More than 100 “Land Girls” gathered in London to remember the young women who left their homes to work on farms and feed the nation during World War Two.
Some 130 former members of the Women’s Land Army (WLA) – some of them now more than 90 years old – held a memorial service at the Cenotaph on Saturday (13 October).
A tribute message from the Queen was read out afterwards by former DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn following a memorial lunch at Westminster School.
The WLA placed thousands of women on farms during the First and Second World Wars – where they did the work of men who had been called up to the armed forces.
“One minute they were in an office doing paperwork – the next they were on a farm milking cows,” said Stuart Olsson, who organised the memorial day.
“You can’t have a greater contrast in jobs. The minimum age limit was 17 but some of them lied about their age so they were often younger.”
During the First World War, more than 250,000 women are thought to have worked as farm labourers, with 20,000 in the land army itself.
In the Second World War, the land army had MORE THAN 80,000 members by 1944. The WLA lasted until its official disbandment on 21 October 1950.
“They did a tremendous job,” said Mr Olsson, who can remember Land Girls working on his father’s farm in the Vale of Evesham, Worcestershire.
But the contribution made by the women had too often been forgotten, he added.
No record was ever taken of the girls that died during the war while working in the Women’s Land Army or the Women’s Timber Corps.
“We know of girls who lost their lives in farm accidents, as well as some who lost their lives working in frontline Britain in Kent, where they were working under gunfire.
“There were so many women involved in the voluntary services during the war that I don’t know whether Winston Churchill actually fully appreciated what they did.”
A Women’s Land Army Tribute campaign aims to raise £100,000 for a permanent memorial to the Land Girls at the national arboretum in Staffordshire.
Last week, Prince Charles unveiled a memorial recognising the contribution made by the Women’s Land Army at Fochabers, Scotland.