New Year’s Eve Message 2020
Back in May, I received an e-mail asking where they could volunteer for the Land Army. In my response, I explained that I was a historian commemorating the work of the First and Second World War Land Armies and pointed them towards the ‘Pick for Britain’ initiative. It was a surreal moment as the fragilities of our food system, both past and present, coalesced.
This time last year, we had no idea what 2020 had in store for us all. 12 months later and we’ve all been impacted. Our day-to-day lives have been turned upside down. Some of us have remained in good health; others, I’m all too aware have lost loved ones and relatives. The daily Covid-19 death statistics include Land Girl veterans in their numbers, passing away 75 years after VE Day.
VE Day 75 celebrations this year were very different from what many of us had expected. So too were Remembrance Day commemorations. But in our homes up and down the country, we came together in spirit, and on our doorsteps and streets, to remember the sacrifices of the wartime generation.
Though there have been extensive comparisons between war and Covid, and not all of these have been appropriate, for many of us, this is the first time we’ve lived through a crisis. It has allowed us a partial glimpse into an experience so significant and all-encompassing that it impacted our day-to-day lives.
Directly relevant to the Land Army, the impact of Covid-19 has highlighted the crucial work of British and migrant farm labourers, as well as the fragility of the supply-chain systems which sustain our food supply. In turn, this should make us appreciate even more how crucial women’s work in the WLA was to sustaining our food supplies during the First and Second World Wars.
Despite a year of uncertainty, we’ve continued to remember the work of the Women’s Land Army and Women’s Timber Corps in different ways. Many of you will remember Zeita Holes’ brilliant interview on BBC Breakfast in the run up to VE Day.
With a sparkle in her eyes, she recounted climbing the tower at Luton Town Hall on VE Day. I was honoured to follow this interview and discuss the historical context around VE Day and women’s wartime agricultural work. It was a personal highlight of the year to be invited to talk about the work of the WLA in front of a large, live television audience. Just a few months later, more people than ever visited the website to find out more about the WLA, ask questions, and share memories.
At a time when many of us struggled to visit museums, the Museum of English Rural Life created an excellent exhibition to remember the Women’s Land Army in honour of VE Day. Do take a look if you haven’t already. Jamie Weston also directed a fantastic short film which told the story of two Land Girls who fell in love during the war. ‘Wings’ was nominated for the Iris Prize Best British Short supported by Film4 and is available on 4OD to watch. It’s 18 minutes well worth your time.
For this year’s monthly post, we’ve learnt about the work of the WLA by taking a county approach. Using 5 sources each month, we’ve explored women’s contributions throughout Britain.
Most recently, to help visitors to pass the time during the second national lockdown, I’ve shared a new piece of archival material everyday. Some of these have been newspaper advertisements, new Land Girl profiles, as well as interviews – and even knitting patterns. (You can see some highlights below.)
Throughout 2020, this website has continued to sustain, as well as expand, a thriving WLA community. From e-mails to tweets, Facebook likes, and messages, we’ve continued taking time to reflect and learn about the varied experiences of Land Girls and Lumber Jills. As we move into the New Year, let’s take the opportunity to continue learning, asking questions, and being there for one another.
As always, I would like to extend a few thank yous. Thank you to my family who continue to support the website in their own special ways. My mother spent some of her lockdown days transcribing the letters sent from a Lumber Jill to her friend.. My sister, Skye has beautifully recorded poems written by Land Girls to mark their service (you can take a listen to her poignant reading of ‘Remember Us’ here).
I’d also like to extend my thanks to WLA historian Stuart Antrobus. Stuart continues to read every single post on the website, offer new material, as well as advise on the development of the site. The support of WLA collector Catherine Procter also means a great deal. Much of the archival material that we enjoyed over the second lockdown derived from Catherine’s own personal collection, which she chooses to share with us all.
Last, but by no means least, thank you to you, supporters of the website who continue to play a vital part in continuing to honour the work of the WLA and WTC.
See you in 2021. Take good care.