Wartime Wednesday: Britain's Land Army
|Photo from Imperial
Britain is an island with an area of more than 50,500 square miles. For those of you like me who need a comparison to understand what that means in terms of size that is roughly the same size as the state of Alabama. Before WWII, Britain produced only 30% of the food necessary to feed their population, Approximately 55 million tons of food per year was imported. During the war imports dropped nearly 80% to 12 million tons per year.
It’s no wonder the county implemented rationing!
Another response to the food shortage was to create the Women’s Land Army. Or more accurately, re-found the organization that was originally established during WWI. Initially the government asked women to volunteer to fill the many jobs vacated by men who were serving in the military, but by December, 1941, Britain had passed the National Service Act which allowed for the conscription of women in to the armed forces or vital war work.
|Photo from Imperial
The WLA attracted women from all over England, with more than one third coming from London and other large cities. Work was varied, and the hours were long, especially during the summer months. Tasks included milking cows, lambing, managing chickens, plowing, planting, harvesting, and farm maintenance. The women often worked alongside POWs who were also used as farm helpers. A subgroup of the Land Army was the Timber Corps, responsible for chopping down trees and running sawmills.
Run by Lady Denman, who by all reports was a formidable force, the WLA boasted more than 80,000 “land girls” by 1943. Despite the word “Army” in its name, it was a civilian organization, but run with no less precision. Many of the workers lived on the farms where they worked. Others boarded at hostels that popped up all over the country. Minimum wage for the women was 28 shillings per week, nearly 25% less than the men were paid.
Food shortages and rationing continued long after the war. The WLA was disbanded in 1950, but many of the women remained life-long friends.