Gladys Louise West: A Land Girl working in the forests

Gladys Louise West (nee Leech)
April 1923 – March 2012

Gladys Leech - Land Army 1941-1942
Gladys Leech, 1941.

Life before the WLA

My mother, Gladys Louise Leech was born in Tuebrook, Liverpool in 1923.  A true city girl who probably hankered for the country life – cycling to the Lake District and north Wales with her brother and friends during leisure pursuits.

It was this love of the countryside that she decided to join the Women’s Land Army. I am not sure if it was local recruitment or seeing an advertisement but, she ended up in Bedfordshire on the Hertfordshire border – a very rural environment.

Working in the WLA

Moving logs. Gladys is in the top left hand corner with 'Aunty Eileen' helping her.  'Aunty Rene' is one of the last pair of log handlers, to the left.
Moving logs. Gladys is in the top left hand corner with ‘Aunty Eileen’ helping her. ‘Aunty Rene’ is one of the last pair of log handlers, to the left.

She worked in the woods in Hexton, Hertfordshire. I understood this to have been in 1941 when she was just eighteen. Whilst working in the woods in Hexton, lodging with a family in Barton-le-Cley (Bedfordshire), she met my father who was born and brought up in Pegsdon (Bedfordshire) part of Shillington parish adjacent to Hexton parish.

Women sitting and having food by the mobile canteen. Gladys is tucking into some food, being fed by ‘Aunty Eileen’.

My father, Reginald West, was educated at Hexton School and although employed by Mr Dale a farmer of Green End Farm, Pegsdon, he must have been seconded to work in the woods at Hexton. It was here that my mother befriended two other Land Girls – one from Devon and one from Hendon, north London – who were to be friends for life and who became my ‘adopted aunts’, Eileen and Rene.

Reg West - Home Guard 1943
Reg West, Gladys’ husband, in the Home Guard in 1943.

An accident…

She was a keen cyclist and after seeing my father at Pegsdon one evening, she was cycling back to her lodgings that she had an accident, falling off her bicycle and fracturing both elbows. She ended up in Luton and Dunstable Hospital with both arms in plaster unable to care for herself. It was her future mother-in-law at Pegsdon who nursed her back to health.

At this point, and after recuperation, she was unable to return to forestry work. She was then billeted to a family in Turnford near Broxbourne, between Hoddesdon and Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, doing menial garden work. This must have been early in 1943 as I seem to remember her saying that she only did this for about six months.  In August 1943, she married my father in Liverpool, when she was twenty years old.

Life after the WLA

Initially, the newly-wed Mr and Mrs West, lodged with my father’s parents at Pegsdon, after which my father secure employment for a very short time at Milton Ernest, north Bedfordshire. Soon after they moved to Upper Gravenhurst where my father was in the Home Guard and where they lived for the rest of their lives, celebrating sixty-three years of marriage.

Although it would appear her involvement with the Women’s Land Army was very short, it did enable me to apply for recognition the government made available in 2007. She was given a signed certificate by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and a commemorative pin badge.

Colin West, Gladys’ son
December 2018

Many thanks to Colin for sharing his mother’s memories and photographs on the website. 

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