This charming picture of a group of Land Army girls smiling in the snow was brought to us by Ray Hampshire, of St Georges Road, Dudley. Standing third from the right is his sister, Molly Moore.
The picture was taken some time around 1945. At that time the Hampshire family lived on Birmingham New Road but Molly found herself posted all the way out to rural Wales and the county of Montgomeryshire. Her Land Army section were based at Gungrog Hall, just outside Welshpool where they worked in the fields of the local farms. Girls from all over the country were brought together and Ray tells us that Molly is still in touch with some of the friends that she made back then.
The Womens Land Army was first formed during the First World War to meet the desperate shortage of farm labourers after so many young men had been called up for the armed services. As the Second World War approached the government of the 1930s was able to make preparations for a second Womens Land Army that would be ready to take up the shortfall once the mobilisation and conscription of men was in full swing.
Young women could volunteer for the Land Army and after interview, a medical and some basic training, although most training was done on the job, they were dispatched to farms all around the country, wherever they were needed. They were expected to do all the jobs that men would have done ploughing, reaping, threshing, digging drainage, driving tractors, milking cows, tending animals and maintaining hedges and fences; there were around 1000 women working as rat catchers. In 1944 there were 80,000 in the Womens Land Army (compare this with the 260,000 women in 1917) and they worked a maximum of 50 hours a week in the summer and 48 hours a week in the winter, with Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday off. In reality, many worked much longer hours, especially at harvest time when the girls could be in the fields from dawn to dusk. Women who were posted more than 20 miles from their home, like Molly Hampshire was, would received a free rail warrant to allow them to visit home every six months. About one third of the volunteers came from Britains cities and industrial regions.
The Land Army girls were given a distinctive uniform, suitable for the tough outdoor work they would be doing. It consisted of brown corduroy or whipcord breeches, fawn knee-length socks, brown brogues, a green v-neck pullover, fawn shirt and a brown felt hat. They also had a service-uniform for special occasions, as can been seen in the portrait of Molly Hampshire.
The Womens Land Army continued to work in the fields and farms until it was disbanded in 1950. Their work was vital in keeping the nation fed during the dark days of the war and the austerity of the post-war recovery years.