God Speed The Plough

One of the pleasures of being a PPC is the opportunity to visit many venues in the run up to Remembrance Day on Sunday.

Last week I had a look around the Flower Festival at St Sabinus’ Church, Woolacombe. Many of the exhibits struck a chord – I, after all, grew up on military bases and appreciate from the inside out the sacrifices women, men and children make in service to their country. The embroidered cards with faded handwritten messages, sent back and forth (yes, some French ones sent home to girlfriends from the front line) were especially poignant.

However, one flower display stood out, and that was the tribute to the Women’s Land Army. “God Speed the Plough” honoured the vital work of women undertaken whilst the nation was at war.

The Women’s Land Army was originally set up in 1917 but then dissolved after the First World War. It was reinstated in 1939 as a voluntary service, and then conscripted women from December 1941. “Land girls” did a variety of jobs on grain, stock and dairy farms, including deployment in an anti-vermin squad (‘rat-catchers’).

WLA members were paid directly by the farmers, and it will come as no surprise that they were paid 10 shillings less per week than men.  Numbers peaked in 1944, with 80,000 women serving their country on average 48 hours a week with no holiday initially, though the Land Girls Charter in 1943 introduced one week’s holiday per year.

My husband’s family were farmers in Landkey and I am acutely aware of the role that farming has always played in the lives of North Devonians. The work done by The Women’s Land Army in both wars meant that, whilst our troops were away fighting, these hard working and brave women toiled in the fields to make sure that the nation could be fed. This was key to Homeland morale, as well as being an enormous, practical part of the war effort.

In this year we are celebrating the centenary of the end of the First World War, as well as the centenary of when some women first got the vote, I cannot think of a more fitting example than the Women’s Land Army of the debt we owe to all those women who helped achieve both.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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  • Katharine Pindar 9th Nov '18 - 9:23pm

    Thank you for this, Kirsten. My beloved mother was in the Land Army in Westmoreland, a place-name nearly as forgotten as that of the Land Army, of which I have heard nothing since the mentions from my mother and the best friend who served with her. There was a bonus for my mother – she met my father, a Scots soldier training somewhere near, and I was one later result of their romance! Though from Leeds, my mother came to cherish the local land and landscape, and spent most of the rest of her life in rural Cumbria.

  • nvelope2003 10th Nov '18 - 7:58pm

    A not so nice activity was giving a white feather to men not wearing uniform organised by the suffragettes. Many feathers were handed out to young boys too young to join up, men employed in essential work, those unfit for service due to disabilities and to veterans who had been honourably discharged. There were many cases of men forced to join up who were unfit and were killed leaving a distraught family. It was said that women who were tired of a boyfriend would give them a white feather to get rid of them. There was also some retaliation by servicemen who were on leave which not surprisingly resulted in these women being jeered at and insulted.

  • The contribution of all those who served in the worlds wars, be it at home or abroad, should be recognised. However, I am slightly bemused by the notion that the Land Girls have been ignored. I seem to recall a number of books on the topic (Angela Huth, Roland Moore, etc) not to mention a BBC series (2008-11) and the 1998 film starring Rachel Weisz and Anna Friel.

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