The Women’s Land Army played a vital role on the Home Front in World War Two. When men were conscripted into the army, many women took over the agricultural work of young farmers. These women were know as ‘Land Girls’.
The Women's Land Army was first created during World War One, when farm workers left to fight on the Front. The thousands of men who had left for war left a shortage of agricultural workers - this gap was filled by women. When the same situation arose in World War Two the government reformed the WLA.
The women in the WLA carried out all of the manual jobs required to run a farm. The Agricultural Wages Board set their wages at £1.12 a week after deductions had been made for lodgings and food. The women were expected to work no more than 50 hours a week in the summer and 48 hours in the winter.
However, every woman had different experiences of working in the WLA. Some farmers overcharged for food and accommodation and many WLA workers worked far more than 50 hours a week during harvest time.
The WLA was first set up in World War One, but this time the road to war was longer and the Government was able to make preparations for the WLA. Lady Denham was the director of the WLA and her home at Balcombe Place was the headquarters.
In December 1941, the government passed the National Service Act, which allowed the conscription of women into the armed forces or for vital war work. Before this women could only volunteer for the WLA. At first only single women between 20 and 30, and widows without children, were called up, but later the age limit was expanded to include women between 19 and 43. Women could choose whether to enter the armed forces or work in farming or industry. By 1943, more than 80,000 women were working in the WLA.
The Land Army was not part of the armed forces, instead it was a civilian organisation. Farmers recruited the women and paid their wages. Women could also express their grievances with farmers if they felt they were being unfairly treated.
With limited time and resources available for training, many members of the WLA learned 'on the job'. The uniform of the WLA was functional.It consisted of brown brogues, a fawn coloured shirt and corduroy breeches. However, as the seasons changed, many workers adapted their uniform.
As the U-Boat campaign made it more and more difficult to import food, agriculture in Britain became increasingly important. The WLA made it possible to keep up with the demand for food at home.
See also: Food in World War Two
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