World War Two

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.

Lady Gertrude Denman

This quotation from Lady Denman, the Director of the Women’s Land Army summarises the importance of the Land Girls during World War Two.

The Women’s Land Army employed over 200,000 women between June 1939 and November 1950. These women, known as Land Girls, replaced male farm workers who had gone to war. Coming from all walks of life, Land Girls were critical to increasing the country’s food production. Despite having little to no agricultural experience, they ploughed, grew produce, milked cows, caught rats, drove tractors – and much more. 

Find out more about the WLA by looking through the timeline below or by using the navigation buttons on the left-hand side.

A Women's Land Army recruitment poster from World War Two displaying a young woman, wearing the Land Army uniform, stands with a pitchfork in her left hand and holds her jacket in her right. She surveys a field of wheat. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/36790
Source: Imperial War Museum Women’s Land Army Recruitment poster, designed by Clive Uppton. Art.IWM PST 6078)

1938

Lady Denman is approached by the Ministry of Agriculture to re-form the Women’s Land Army. She begins go make plans in terms of national organisation and recruitment, but there are delays in taking these proposals forward.

Lady Denman (centre) with members of administrative staff in the library at Balcombe. Seated to Lady Denman’s right is Mrs Margaret Pyke, Editor of The Land Girl. Standing slightly behind Mrs Pyke is Mrs Inez Jenkins, Deputy Director of the WLA.
Source: Carol Twinch, ‘Women on the Land: Their Story During Two World Wars’, p. 64.

1939

25th January: A National Service handbook lists the ‘Women’s Land Army’ as one of the civilian organisations which women could volunteer to join in the event of war.

1st June: The Women’s Land Army is re-formed, with Lady Gertrude Denman as Honorary Director. Recruitment begins for Land Girls in earnest.

29th August: Lady Denman sets up the Women’s Land Army headquarters at her home, Balcombe Place, Hayward Heath, West Sussex.

1st September: Germany invades Poland.

3rd September: War is declared on Germany by Britain, the British Empire and France.

Information on the Women's Land Army in the National Service Handbook (1939). This handbook was a guide to the ways in which people of the country could offer their services in World War Two. This was the first time the Women's Land Army was mentioned in the lead up to WW2.
Information on the Women’s Land Army in the National Service Handbook (1939).
This handbook was a guide to the ways in which people of the country could offer their services in WW2. This was the first time the Women’s Land Army was mentioned in the lead up to WW2.

1940

January: Food rationing begins in Britain.

April: The Land Girl, a monthly magazine, is published by the Women’s Land Army, with Margaret Pyke as its editor.

The Land Girl April 1940
The first edition of The Land Girl magazine, published in 1940.

1941

March: ‘The Land Girl’ launches a national appeal for members to recruit other new volunteers. New minimum wage.

May: All British women aged between 19-40 have to register at labour exchanges for war work.

July: HM Queen Elizabeth agreed to become Patron of the Women’s Land Army.

September: ‘In the Event of Invasion’, Land Girls are encouraged to stick to their jobs, but ‘The Land Girl’ issues advice on how to disable tractors if in real danger of capture by the enemy.

December: Churchill’s wartime government passes National Service Act (No.2), allowing for the conscription of women.

29th December: Minimum wages increased to 38 shillings for 48 hour week (or 18 shillings with free bed and board).

Daphne with Paddy out in the fields
Daphne with Paddy out in the fields holding sheaves of corn.

1942

April: The Women’s Timber Corps is formed in Britain. More than 4,000 Lumber Jill’s are employed in forestry throughout the war. They were employed by the Home Timber Production Department of the Ministry of Supply.

20th April: Miss Clemence Dane, in a BBC radio broadcast, refers to the Women’s Land Army as the ‘Cinderella Service’, in the notion that it is taken for granted and its importance being overlooked. This is the first time the Women’s Land Army is referred to as the ‘Cinderella Service’.

June: The Land Army Benevolent Fund is started by Lady Denman to provide financial assistance to Land Girls who suffered illness or accident as a result of their work.

3rd July: Queen Elizabeth hosts a 3rd birthday party for the Women’s Land Army.

Spenny and another Lumber Jill carrying the trunk of a tree.
Spenny and another Lumber Jill carrying the trunk of a tree.

1943

August: Recruitment to the Women’s Land Army is stopped by a decision of the War Cabinet (more workers were needed in the aircraft production industry).

29th August: BBC Women’s Land Army broadcast referred to the uniform rationing clothing coupon arrangements, Women’s Land Army correspondence courses in agriculture and horticulture and Proficiency Tests begin.

Margaret Footsoy in her WLA uniform
Margaret Footsoy in her WLA uniform

1944

3rd January: Recruitment to the Women’s Land Army re-opens.

May: Women’s Land Army headquarters moves back to London, but returns to Sussex after doodlebug attacks begin.

July: First complete series of Proficiency Tests had been completed.

Stooking the sheaves in Buckinghamshire 2, summer 1944
Stooking the sheaves in Buckinghamshire in summer 1944.

1945

January: Special consideration given to Land Girls who had been in the Land Army for 3 or more years who want to transfer to their home counties.

16th February: Lady Denman resigns as director of the Women’s Land Army over the decision to exclude members of the Land Girls from post-war financial benefits.

8th May 1945: VE Day – end of war in Europe.

Land Girls celebrating VE Day in Trafalgar Square celebrations.
Source: Imperial War Museum

Click here to see the timeline of Women’s Land Army developments after World War Two.


References

Antrobus, Stuart. ‘We Wouldn’t Have Missed It For the World’: The Women’s Land Army in Bedfordshire, 1939-1950. Copt Hewick: Book Castle, 2008.
 
Clarke, Gill. The Women’s Land Army: A Portrait. Sansom & Company Ltd, 2008.