Remarkable stories of the Women’s Land Army

Writer Emily Ashworth is on a mission to find other Land Girls like her grandma Vera. (s)
Writer Emily Ashworth is on a mission to find other Land Girls like her grandma Vera. (s)
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They were the unsung heroes of the Second World War who helped to save the country from mass starvation.

Battling against national food shortages, an army of women known as the Land Girls took on gruelling physical labour on Britain’s farms while the men were away at war.

Emily said it was an "honour" to meet former Land Girl Jean a few weeks ago. (s)

Emily said it was an "honour" to meet former Land Girl Jean a few weeks ago. (s)

And by 1943, more than 80,000 conscripted recruits aged 19 to 43 had joined the fight throughout the land.

Writer Emily Ashworth plans to celebrate the sacrifices of women from up and down the country who were forced to leave behind their homes, families and careers to learn to rear livestock, yield crops and carry out maintenance work on the farms.

“It’s an honour for me every time I meet a Land Girl,” said Emily.

"But they’re in their 90s now and soon they will be gone so time is against me.

Vera May Whyte Ashworth during her years working on the farms as part of the war effort. (s)

Vera May Whyte Ashworth during her years working on the farms as part of the war effort. (s)

“What those girls did was amazing but they never really got the recognition for it.

“They’re a vital part of history and should be talked about more often in schools.

“People know about the women in the bomb and munitions factories, but not about the Land Girls, which is sad, since they should be celebrated as World War Two heroes - without them, the country wouldn’t have been fed.

“Before the war, 70% of food was imported, and with the employment of the Land Girls, this number was significantly reduced.”

Vera May Whyte Ashworth with her great-granddaughter 17 month-old Maggie May.

Vera May Whyte Ashworth with her great-granddaughter 17 month-old Maggie May.

It was Emily’s grandmother - Vera May Whyte Ashworth - who first inspired the 27 year-old to write a book on the Land Girls.

In 1944, at just 18, Vera was forced to leave behind her home in Liverpool and move to the other side of the country to join the Women’s Land Army.

Her heart was in fashion, said Emily, and having started an apprenticeship in fashion-buying, she was well on her way towards her dream career.

But her life was derailed when she received her call-up papers.

“She never professed to being scared,” Emily added. “She was strong-willed.

“When she first moved she was sharing a hostel dorm with other girls and in the mornings, forgetting where she was, she’d wake up and roll over straight into a rat hole!

“It was where she met my granddad so it’s poignant for me because I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t joined the Land Girls.

“It’s surprising, because if she’d stayed in fashion, her life wouldn’t have been as colourful.”

Vera was first sent to Somerset, Emily said, but when her sister died she was posted to Clitheroe to be closer to home.

“Upping sticks and giving up their homes and careers must have been incredibly difficult - many girls were only 16 or 17,” Emily said.

“But these women were so strong and spirited, it’s impossible not to be inspired by them.

“They gained independence and it was in this job that they discovered exactly what they were capable of.

“It was tough work: they were in freezing cold fields all day and they’d come home with blisters on their hands. I don’t know if I could do it.”

Appealing for interviews with former recruits, Emily plans to create the book entirely from their memoirs - weaving tales of fear, friendship and romance - in the hope it will inspire a new generation of girls to realise their potential.

“Those women should have been recognised for stepping into men’s roles,” she said.

“It’s timely because today women are also fighting for equal opportunities and the credit they deserve.

“In fact, there’s never been a better time to write about them because they proved that women can perform just as well as men.

“I think my grandma would be proud but like the rest of the Land Girls, she didn’t think she was doing anything special.

“They’re very humble ladies.

“I think we could learn a lot from the Land Girls - they were a different breed of women.”

Emily is documenting her journey online at www.mygrandmataughtmehow

tocook.co.uk and if you, or someone you know, would like to contribute to her book, please ring 07985 222423 or send her an email on emily.ashworth@live.co.uk