Warwickshire Land Girls
PUBLISHED: 15:36 17 November 2011 | UPDATED: 15:23 13 June 2013
Jane Brooks speaks to two determined Land Girls who 'did their bit' in Warwickshire during World War II.
Tested towards the end of the First World War and re-established in June 1939, the Womens Land Army was fundamental in helping Britain to sustain its food supplies throughout the Second World War. Young women from cities and villages throughout the country joined in their droves and after passing an interview and medical were kitted out in uniform to set out, full of fighting spirit, for the farming front.
Although some farmers were critical of the volunteers, the willingness of the Land Girls, as they became know, to undertake any type of farm work quickly made them an invaluable source of labour. By November 1939 some 20,000 Land Girls had been recruited, in July 1943 the number peaked at 87,000 recruits, about a quarter of the girls in the Land Army were employed in milking, which was mainly done by hand.
Girls were not only employed for agricultural work but also in horticulture and as members of the Timber Corps. Many of the girls were sent for training prior to being placed on individual farms or sent to hostels where they worked in gangs hired out to different farms.
Life in the countryside would have been a real eye-opener to recruits from the towns and cities but many stayed on until well after the Land Army was disbanded in 1950, often marrying into country families.
Here are the stories of two such women who came to south Warwickshire as members of the Land Army finding not only a new life, but love too and a friendship that has spanned 60 years.
Iris Brooks Story
I grew up near Dudley where my father bred pit ponies and work horses for local tradesmen. We all helped out in the business so I was used to looking after animals. At the advent of War, the Womens Land Army started to advertise for recruits and I was determined to join up, but because I was only 18, I needed my father to give his permission, which he refused to do. He had seen his sons conscripted into the Army and did not want to say goodbye to his daughters, but I was determined and in the end I got a reference from my headmaster and a family friend and my father reluctantly let me join.
I was sent for training to Hanley Castle in Worcestershire, cycling there every day from a Land Army hostel in Upton on Severn where I was billeted. After a short time at Hanley Castle I was sent to learn how to milk at Alders Farm in Ipsley a village near Reddich that used to be in Warwickshire but is now part of Worcestershire.
Living in the farmhouse there was much better than a hostel.
On my second day there I was asked to make the tea for breakfast and told to use the large black kettle on the kitchen range. When I set it down on the table the farmers wife let out a loud cry. The kettle had left a large black mark on her snowy white table, but despite this she and I were to become lifelong friends. I stayed on at Ipsley for some time and having learned to do so myself I trained other girls to milk both by hand and machine.
I wanted to learn more about livestock and decided to move on and was sent to Model Farm at Long Itchington in Warwickshire to work with a herd of Friesian cows, where I delivered my first calf which was an experience I have never forgotten. I was then sent to Print Farm in the same village, where I worked with Oxford and Suffolk Sheep and a herd of Red Poll Cattle. I loved the job so much that I stayed on after the Land Army had disbanded.
We used to go to dances in Leamington Spa, but it was not always easy to get back again and many times a group of us would have to walk home, I also remember going to Kenilworth Show in 1944 and taking some of the cattle from Print Farm, although I am not sure if we won anything.
A few years later I met and married Pat Brooks, who was a friend of Print Farms owners. We made our home at Moreton Paddox in Warwickshire, where we remain to this day still farming and living life to the full.
Marge Whites Story
I was born in a small village but moved into Coventry as a child and was just 11 at the beginning of the War. One of my strongest childhood memories is my father telling me: Youll never be hurt you might be killed, but youll know nothing it if we get a direct hit. If there are bombs falling everywhere else, though, the Anderson Shelter will save us.
We used to go down into the shelter at 6pm and sing to keep our spirits up, but the lady next door would come and tell us to be quiet because she couldnt hear the bombs going off.
I joined the Land Army at the end of the War and I was sent to a hostel at Kingston Farm near to Gaydon in south Warwickshire. The place we were billeted had been used for prisoners of war before we arrived and before they left they had painted harvest scenes on the walls to make us feel welcome.
I didnt have any training and on my first day was sent off with three other girls to help thresh some beans that were already a couple of years old. It was the dirtiest, most horrible job that I have ever done. The first fortnight sorted you out. I joined with five other girls but only one of them was still there after those first two weeks.
My work was mostly threshing, in fact pretty much the only experience I had of animals was rat catching when I was working at Knightcote for some farmers called Taylor. We caught 32 rats.
The winter of 1947 was really hard and we were sent up to the top of Edge Hill in deep snow to thresh. The lorry couldnt get up the hill so we had to walk. In those days threshing was just about a year round job with the machines and gangs of workers going from farm to farm to get the job done.
From Kingston Farm I went to live at Bromson Hill at Ashorne, which at the time was a hostel for Land Girls. I had a top floor bedroom that was much more comfortable than the accommodation Id had at Kingston Farm. I was there for about 18 months going out each day to work with the gangs of Land Girls.
I met my husband Rex, when I was threshing he worked on the drum. When I left the Land Army he got me a job on a chicken farm just outside Gaydon. When Rex and I married we made our home in an old Daimler bus but thats another story.