For some strange reason, I came out of school (including grad school!) knowing about Bomb girls and Rosie the Riveter (the women who worked the factory and industrial jobs during the war), but never hearing the story of the women who replaced the male agricultural and forestry workers called up for war. My first introduction to these women came just about a week ago via the BBC series Land Girls. Since then, I've spent many hours combing the internet to learn the real story of these amazing women.
The Women's Land Army actually started during World War I in Britain. As another war loomed, the Women's Land Army was resurrected in 1939 to ensure Britain had an ample food supply during. Initially, the young women were mostly volunteers from the countryside, but were quickly joined by women from London and northern industrial towns (making up about 1/3 of the WLA). By 1941, women were being conscripted into service in the WLA.
Work on the farms was hard, dirty, tiring and demanded a lot of sustained physical strength. The WLA were expected to harvest the crops, pitch wheat sheaves, feed the animals, milk cows, saw timber, sow seeds, dig ditches, hedging, and even mending tractors. "Over a thousand women were employed as rat-catchers, a very useful job given that each rat could eat about 50kg of food in a year.*" Most of the WLA girls worked and lived on small farms, but some stayed in camps and were directed to Forestry Commission and War Agriculture land, working on larger farms or for the forestry service.
The WLA was also service in the US from 1943 - 47. It continued in Britain until 1950 to help ease food shortages and rationing in the lean years just after the war. Despite the often arduous work and sometimes unpleasant living conditions, it appears that many women enjoyed their work and made lasting friendships.
|A US-WLA ID card. The story behind this card along with many wonderful letters can be found Letters from Land Army Camp.|
What amazing stories these women have; they inspire me to do more and be more!