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On 19th January 2012 Dr Ann Kneif told the group the truth about the WWII Women’s Land Army. In 1939 the carefully structured posters and advertisements depicting sunshine and immaculately uniformed young women hoeing gently between rows of vegetables were undoubtedly true of the summer but photographs taken in winter told a different story. Potato picking and beet harvesting were amongst the muddiest jobs, hay harvesting, binding into sheaves and stacking into a haystack were among the most exhausting. Training centres were set up where the women learned farming skills including how to hand milk a cow and ploughing with horses. Billy Butlin organised the building of hostels to accommodate land army trainees. Those who were billeted in private homes had to give up their ration books but often were not fed adequately for the amount of heavy work they were doing. By 1941 it was compulsory to register for work although nursing and factory work in munitions or the aircraft industry were alternative choices. Over 1,000 girls were employed as rat catchers, as well as a huge number in the timber industry, known as Lumber Jills! They felled trees and worked in the saw mills. More skilled jobs like tractor driving were better paid than husbandry for hens and geese, pigs, or shepherdesses tending sheep.

Lady Denman, founder of the W.I. was recruited to set up the organization. After 1945 many girls were retained to retrain the men in the latest farming skills. Lady Denman resigned when at the end of the war the women were denied compensation and post war benefits. In 1950 they were disbanded and largely forgotten until 2002 when medals were awarded to those who were still alive and able to claim for themselves.


Report written by Polly Chandler.

Last Revised: 21-Jan-2012

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