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The Women's Land Army, which was first conceived during the First World War, was reformed by the Government in 1940 to try to plug the gap left by the severe labour shortage caused as the men were called up for the Armed Forces. It was essential that our farmers continued to produce enough food to sustain the British people, and to avoid food shortages. Initially they asked for volunteers, but later conscription was introduced, and, by 1944 there were over 80,000 members of the Women's Land Army employed on the land at any one time.

Before the Second World War Britain had to imported about 60% of its food, and would now to replace these imports with home grown produce. Above all it would mean growing more wheat and potatoes, and to achieve this increase the amount of land used for growing crops needed to increase by 50% during the war, and this was to be achieved mainly by using pastureland and marshland.

Work on the farms was hard, and many Farmers at first doubted the ability of the women to replace the men, but many proved how useful they could be. Much of the work was dirty, tiring and demanded a lot of sustained physical strength. They faced a great variety of tasks and might be expected to harvest the crops, pitch wheat sheaves, feed and muck out the animals, milk cows, saw timber, sow seeds, dig ditches, hedging, and even mending tractors. Others cut down trees. Some worked in sawmills, and 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. The majority of the women already lived in the countryside, but around a third came from Britain's industrial cities. Women in the Land Army wore green jerseys, brown breeches and brown felt slouch hats.

Whilst the majority of the Land Army Girls worked for individual farmers, there were also a large number who stayed in hostels and were directed to Forestry Commission and War Agriculture land, working in labour gangs under the control of the County War Agriculture Executive Committee. Many women came from urban backgrounds and found it difficult to adjust. Others took to the life and loved it, particularly if they had to work with animals. An increase in home-grown produce was achieved despite the loss of 98,000 men to the forces, and says much for the 100,000 women who took their places.

Land Girls: (A.B) At least three land girls married locally and settled here. There were some on the farms. N.B. went in 1942 as a land girl to Mr Kell's at Denson. "You went where you were sent" and, although she wanted to join the WAAF, her father wouldn't let her. Then she worked at Courtenay Thorne's at Broadbridge, milking the cow by machine, Alfa Laval. Then she went to Cox's at Risdon, milking the cows by hand.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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