Apr 012018

Here we have three very different types of illustration, featured on the front page of The Land Girl for its April issues. All of them show the figure of a Land Girl, though they take up different amounts of space on the page. R.Morris’s drawing for 1942 depicts the Land Girl looking out over the farming landscape. E.Zierer’s 1944 illustration is more playful, with three Land Girls doodled across the words The Land Girl. The women are in variations of the Land Girl uniform; two in the iconic breeches and the other in dungarees. The uniforms themselves are rather figure hugging, accentuating the women’s waists. The final 1945 drawing by P. Newton is the most detailed of all three, depicting a happy Land Girl jumping for joy as she clutches some daffodils. The drawing presents a somewhat idyllic representation, with flowers growing from the title and lambs bounding about in the foreground. The three drawings signal the start of spring in the pages of the magazine, choosing to draw attention to the landscape and animals.

April 1942 edition of The Land Girl, drawn by R.Morris (WLA number, 44,240) who was previously a carpet designer.

April 1942 edition, drawn by Worcestershire Land Girl R.Morris (WLA number, 44,240) who was previously a carpet designer.


April 1944 edition of The Land Girl, drawn by E. Zierer (WLA number, 30971)

April 1944 edition, drawn by Oxfordshire Land Girl E. Zierer (WLA number, 30971)


April 1945 edition, drawn by Devonshire Land Girl P Newton (WLA number, 104644)

April 1945 edition, drawn by Devonshire Land Girl P. Newton (WLA number, 104644)

Mar 202018
Photo from the Illustrated War News, 08th Aug 1917.

Photo from the Illustrated War News, 08th Aug 1917. Source: Tales From The Archive

Devon was one of the first counties in England to form a Women’s Land Army and Miss Calmady-Hamlyn, from an old Devon family who owned an estate on the edge of Dartmoor, was appointed an Inspector, and by speaking at regional and national meetings, became one of the key figures in promoting women to work on the land.
At a turbulent meeting of the Totnes Farmers’ Union in 1916 leading female figures including Miss Calmady-Hamlyn, were chastised and would “have done very much better with women’s labour by taking vacant farms and showing how they could produce poultry, pork and dairy produce. They had not done it but they were telling farmers to do it.”[The People of Devon in the First World War by David Parker]

Such was her conviction that women could be effective farmers and to convince the sceptics she was right, that in 1917 she established a farm exclusively run by women. Great Bidlake Farm had fallen from “one of the best bits of wheatland in the district, to grazing ground”. [Great Bidlake Farm The Landswoman September 1918 p194-197]

A trial had been made of the horse drawn Syracruse riding plough which proved to be ideal to be worked by women, making possible for eighty-two acres to be put under cultivation. Proving that with the right equipment women could be efficient in farming.

Twenty acres of wheat was prepared, amid the gloomy predictions of local farmers it would be doomed to failure on newly turned land and “bewitched” by female labour, instead it was awarded praise as the “the finest crops in the parish”.

There were four permanent land worker staff, supplemented by twelve trainees at a time who were instructed in field work. Miss Isaac, the horsewoman, was straight from school and the daughter of a farmer from North Devon. Responsible for cutting the Hay harvest she handled her horse team, for the first time in a mower, with considerable skill.

There were three North Devon farming families of Isaac’s, Ethel [18] daughter of Ade Isaac from Winkleigh, Elizabeth [14] daughter of Albert Isaac of Goodleigh and three girls in the same family, Francis [16], Alice [15] and Gertrude [14] daughters of William Isaac of Buckland Brewer. It was more likely to be Albert’s or William’s girls as the school leaving age at the time was 13.

Sandi Vass, Assistant Librarian, North Devon Athenaeum.

To read more on the Women’s Forestry Corps in the Devon area, check out her excellent blog post here.

Nov 012017

Some Land Girls and Lumber Jill’s spent some of their free time reading, whether it be books, or the latest edition of The Land Girl magazine. Here, the collage shows how women could read in the comfort of the hostel or rest home, or out in the forests in the case of the Women’s Timber Corps. As with many photos, we need to question whether this really was a true representation of reading, or posed photos for the camera, showing women using their free time in a productive way…

Land Girls and Lumber Jills Reading

From left to right, top to bottom:

  • Reading at a hostel in Doncaster. Source: The Land Girl, May 1943, p.9
  • Enjoying a quiet spot on a bench under the trees in the garden of the rest break house in Torquay are Miss Ann Royne (WLA gang work forewoman) and Mrs Joan Hart (timber corps crane driver). Source: IWM, D27011
  • Land Girls read, sew or write letters in the lounge of the WLA rest break house in Torquay. Source: IWM, D20722

  • Lumber Jills reading in the forest, c.1940s. Source: Fox Photos
  • Land Girls reading at Pawston Hostel in Northumberland. Source: The Land Girl, February 1941, p.13. 
  • Lumber Jills reading in the forest, c.1940s. Source: Fox Photos
Mar 082017
Land Girls at Great Bidlake Farm. Source: BBC

Land Girls at Great Bidlake Farm. Source: BBC

Discussions at the February meeting of the Devon First World War Food and Farming Group began with a look at the part women played in farming during the war. One of the key figures in the promotion of women working on the land in Devon was Miss Sylvia Calmady-Hamlyn. Sylvia was part of a long-established Devon family that owned an estate on the edge of Dartmoor.

In January 1917 she was appointed as Inspector specifically to develop the new initiative to create a Women’s Land Army. She explained the scheme to the Women’s War Service Committee, later the Women’s War Agricultural Committee (WWAC).

‘[It] did not really touch on the kind of work the committee had been doing’, she said, by which she meant that this was an initiative to train women to undertake full-time agricultural employment, rather than one that sought to match local volunteers, many part-time, with local needs.

Seale-Hayne College

Seale-Hayne College today. Source: Graham Peers, Flickr.

Seale-Hayne College

Calmady-Hamlyn was appointed a governor of Seale-Hayne College, Devon’s planned new agricultural college, where the new Treasury-funded formal training course for women was established. Seale-Hayne was already providing some training, as the WWAC chair reported in March 1917 that there were 27 girls being trained and a waiting list of 18.  The alternative route for training, via practice farms, was not taken up to any great extent in Devon (11 only by June 1917) but Calmady-Hamlyn worked to extend the opportunities for women, partly by developing specialisms such as forestry and hay baling, and then by the ‘big idea’ of the women-only farm. This was to be a way of convincing sceptics that women could manage a farm and undertake all the tasks associated with it.

Photos from the Daily Mirror, Friday 16 August 1918

Photos from the Daily Mirror, Friday 16 August 1918

Great Bidlake Farm: the first all-female farm

The 130-acre farm was at Great Bidlake, close to Calmady-Hamlyn’s home in Bridestowe, and at her suggestion, with its owner’s consent, it was taken over by the Devon War Agricultural Committee in October 1917 and, with the advice and support of a local farmer, ploughing began and a small dairy was established. The farm was staffed by a forewoman and three girls.

In May 1918 Calmady-Hamlyn agreed to step into the role of County Organiser for the Devon WWAC. She organised recruiting rallies to keep up the supply of recruits, but acknowledged that the numbers achieved were not large: 178 girls placed and 29 in training in September 1918.  By contrast, 4,300 women were in part-time work which meant that Devon had done ‘uncommonly well’.  Great Bidlake Farm was no longer just a working farm, but had replaced Seale-Hayne as a training centre when the college buildings were requisitioned as a hospital. Although its first year’s balance sheet showed a deficit, this was due primarily to the inclusion of the setting-up costs as expenditure. Nonetheless the end of the war was the end of the Great Bidlake Farm experiment too. The County Council closed it along with other farms acquired under Defence of the Realm Act powers.

Post-War Memories

Twenty years after the end of the war, Sylvia Calmady-Hamlyn by that time best known in the county for her work for the Dartmoor Pony Society, related her memories of her time with the Board of Agriculture to a reporter from the Western Morning News. They wrote the account of her interview:

‘Miss Calmady-Hamlyn was the first and only travelling inspector appointed by the Board of Agriculture. [She covered the area between London and Land’s End] She travelled six days a week, by any available trains. Her Land Army overall, thick topcoat, heavy boots and one shilling hat, with its mystifying badge, caused a certain amount of consternation in first class coaches when important officials were scheduled to travel.

“Usually I left home with a good supply of hard-boiled eggs”, she confessed, “as food was hard to come by then and many a night I’ve arrived at my destination too late to obtain rations. Once, after being without food all day, I was offered a bottle of soda water, by way of refreshment. On Mondays the hard-boiled eggs were appreciated. By Wednesday their flavour began to pall. When Thursday arrived I felt I never wanted to see an egg again as long as I lived”, chuckled Miss Calmady-Hamlyn. “It was a treat then to buy a pasty filled with rice at Truro Station”.

‘Never in her life has this amusing woman possessed such a wonderful hat as that she bought for a shilling that served her throughout the war. So, at least, she loves to aver. Her most prized possessions now are the badge from that hat and the six stripes that remain as evidence of every six months she gave to organizing the Land Army. Her chief regret is that the hat itself is no more.’

The Western Morning News celebrated how Land Girls held Miss Calmady-Hamlyn in much awe. Mrs Bootes, as she was by 1938, remembered the arrival of the inspector at the Cornish training establishment during the war.

‘I had been at Tregavethan for precisely a week’, she said. ‘One day before going off to the fields we were warned of Miss Hamlyn’s impending visit. Returning I jumped from the cart in which I was riding and ran to join the ranks. “Oh, no”, said Miss Hamlyn, “Go back and put your horse away”.

I had never attempted such a thing before. Patiently Miss Hamlyn watched me undo every buckle in the breeching and lead the horse into the stable. I don’t think those buckles had ever been undone before. My hands were scratched and bleeding with the effort. When it was done Miss Hamlyn remarked laughingly that she had never seen the job done so thoroughly’.

Calmady’s post-war work

Calmady-Hamlyn had always believed that their work was designed only to fill the gap until the men came home. She retired to her pony-breeding business, receiving the MBE for her work. Having demonstrated her effectiveness in public service, however, she found herself almost immediately recruited to two new spheres of work in the county: the development of Women’s Institutes, and service as one of the first women magistrates.

Undoubtedly there was hostility expressed by some farmers to the work of Calmady-Hamlyn and the Devon WWAC, particularly when they were criticised for their poor rates of pay. But there was support from others, for example from the Barnstaple branch of the National Farmers’ Union; from the individuals who lent their farms for demonstrations of women’s work; and from Mr Ash, the farming neighbour at Great Bidlake who offered the women advice and instruction. The full-time members of the Women’s Land Army may only have made a small contribution to the labour force in Devon, but the women recruited through the registrar scheme performed a valuable role in replacing the pool of men whom farmers had in peacetime been able to call on from their rural trades at times such as harvest.


Dr Julia Neville

Research Co-ordinator, Farming Fishing and Food Supply in Devon during the First World War

Dr Julia Neville is working on an AHRC-funded project on Food, Farming and Fishing in Devon in the First World War. This is led by the University of Exeter and Devon History Society  in conjunction with the University of Hertfordshire, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of research for the Everyday Lives in War Engagement Centre. For more information, please click here.


Jun 132014

Article originally published in The Local Historian, Volume 41, Number 1 – February 2011

Please see below the abstract published on the British Association for Local History’s website:-

Bonnie White, ‘Sowing the seeds of patriotism? The Women’s Land Army in Devon, 1916-1918’, pp.13-27

The Women’s Land Army has received close attention from historians, including local and regional historians, in recent years. However, almost all focus has hitherto been on the experience of the Second World War, and far less research and analysis has considered the WLA which was established halfway through the First World War, in 1916, and functioned until the end of 1918. The first incarnation not only represented a determined attempt to tackle an unprecedented national crisis of food supplies and agricultural productivity, but also formed an invaluable template for those who, at the outbreak of the Second World War, addressed the same emergency requirements. Further, analysis of the WLA in 1916-1918 will allow this aspect of women’s wartime work to be given its proper place alongside better-known activities such as labour in munitions factories. In this article Bonnie White presents a detailed case-study of the experience of setting up, organising and working within the WLA in Devon, one of England’s largest and most rural counties. The article considers the process of recruitment, in the context of competition for women’s labour and the role of other organisations such as the Women’s War Service Committee. It then assesses attitudes to female labour and the notion of women working in the agricultural sector. The procedures for joining and training are described, together with the expected roles, tasks and codes of behaviour for WLA members. There is a substantial final section which gives a retrospective on the experiences of the women concerned, and the value and significance of the scheme.

May 082014

My mother was called Betty (nee) Hewitt and she was stationed for most of her service in Herefordshire. 

Helen Van Dongen

Helen has kindly donated her mother’s copies of ‘The Land Girl’ magazine (from August 1942 to March 1947) which will be uploaded to ‘The Land Girl’ section over the next few months.

Betty Bond, nee Hewitt, in her uniform taken in about 1942 when she was 20 Source: Helen Van Dongen

Betty Bond, nee Hewitt, in her uniform taken in about 1942 when she was 20.
Source: Helen Van Dongen

Betty in her Land Girl uniform in the garden of her family home in Peckham Rye in London, 1942 Source: Helen Van Dongen

Betty in her Land Girl uniform in the garden of her family home in Peckham Rye in London, 1942
Source: Helen Van Dongen

Betty and her friend (probably Betty) Source: Helen Van Dongen

Betty and her friend (probably Anne)
Source: Helen Van Dongen

Betty and her fellow students at Seale-Hayne Agricultural College in Newton Abbott, Devon Source: Helen Van Dongen

Betty and her fellow students at Seale-Hayne Agricultural College in Newton Abbott, Devon
Source: Helen Van Dongen