The Role of the Women

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Food production was vital during the war. As the land emptied of male labour, women were encouraged to step in. Women in rural areas would have been used to helping on farms around harvest time and to take charge of milking, but they were now encouraged to operate the ploughs and do the heavy work.
The news was that probably within six weeks we would be out of wheat, which in turn would mean no bread. The ladies were urged to ‘ dig for Britain’.

During World War One, 23,000 women were recruited to work on the land, to help replace men who had left to fight in the war.
There were three sections to the Women’s Land Army:-
  • Agriculture
  • Forage (haymaking for food for horses)
  • Timber Cutting

Recruits who signed on for a year to the Women’s Land Army [WLA] were provided with a free uniform, worth around 30 shillings, which consisted of:
  • breeches
  • a knee-length overall tunic (with a button-fastening integrated belt)
  • boots or high boots (2 pairs per year)
  • buskins, leggings or puttees (if issued with short boots)
  • a mackintosh
  • a jersey
  • a soft felt cloche hat
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However, not all land girls dressed according to the official rules!
The revolutionary innovation was that land girls were allowed to wear breeches. This was to give them the same freedom of movement as men when doing physical work.
This development, together with the fact that some young women chose to have their hair ‘bobbed’ short, shocked most country folk. These new female land workers were viewed both with suspicion and initial hostility.
The Land Army Agricultural Section Handbook,issued to all members, laid down the following advice regarding appearance and deportment:
‘You are doing a man’s work and so you’re dressed rather like a man, but remember just because you wear a smock and breeches you should take care to behave like a British girl who expects chivalry and respect from everyone she meets.’

After three months’ proficient service, the land girl would be presented with a green loden armlet bearing a red felt crown indicating that she was on national service.
There were also good service badges and chevrons which indicated the length of time and the minimum number of hours that they had worked. These could be added to the uniform during their time in the WLA.
The majority who worked in agriculture were milkers and field workers, but some were carters and ploughwomen (working with horses) and market gardeners.
The Women’s Land Army (WLA) was very important as Germany’s best chance of victory was to starve Britain into surrender through naval blockade. Britain had to become more self-sufficient. The recruitment of women to join the Land Army was vital.
I have been here a fortnight today, and got my uniform the day before I came: I would not get it until I was really working! I am learning all kinds of outdoor work, and can milk, feed calves, and pigs, and poultry, and drive the milk float. This is such a lovely old fashioned farmhouse, black and white, with funny little windows and a beautiful garden. I get up at four o’clock every morning, and enter into the joys (?) of milking, with the cows’ tails tied to prevent them swishing into my eyes. Then I scrub out milk tankards – this is hard, especially if any milk has been left in the bottom – and I nearly fell into one the other day, We do have fun though the most part is really heavy, dirty work.

I was knocked over by a calf this morning, and my hand is pretty badly hurt, but the experience did not equal that of being chased by the old sow, as I was the other day; she took a dislike to me as I was carrying a huge sack of potatoes up the field. Of course I ran as fast as I could, but she kept up with me until I backed through a hedge, tearing my dress on a piece of barbed wire. My revenge was complete though. Yesterday, we went (the Farmer and his wife and I) to the market and sold the offensive animal for £9.10.0d.

My farmer is also the village blacksmith, and I am learning to shoe a horse and blow the bellows; the sparks fly from the anvil and make holes in your clothes – not to mention yourself.

Some people tell me that I shall not be able to go on with my far work in the winter, because it will make my hands so bad. But I intend to stick it. Our men don’t stop fighting in cold weather, and neither shall I. My only brother is in the trenches – so you know how I feel about it!