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Women's Land Army - Research for film


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Hi,

 

I'm doing some research for a film and one of the main characters is a female who lives on a farm.  They lose most of their male workers to the war and so she has the idea to recruit some female workers from their village and I have a few questions on how she may have gone about this.

 

I've been reading up on the WLA and it seems as it was all quite de-centralised and a bit all over the place in terms of organisation (at least until very late on in the War, after all they faced a lot of barriers!) - Happy to be corrected on this.

 

I believe the WLA was only officially created in 1917 and I have read that, before that date, there were female volunteers on farms.  My question is whether there would have been paid female workers on farms prior to the official establishment of the WLA in 1917 or whether these would only have been volunteers?

 

(I am well aware of the stigma that she would have faced from society but this is more about how she would have theoretically gone about it and whether there were examples of this happening 'separately'/before the establishment of the WLA or if female farm workers would have been volunteers until the organisation came into effect.)

 

Thanks in advance,

Leila

 

 

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headgardener

Hi Leila - I hope your project is progressing well.

 

The situation changed as the war progressed, so it would be helpful to know the period(s) in which you envisage this element of the story taking place. 

 

Initially, volunteers were recruited and deployed by a variety of civilian bodies, hence the decentralised organization that you refer to. I have never come across any references to the source(s) of pay - I would imagine that this would (initially at least) have been the responsibility of the farmers themselves as these women were replacing male farm workers who were now in the pay of the Army. I understand that the 'officers' were ladies of the upper-class or prosperous middle-class and who might therefore be of independent means. I think this was certainly true for the women officers of the Forage Section (later the Forage Corps). 

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Hello! Good to speak to you again.

 

I was envisaging it taking place in 1916 following conscription which would take what is left of their capable male workforce on the farm therefore prior to the WLA being formally established.

 

As it is set in a small village, I saw her recruiting from those who she knows initially then maybe becoming aware of other bodies being set up which lead to the establishment of the WLA in 1917.  On that note, how would someone in a smaller village become aware of such bodies and later the WLA?

 

Would it be perceivable that women would have been paid (prior to the formal establishment of the WLA) if the farmers themselves had decided to do so or would this just be completely unheard of?  Noted also about the upper-class who may have anyway been of independent means.  

 

Ideally, for the story, I would like her to recruit from villagers and then become later become aware of the WLA when it is formally established - maybe even offer their services as a training farm which I believe also occurred.  I have a couple of gaps though which is namely whether they would, or could, pay their first recruits and secondly, how she as a farmers daughter in a small village might become aware of bodies like the WLA and how they would come into contact?

 

I hope this provides further context - the finer details of the story are also fairly flexible at this stage so as to mould to historical accuracy!  Again as with the postman, I'm interested in what potentially could have occurred rather than what necessarily was the 'norm'.  I do understand about the stigma attached and how a number of things will have been unlikely.

 

Thanks again,

Leila

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headgardener
51 minutes ago, LeilaLay said:

I do understand about the stigma attached and how a number of things will have been unlikely.

 

How do you envisage 'the stigma' that you refer to, btw? I would imagine that many may have thought that it wasn't 'Women's work', or that their work didn't have the same value or wasn't of the same quality as the same work as done by a man. Is that how you're seeing it?

 

I recall seeing a 2-panel cartoon, the first with a picture of a young woman dressed in a nice country dress and pinafore and a distinctive WLA-style cap walking along gaily picking flowers and putting them in a basket with the caption saying something like 'What they think it will be like', and then the 2nd panel with a picture of the same young woman in WLA uniform with boots and puttees looking very tired while engaged in physical labour that she doesn't look up to completing, with a caption along the lines of 'How it really is'. So I certainly think their efforts were disregarded and denigrated by many in society. 

Edited by headgardener
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headgardener

By 1916 the various civil organizations would have had at least a year to put some local structures in place, but I simply don't know how complete their coverage of the country was, and I would imagine that there may have been 'turf wars' between competing bodies - perhaps with differing views of exactly what was needed and who should be in charge of local efforts. It's easy to imagine some local busy-body who might be concerned as much with their own control over local planning as with the actual results of the plans that they were overseeing. Sorry, that's speculation on my part, but I could see it having some dramatic potential if it were indeed the case. 

 

I'll dig up some of my notes and references and see what I can find. 

Edited by headgardener
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19 minutes ago, headgardener said:

 

How do you envisage 'the stigma' that you refer to, btw? I would imagine that many may have thought that it wasn't 'Women's work', or that their work didn't have the same value or wasn't of the same quality as the same work as done by a man. Is that how you're seeing it?

 

I recall seeing a 2-panel cartoon, the first with a picture of a young woman dressed in a nice country dress and pinafore and a distinctive WLA-style cap walking along gaily picking flowers and putting them in a basket with the caption saying something like 'What they think it will be like', and then the 2nd panel with a picture of the same young woman in WLA uniform with boots and puttees looking very tired while engaged in physical labour that she doesn't look up to completing, with a caption along the lines of 'How it really is'. So I certainly think their efforts were disregarded and denigrated by many in society. 

 

Yes - this exactly! That is was frowned upon by many as not 'right' or 'proper' or a women's place (by a lot of both men and women).  Great reference to the cartoon!

 

And yes, definitely a lot of case for dramatic potential there!  I basically wondered if (some) farmers had their own arrangements 'employing' women prior to the WLA's establishment and then what happened when more formal structures were put in place... 

 

I know women from the cities were sent to country farms later on in the war (when the WLA was formed) but again wondered how this occurred and how word would get to smaller villages that this were a possibility or would it more be the other way around and the WLA getting in contact with potential farms etc.

 

Thanks so much for your help again!

Also, in case it is relevant, I see this as being primarily a dairy farm

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I've done a lot of research into Seale Hayne in Highweek, Newton Abbot. Unfortunately my research relates to the 1918-19 use as a specialised military hospital.

 

The SH archive group have quite a bit on their WLA aspect and I suspect the pre-organisation period as well. You may be aware it became a WLA training farm.

 

SH have an archive website which includes WLA photos. I've just checked and they have an album by possibly a WLA member from 1916 which includes a 900 word 'reminiscences'.

 

I suspect they have more photos that the website shows plus a scrap book of newspaper cuttings including some for WLA.

 

I know local papers of the time have articles on the land ladies at SH and from memory I'm sure the organisation is discussed. You may want to check British Newspaper Archives. 

 

You could also email SH archive and ask them what they have, more photos, watermark free photos etc.

 

TEW

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headgardener

In case you're interested in some background reading, I just found my copy of a book by a serious historian which manages to be both well written and researched while remaining reasonably concise (about 160 pages) and well illustrated. I'll need to have a quick re-read of the relevant sections, but I recall it giving a good account of the formation and activities of the Land Army, as well as an overview of societal attitudes generally and the contemporary diversity of opinion amongst women with regard to their role in the war. I'm guessing you'll be able to find a copy cheap on the 'Bay. 

 

16019858621363232792411150903823.jpg

Incidentally, I just remembered another 2-panel cartoon - the first titled something like "How the Farmer sees the Land Army", in which a handsome virile young farmer wipes a speck of dust from the eye of a well-groomed anxious young lady while her colleagues are shown running away from a cow and generally making a mess of farmyard chores, while the 2nd panel was titled "How the women see the Farmer", which showed a woman in dirty work clothes mending a muddy tractor while a couple of sour-faced old men with walking sticks and threadbare clothes stand watching her, one of them beckoning to her to fix a button on his jacket. So the critics didn't always appear to hold the upper hand. 

Edited by headgardener
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