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Labour shortages and the position of women

Labour shortages

At the start of the war, agricultural labourers were encouraged to sign up for the army by the rural elite. Landowners and parish priests, whose sons became the officers in many regiments, actively recruited those who worked the land or in the great gardens and houses of Britain. The loss of men from the land produced a labour shortage in the rural economy, and attempts to encourage women to fill the gaps left by men were less successful than in urban areas. Many years prior to the war, women had been discouraged from working on the land both by the sensibilities of middle class (and increasingly, rural elite) opinion, and by the emerging rural trades unions which argued that female labour reduced the rates that men could be paid. Also, many industrial and service jobs in the towns and cities now available to women paid a far higher rate than agricultural labour, and were much more rewarding and emancipating.

Women's Land Army

The government responded in different ways to these problems. In 1916, Women's War Agricultural Committees were set up as a form of labour exchange, matching women wishing to work in rural areas with farmers who had labour shortages. The Women's National Land Services Corps - later developed into the Women's Land Army - was created in order to bring urban women, usually educated and middle class, into the countryside in the 'lighter' rural roles.