While men went fighting other men in the Second World War, someone had to take care of the land, and that is when women stood up and took things in their own hands. It’s a well-known fact that women got their fair share in replacing men during WWII.
The Women’s Land Army was a British civilian organisation created during the First and Second World Wars to work in agriculture replacing men called up to the military. Women who worked for the WLA were commonly known as Land Girls.
The name Women’s Land Army was also used in the United States for an organisation formerly called the Woman’s Land Army of America. These are all photos of World War II land girls, mostly in England, a few in Australia. Women’s Timber Corps (WTC) were the women who worked the forests and better known as Lumber Jills.
The Board of Agriculture organised the Land Army during the Great War, starting activities in 1915. Towards the end of 1917, there were over 250,000 – 260,000 women working as farm labourers, with 23,000 in the Land Army itself, doing chores such as milking cows and picking fruit.
With 3 million men away to fight in the First World War Britain was struggling for labour. The government wanted women to get more involved in the production of food and do their part to support the war effort. This was the beginning of the Women’s Land Army. Many traditional farmers were against this so the board of trade sent agricultural organisers to speak with farmers to encourage them to accept women’s work on the farms. One goal was to attract middle-class women who would act as models for patriotic engagement in nontraditional duties. However, the uniform of the Women’s Land Army included trousers, which many at the time considered cross-dressing. The government responded with rhetoric that explicitly feminised the new roles.
As the prospect of war became increasingly likely, the government wanted to increase the amount of food grown within Britain. In order to grow more food, more help was needed on the farms and so the government started the Women’s Land Army in June 1939.
The majority of the Land Girls already lived in the countryside but more than a third came from London and the industrial cities of the north of England.
In the Second World War, though, under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, it was given an honorary head – Lady Gertrude Denman. At first, it asked for volunteers. This was supplemented by conscription so that by 1944 it had over 80,000 members. The WLA lasted until its official disbandment on 21 October 1949. Land girls were formed to supply New Zealand’s agriculture during the war. City girls from the age of 17 and up were sent to assist on sheep, cattle, dairy, orchard and poultry properties.
During World War II the Women’s Land Army of America was formed in the United States as part of the Emergency Farm Labor Service, lasting from 1943 to 1947, and the Australian Women’s Land Army was formed in Australia, lasting from 27 July 1942 until 1945
In December 2007, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced that the efforts of the Women’s Land Army and the Women’s Timber Corps would be formally recognised with the presentation of a specially designed commemorative badge to the surviving members. The badge of honour was awarded in July 2008 to over 45,000 former Land Girls.