Queen Elizabeth meets Land Girls at Goldsmiths’ Hall, 1940
On 14th March 1940, Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Mother) visited Goldsmiths’ Hall to meet a group of Land Girls, alongside other key individuals critical to increasing the country’s food production during the war.
Reflection on the event, published in The Land Girl, April 1940, pp.9-10.
March 14th, 1940, was the first Great Day of the Land Army in this war. During the last six months we have had quite a lot to bear in the way of criticism and misunderstanding, but the Queen’s visit made up for all that. Through its representatives the Land Army received that day an honour that it will never forget.
The party, which took place at Goldsmiths’ Hall, by the most generous invitation of the Wardens of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, consisted of land workers, chairmen and secretaries from every county in England and Wales, and four visitors from the Scottish Land Army.
Everyone was asked to arrive at 2 p.m., but by that time the place was already half full, and more girls, shepherded by anxious secretaries, were arriving every moment in the falling snow. The weather was pathetically inappropriate. It behaved like a Christmas party instead of a spring festival.
With universal cheerful good temper and patience, the business of arranging the chairmen and secretaries round the hall, and the hundred land workers in four rows down the middle, was accomplished.
Photographers and reporters, as usual, fell over everyone’s feet and kept popping up in unexpected places but their interest was welcome. It was such a pleasant change to be popular with the Press.
When drawn up, the girls looked fine, handsome creatures, with such ravishing complexions (entirely natural, too) that it was no wonder the Queen asked later ” if they had been picked for their looks.”
Soon after 3 o’clock Her Majesty arrived, and was met downstairs by the Honorary Director, Lady Denman, and the Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company, Mr. Arthur Wakely. Inside the front door Mrs. Jenkins (Lady Denman’s deputy and Personal Assistant), Mr. Sutherland Harris (Chief Administrative Officer of the Women’s Land Army Branch of the Ministry of Agriculture at Balcombe), and the Wardens of the Goldsmiths’ Company were presented.
The party then moved upstairs and entered the Livery Hall. It was a spectacular moment when, while the Orchestra played the National Anthem, the Queen stood in the doorway, looking lovely and royal, facing the steady, admiring gaze of the rows of Land Girls.
After that the Queen walked down each row and spoke to every volunteer-someone said that Her Majesty asked one thousand questions, and it cannot have been much of an exaggeration.
Perhaps the best answer was that of the girl who, in reply to the question, “Is it very hard work?” said “Well, you’d soon get used to it.” From the Queen’s attitude to the matter of early rising one imagines that if Her Majesty should be unlucky enough to wake up one morning soon at 4.30 or 5 a.m., she will give a sympathetic shudder at the thought of the Land Army milkers stumbling out of bed in the cold, dark morning down on the farm.
When the Queen had passed down the last row of girls, certain chairmen and secretaries waiting at the top of the hall were presented by Lady Denman. These included officials from the counties with the largest numbers of recruits employed-Hampshire, Kent, West Suffolk, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, East Sussex, West Sussex, and London, which has the largest total of volunteers, and also a representative from Scotland.
After the review the Prime Warden handed to the Queen, for presentation to Lady Denman, a most beautiful silver bowl for competition by members of the Land Army. No choice of the subject has yet been settled (our suggestion that it should be held by the county taking the largest number of magazines has been received rather coldly at Headquarters).
This ceremony took place in front of a really wonderful spring ” piece ” composed of flowers, fruit and vegetables. We have never doubted the utility value of the cabbage, the cauliflower and the onion, but we must confess that we had not previously suspected their decorative possibilities.
An inspection by the Queen of some of the beautiful plate belonging to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths was followed by tea with the Land Girls while a delightful orchestra played in the next room. When Her Majesty left the tea room preparatory to departure, the Land Girls left by a shorter route and filled up one flight of the great double staircase. The chairmen and secretaries clustered in the gallery surrounding the well of the staircase.
When Her Majesty turned right at the bottom of the first flight and moved down towards the front door, the Land Girls followed and showed every intention of pursuing her car down the street, had this been allowed. At least Her Majesty must have realised how warm a place she held in all their hearts.
After that, more tea, a visit to the Court Room to see the plate, pleasant music, and then home, feeling (fortunately) that we didn’t care if it snowed.
Perhaps the general impression of what everyone was feeling was best summed up by one volunteer who said that she had been a land girl in the last war, but that ” never had she known a day like this.”
A letter from Queen Elizabeth’s Lady-in-Waiting, published in the The Land Girl, April 1940, p10.
Dear Lady Denman
The Queen commands me to write and say how pleased Her Majesty was to meet representatives of the Women’s Land Army at the Goldsmiths’ Hall yesterday afternoon. The Queen would be glad if you would convey Her Majesty’s grateful thanks to all those who-were responsible for making such very efficient arrangements for the gathering. The Queen was much impressed by the loyalty and enthusiasm o’f the girls, and Her Majesty wishes the Women’s Land Army every success in their great undertaking.
Katherine Seymour, Lady-in-Waiting
To watch a video from the gathering at Goldsmiths’ Hall, please click here.