Honours for Land Army heroines are long overdue
WHAT gladdens the heart most about the recent, overdue award of a commemorative badge to the Land Army girls is to read that there are still 30,000 of them with us to receive it. Most will be like the two quoted in my paper who are both over 80. Such a
WHAT gladdens the heart most about the recent, overdue award of a commemorative badge to the Land Army girls is to read that there are still 30,000 of them with us to receive it.
Most will be like the two quoted in my paper who are both over 80.
Such a considerable number suggests that the sowing, reaping, and mowing they did while the farmers' boys were soldiering, put in place some durable building blocks for those doughty lasses.
That it has taken a lifetime for acknowledgement to be made of the invaluable part they played in the war effort is beyond belief.
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At times, I'm afraid, I do despair of this green and pleasant land, I really do.
But I've no room to talk. Only just now have I learned the full title of that admirable force was the Women's Land Army and Women's Timber Corps.
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Our parish had a fair amount of timber around but, as far as I knew, never any of the Corps' 6,000 warriors. Nor were we flush with Land Army girls, either.
Whitfields Farm, next to our place, never had any full-time, not even after their farmer's boy, "young" Billy Head was called-up.
His gramps, "old" Billy, came out of retirement to pick-up where he'd left off, having not long survived the one bomb the village had during the war's six years. It fell one 1942 night, making an impressive hole in the cornfield backing Billy's cottage and blowing in his outside privy's door, while he was in residence.
The bump it made on Billy's forehead was a source of much ribaldry in The Oak pub. Mrs Billy cackled it was his fault for not bolting the door.
When the bomb exploded we were at supper, half-a-mile away. I remember foster-aunt's outraged "the devils are after us now", as she jumped up and lugged my brother and me into the pantry under the stairs.
Given the glasses and crockery shelved in there, how safe a haven that was had to be debatable.
Fortunately, we never had to find out. That one bomb was all Adolf could spare for our village.
The sole permanent Land Girl in the village was at Odey's Farm up the other end of the parish. I doubt if I saw her more than three times.
Once, after we'd delivered cattle cake there, I heard my foster-folks saying the girl would have few home comforts, considering what a rough and ready man Odey was and how scruffy his house was.
It was probably like that for many Land Army girls.
One harvest time, two came to Whitfields to give Billy a hand.
We were there with gleaning sacks and sticks for any rabbits legging it to the hedgerows from the diminishing corn.
Billy muttered: "It's not women's work. Their hands aren't made for it", as they strove to heave pitchfork loads on to the wagon.
That old labourer's comment came home to me later, when we visited our foster-folks' fighter-pilot nephew at Roehampton Hospital, where he'd undergone facial plastic surgery after being shot down over Malta.
We found Eric playing furious table tennis with a young Land Army girl who'd taken a pitchfork prong in the face.
Neither she nor Eric would look the same again, but both were delighted with the results of the innovative plastic surgery techniques of Archie McIndoe.
When I told Billy about it, he sighed heavily: "As I say, lad, it's not work for women."
Plenty of it was, of course, and I read that at the height of the battle, some 80,000 Land Army girls were hard at it. A real army, by any yardstick.
A token group of 50 were presented with their badges recently.
The PM and his environment minister were there, making all the right sounds. Did they follow their praise by saying sorry for the delay in recognising the vital work?
The rest of the remaining 30,000 Land Army and Timber Corps heroines allegedly get their badges later this year.
Let's hope they are all still here to receive them. Maybe a gentle pitchfork prod or two in the right places might suitably hurry things up a little!