Women’s Land Army recruitment poster by the artist J Walter West.
Source: Imperial War Museum
  • Spring 1917: Recruitment to the Women’s Land Army [WLA] was the responsibility of the government’s National Service Ministry
  • 26 March 1917: WLA training began.
  • August 1917: The Women’s Section of the Food Production Department of the Board of Agriculture took over recruitment.
  • July 1917: 2000 women had been placed on farms. (An initial 30,000 women responded; half were rejected.)
  • September 1917: 247 training centres and 140 ‘practice farms’ had been set up.
  • By the end of the war. 23,000 women successfully passed through training centres. These new full-time WLA land workers were in addition to around 300,000 part-time/ seasonal women who took up agricultural work during the Great War.

Getting women interested…

Recruitment posters, suggesting that Britain was on the verge of starvation, appealed to “Women of England! Wake up and answer your country’s urgent call for help”. Local WLA rallies raised interest in the WLA and showed members in their working uniform. Would-be recruits were directed to their nearest Employment Exchange to volunteer or to a local Village Registrar.

A Women’s Land Army display in a shop window, encouraging women to enrol.
Source: Catherine Procter WLA Collection

The Interview…

A local Selection Committee or Board, formed of members of the Women’s War Agricultural Committee in each county, questioned female applicants as to:

  • their health
  • physical capabilities
  • reasons for wishing to do land work

They had to be medically examined, free of cost.

Women who had previous experience in agriculture and were not already in work, were given priority. Women over the age of 20 were also preferred.

The committees were also looking for women with a stable temperament, so that they could cope with possible loneliness on isolated farms. ‘A good constitution’ was also an important quality for an applicant – work on the land was hard graft!

After the interview…

If recruits were prepared to sign on for 12 months, they could choose whether to work in either the Forage, Agricultural or Timber Cutting sections. But if volunteers were only prepared to sign on for six months, they had to join either the Agricultural or Timber Cutting sections of the WLA. All recruits had to be willing to go to wherever in the country they were required. They were given free railway warrants to get there.

Experienced women went straight into paid work on farms. Inexperienced recruits attended organized training centres or ‘practice farms’ for 4 (later 6) weeks. Successful trainees who passed the ‘efficiency test’ were found work on farms; unsuccessful women were deemed ‘unfit’.

In The Archives

  • Click here to see the Enrolment Form women would fill in to confirm their acceptance of working for the Land Army.
  • Click here to see the Terms and Conditions for the Agriculture section.
  • Click here to see videos of Women’s Land Army recruitment rallies.

Summary adapted by Stuart Antrobus from The Women’s Land Army: a Portrait (Gill Clarke)