The Women’s Land Army (WLA) was formed out of necessity in 1917 during the First World War as a means to replace men leaving land work to join the military. The WLA concluded at the end of World War 1.
In June 1939 the WLA was reformed when the Second World War was imminent. Initially, the government relied on volunteers, but conscription was required from January 1942.
Market Harborough’s local WLA attachment was based at a purpose-built hostel in Lubenham. There were around 700 hostels in Britain. The Lubenham hostel could accommodate 40 ‘land girls’ to serve farms in the Welland Valley.
‘Land girls’ were expected to undertake all aspects of farming under the direction of the farmer. The work was arduous, and the hours were long; up to 50 hours a week in the summer. ‘Land girls’ were paid 28 shillings a week; however, men doing the same job were paid 38 shillings a week. Killing rats was an essential part of their work, one local girl reported killing over 200 in one day!
Prisoners of war (POW’s) were regularly assigned agricultural work and frequently worked alongside the ‘land girls’. The arrangement worked well until it was discovered that POW’s were receiving higher quality food, the ‘land girls’ threatened to go on strike. Their threats were successful and resulted in better working conditions.
Although many of the ‘land girls’ were far from home and loved ones, they could enjoy the camaraderie of their shared work and enjoy their time off; especially when the Americans arrived to undergo training for D-Day.
The Women’s Land Army continued their work even after the war had been won in 1945. Food rationing continued after the war, and the WLA remained active until 1950 when it was disbanded.
The WLA consisted of over 90,000 women working the land, and their hard work kept Britain fed for the duration of the war. Although Britain required rationing, no one starved as a result of the war; in spite of Germany’s best efforts to prevent oversea food importation and ‘‘starve Britain into submission’’.