As the prospect of war became increasingly likely, the government
wanted to increase the amount of food grown within Britain. This
would mean that less food would have to be imported freeing up more
ships for troop movements and reducing the risk of convoys being
attacked. In order to grow more food, more help was needed on the
farms and so the government started the Women's Land Army.
The Women's Land Army was set up in June 1939 and by September it
had over 1,000 members. By 1941, its numbers had risen to 20,000
and, at its peak in 1943, over 80,000 women classed themselves as
'Land Girls'. Numbers did not rise after that, as women were needed
to make aircraft and were encouraged to take up factory work instead.
Women joined the Land Army from all backgrounds, a third coming
from London and other large cities. Farm work was hard, and the
women did all sorts of jobs including hoeing, ploughing, hedging,
turning hay, lifting potatoes, threshing, lambing and looking after
poultry. A thousand women were employed as rat catchers. Six thousand
women worked in the Timber Corps, felling trees and running sawmills.
About a quarter were employed in milking and general farm work.
The Women's Land Army had a uniform - green jerseys, brown breeches,
brown felt hats and khaki overcoats. However, the Land Army was
not a military force and many women did not wear the uniform. Some
women lived in hostels but most lived on individual farms. Conditions
were often poor and pay was low but many women enjoyed the work.
The Women's Land Army remained in existence until 1950.