to provide the country with food at a time when the German U-boats were destroying the merchant ships bring food and other supplies to Britain from America. At the peak of the recruiting campaign for the WLA, there were approximately 80 000 women digging, sowing and driving tractors.
Here are ten interesting facts about the WLA:
- Many of the volunteers for the LWA were recruited from towns and cities, including London;
- Many land girls lived in hostels. By 1944, 22 000 land girls were living in 700 hostels;
- The WLA had a uniform and there were strict rules about how to wear it;
- Approximately 25% of the land girls were employed in some sort of dairy work;
- Some land girls were employed as rat catches. They had to tie strings around the legs of their trousers so that the rats didn’t run up inside them [Yuk!];
- Land girls were paid less than men for the same work;
- The botanical gardens at Kew in Surrey employed land girls to help maintain them;
- Land girls were used for land reclamation projects, particularly in East Anglia where thousands of acres of fenland (low and marshy ground) were drained;
- There was a specialist forestry branch of the land girls called the Timer Corps to help source and prepare wood. They were called lumbergills; and
- The land girls worked alongside Italian prisoners of war.
The WLA was very successful and made available many more men to fight in the war. The present-day Queen Elizabeth was the patron of this organization throughout the war.
While the Bombs Fell
My mother and I have written a book about her experiences growing up in the English town of Bungay in East Anglia. The land girl who worked on my grandfather’s farm during WWII is featured in our book called While the Bombs Fell.
This is a short description of Mavis, the land girl, and the work she did on the farm:
“A tall and muscly woman, Mavis cut her hair into a short bob and wore a bibbed pair of overalls.
She stood in the milk float ready to set off on her round through the town, dropping off pint bottles of milk on people’s doorsteps.
As Elsie watched, the land girl flicked the reins and away she went.
Mavis had already been up for hours and helped Father and Reggie to milk the cows, bottle the milk, and stack the bottles into the crates that they then loaded onto the milk float.
The trio carried the pails of milk to the dairy and tipped their contents into a milk cooling machine. The milk cooling machine comprised of pipes that pumped cool water upwards as the milk flowed down over them into the spotlessly clean milk bottles. The quicker the milk cooled down, the better its quality would be.
Father always said, “The milk bottles must be kept clean. Otherwise, the milk will go sour, and that would be a disaster.”
Later in the day, Mavis would muck out the cows’ stalls and hose them down. She would shovel the manure onto a wheelbarrow and then push it down to the pyramid of cow poo at the bottom of the yard, where she would add it to the growing pile. As the manure dried, it formed what appeared to be a firm crust.
Elsie remembered the day when Joey dared Reggie to climb to the top of the pile. The other children watched as Reggie rose to the challenge. Reggie had soon discovered that the dry firmness of the crust was an illusion. Two steps in, he started sinking into the squelching green muck and took a flying leap out of the pile, back onto solid ground.
Mavis would work all day and help to milk the cows again in the evening before going home to care for her son.”
Purchase While the Bombs Fell