65th Anniversary: WLA Disbandment Parade, London (1950)
Today is the 65th anniversary of the 21 October 1950 ‘Farewell Parade’ of 500 representative land girls from all the counties in England and Wales before Queen Elizabeth, their Patron, at Buckingham Palace, to mark the disbandment of the Women’s Land Army (the Women’s Timber Corps of ‘lumber jills’ was disbanded on 31 August 1946) . The final day for the organisation was on 30 November 1950. Around 203,000 young women had served on the land, for varying periods of time, between 1 June 1939 and 30 November 1950. Most did this National Service during the war years (September 1939 to 8 May 1945: over 150,000 women) when they replaced men on farms, market gardens and in forests, who had gone off to fight, but some (over 50,000) also served in the post-war years.
Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother), consort of King George VI, in her final speech to them, observed that Land Girls ‘had obeyed the call of duty in the nation’s hour of great peril and need, and the nation owed them an everlasting debt.’ Most land girls left the organisation soon after the end of the war, in 1945-46, but some stayed on and new land girls were recruited to satisfy the continuing need for agricultural labour. As civilian workers, despite their organisation’s misleading title of ‘Army’ (meaning large work force), they were not entitled to a medal or demobilisation grants. The most that some got was a congratulatory letter from the Queen thanking them for their service. But they had the satisfaction, like many other women in other wartime occupations, of having ‘done their bit’ for the nation.