Running the WLA: Rest Break Houses
In June 1944, the WLA in England and Wales set up two Rest Break Houses. Selected Land Girls enjoyed recuperation through paid holidays at a seaside resort after either long service or illness brought on by their service. The Scottish WLA set up similar houses in Edinburgh.
The rest houses were funded, generously, by American labour groups through the British War Relief Society of the USA. Only a minority of Land Girls were able to enjoy these boarding house facilities, but those that did were most appreciative.
The houses were in Llandudno (which accommodated 15 at a time) and Torquay (which housed 25 land girls each week). They each offered year-round, two-week breaks ‘to enable volunteers who by reason of strain are especially in need a short holiday’.
Stuart Antrobus, a WLA historian, who contacted over 200 former Land Girls who served in Bedfordshire, came across a handful of women who were sent to the Rest House in Torquay, either during or after the war. Run by Mrs Lake, the cliff-top hotel was named ‘St Elmo’ and had formerly been a private house.
Mary Pakes (who served at Milton Ernest hostel from 1942 to 1946) was granted two weeks’ break at the house in Torquay in 1944. She had suffered two bouts of influenza and needed time off from her land work. She remembers how it was very nice weather when she arrived on 5th June, the day before the D-Day landing.
Betty Harding (who served 1946-1948 at Church Farm, Dunton, near Biggleswade) suffered from ringworm and another skin disease from working with cows. She became really ‘run-down’, exacerbated by the recent death of her grandma. She was also sent to Torquay. She spoke of:
a beautiful place…there was a beach where we could swim. […] I’d never been away for two whole weeks. […] It was the first real holiday that I’d ever had in my life […] I made friends from all over the place […] we wore summer dresses and shorts.
As a result of this experience, Betty decided to move from a private farm employment to a WLA hostel at Clifton, near Shefford.
Another Bedfordshire land girl, Doreen ‘Dawn’ Skeggs (1943 – 1905), whose responsibilities as a post-war hostel Forewoman began to tell on her, was recommended by her doctor for a complete break at the Torquay centre. Her visit coincided with the 1948 Olympics in Britain so she was able to watch the Olympic sailing in Torbay – and meet some of the international sailors.
The Torquay rest house closed in April 1950 (before the WLA disbanded at the end of November 1950), following the closure of the Llandudno house some time earlier.