A land girl with two white horses on a farm
A land girl with two white horses on a farm

The Land Girls

June 2019...

marks 80 years since the reforming of the Women’s Land Army, a few months before the start of the Second World War. On this anniversary, we are remembering the immense contribution made by the ‘Land Girls’ and the working horses that worked alongside them.

female with two horses
©Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo
©Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
©Military Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Feeding the nation

The Women’s Land Army (WLA) was formed to help fill the gap in the farm workforce left by the hundreds of thousands of men called up to fight. Britain imported more than two-thirds of its food in 1939. With Germany sinking vast amounts of shipping in the Atlantic to try to starve the country into submission, it was crucial that Britain could produce food on a huge scale domestically. Working closely with half a million working horses on Britain’s farms, the Women’s Land Army helped to feed the nation and fuel the war effort on the home front. At its peak in 1944, more than 80,000 female workers – known as ‘Land Girls’ – had joined the WLA. Supported by their hardworking horses, they were producing 70 per cent of Britain’s food.

Then and now

Working animals, such as horses, donkeys and mules, are still vital to the survival of people in the poorest communities around the world today. Often working closely with women, these animals are a lifeline – helping to provide food, water and livelihoods. It is important that we recognise the contribution of this silent workforce – both then and now.

 

Who’s supporting the campaign?

Dame Vera Lynn said:


‘The women of the WLA are without question among the unsung heroes of the Second World War – stepping into traditionally male roles and securing Britain’s food supply throughout the conflict.

‘When the WLA was reformed at the start of the war, Britain was producing less than a third of its food by 1939, but – thanks to the enormous efforts of the Land Girls – this rose to 70 per cent by 1943.
‘At the start of the war, horses outnumbered tractors by 30 to one on Britain’s farms – and the Land Girls couldn’t have succeeded without their horsepower.

Many women formed close bonds with the animals that worked side by side with them – and this important relationship is still evident in the world’s poorest countries. Millions of women and families still rely on working animals today – and SPANA is there to help them.’

Historian Ruth Goodman, whose television series Wartime Farm highlighted the work of the Women’s Land Army volunteers, said:

‘It’s hard to overstate the contribution that the Women’s Land Army made to Britain during the Second World War. Women from across the country stepped up to fill the gap left by men going off to war. Many of these women had never lived away from the city, but were immediately thrown into every variety of farm work – from using horse-driven ploughs, to milking cows and delivering produce on a pony cart.

‘At a time when Britain was besieged and its food supply was under threat, the Land Girls and the horses that worked alongside them played a critical role in helping to feed the nation.

‘Today, in developing countries worldwide, women continue to work very closely with working animals, which are fundamental to food production – pulling ploughs and transporting produce.’

The Land Girls timeline

Take a look at the timeline below to discover more about the key events in the history of the Women's Land Army.

January 1917

Women’s Land Army was formed to increase the amount of food grown in Britain due to difficulties importing in WWI.

1919

Women’s Land Army disbanded.

In this year, there were 1.25 million working horses on British farms.

June 1939

Women’s Land Army re-established. Recruitment begins in earnest.

In 1939, more than two thirds of the UK’s food was imported.

September 1939

The Second World War begins.

At the start of the war, horses still outnumbered tractors 30:1, with around one million horses working on British farms.

By the outbreak of war, 17,000 women had enrolled in the WLA.

1940

Food rationing begins in Britain.

The Land Girl, a monthly magazine, is first published.

By the end of 1940, Britain had lost over 2,000,000 gross tons of merchant shipping during the Battle of the Atlantic.

1941

All British women aged between 19 and 40 had to register for war work.

By autumn of this year, more than 20,000 women had volunteered to serve in the WLA.

Government passes the National Service Act, allowing the conscription of women into the armed forces or for vital war work.

Minimum wages for WLA members increased to 38 shillings for 48 hour week (or 18 shillings with free bed and board).

1942

Queen Elizabeth hosts a third birthday party for the WLA.

40,000 women now employed on the land.

The Women’s Timber Corps was also formed in this year. Working in forestry, the corps had over 6,000 members, who were commonly known as Lumber Jills.

1943

By December, more than 80,000 women were working in the Land Army.

The Land Girls were producing around 70 per cent of Britain’s food.

This year, the ‘Land Girl Charter’ was introduced, setting out minimum standards, including one week’s holiday.

1944

Wages increased from £1.85 to £2.85 per week, for a minimum of 50 hours’ work.

May 1945

VE Day – End of war in Europe.

By the end of the war, there were still over half a million farm horses in Britain.

July 1945

Minister of Agriculture states that the organisation will be needed ‘at least until the harvest of 1948’.

June 1946

Land Girls march in the Victory Parade in London.

November 1950

Women’s Land Army disbanded.

2007

Announcement that the Land Girls would receive a badge of honour.

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