Until quite recently, not a whole lot was being written about the Women’s Land Army, at least not that I ran across here in the USA. Today, this branch of the service has its own BBC television series, and is, thanks to the media exposure, experiencing a bit of moment in the sun. And none too soon, as the Land Girls, as they were called, are now Land Seniors.
The Women’s Land Army was actually started during World War I, as food shortages in Britain became overwhelming. As soon as World War II began in 1939, the British government reinstituted the WLA, hoping to stave off the shortages before they became so bad. Women from all over Britain first volunteered, and later were conscripted, to be farm laborers. By 1943 the US had also established a Women’s Land Army, made up of volunteers.
By all accounts the life of a Land Girl was hard. Most were not used to this type of physical labor, the hours were long, and the living arrangements were often rugged. But they persevered, and provided a hungry country with badly needed food.
In 2009, the BBC developed the five part Land Girls, in part to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the beginning of WWII. The story follows the lives of four Land Girls who are working together at Hoxley Hall, a grand estate somewhere in the English countryside. All four young women are, of course, vastly different, even though two are sisters. Unfortunately the characters as they are introduced in the first episode pretty much live up to what would be expected of their stereotypes: the citified glamour girl makes a play for the lord of the manor, the wide-eyed ingenue is seduced by an American GI, the older sister plays the role of the mother hen and the girl with the big heart manages to hold it all together.
And I could not help but notice how very active this small farming community was. It was almost like the complete history of the home front war in five easy lessons. If it was a problem that the British had to deal with during the war, you’ll find it here.
Strafing from a German planes? Check!
Farmer dealing in black market? check!
American GI cad impregnating innocent country girl? Check!
Girl’s family lost in bombing of her city? Check!
And that is just in the first episode. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the series, because I did. I just felt like the main characters were a bit two dimensional and that they tried to throw in every possible scenario associated with WWII. And yes, it was a bit melodramatic in spots, but on the whole I did enjoy it and would watch it again. There are actually fifteen episodes in all, but I have only seen the first five as they are all that Netflix offers at this time.
I really did enjoy the costumes. The Land Girls were issued a uniform consisting mainly of a dark green pullover sweater, a pair or two of light brown corduroy breeches, a brown felt hat, and several light brown tee shirts and shirts. They also wore brown coveralls, like is shown in the publicity photo above, and on hot days, wore shorts. The photo below shows part of the Land Girl’s gear. Click to see enlargement.
Photo copyright and courtesy of Chris Wiles, Chris Wiles Photography.
To learn more about the Land Girls, I suggest that you start at this page of resources, which was assembled by the granddaughter of a member of the Women’s Land Army.