A college project
I originally came up with the idea to produce a website on the work of the Women’s Land Army in Summer 2010 for my Extended Project Qualification whilst at Sixth Form College. I was given the opportunity to explore, in depth, any topic of my choosing.
I decided to use this opportunity to further develop my curiosity into the work of the Women’s Land Army, following on from the one-line in a class textbook about ‘how women took the place of men in the fields’. I soon came to find out about the extensive work which was undertaken by women, who were producing food for Britain, as Lady Denman (Women’s Land Army Director) once said: ‘The land army fights in the fields. It is in the fields of Britain that the most critical battle of the present war may well be fought and won’.
I found it fascinating to research the Women’s Land Army: the process of selecting, collating and refining information (sourced from libraries, archives, museums and other historians) to produce a succinct website really helped me to synthesise my research and present it for others to use as a source of knowledge.
The majority of land girls were put into situations which were completely outside their comfort zone, especially for those women who had come from the towns and cities with no previous experience of what life in the country was like; some not even knowing what a cow was!
I was particularly interested in how these women were taking on roles which were previously carried out by men. Women were coming onto the land and challenging stereotypes, proving through their hard work and determination, that they could meet the challenges in an area of work which was reserved for men – even when some faced discrimination when working and even in the local community.
The change in opinion towards women working on the land was especially highlighted by the reversal in position of the National Farmers Union who made clear their reservations about women working on the land at the beginning of the war but soon became accepting of their work and highly praised it in fact!
Publication, presentations, and press appearances
After attaining full marks for the qualification, I was then advised by a historian to publish the website so the general public could benefit from my research. Since publication in 2011, the website has grown to be the national online hub for the commemoration of the work of the Women’s Land Army and Women’s Timber Corps. In 2018, I won the Royal Historical Society’s inaugural Undergraduate Public History Prize.
Over the last few years, I have discussed the work of the WLA on television and radio, as well as giving presentations throughout the country.
In July 2017, I graduated from Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge with a First in History. My final year dissertation focused on the experience, representation, and memory of the Women’s Timber Corps under the supervision of Dr Lucy Delap. I then graduated with a Distinction in the Modern British History MPhil from Churchill College, Cambridge in July 2018.
Find out more about the journey of the website so far here.
Written by Cherish Watton, WLA Historian, October 2013. Updated in April 2020.