Essex Land Girls
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As much as 70 per cent of Essex is agricultural, and given its proximity to the capital it's not surprising that so many members of the Women's Land Army found themselves on Essex farms and fields during the First and Second World Wars. Thanks to the work of the Women's Land Army, Britain did not starve.
This book includes not only interviews with some of the last surviving land 'girls' but a wealth of material unearthed in diaries, letters and in the stories handed down from one generation to the next about women in Essex who were, literally, wearing the trousers. They were not all Essex girls, and many arrived from the cities never having seen a cow or a tractor. The wit, camaraderie and British spirit that served us so well during those tumultuous years shines through in every story, and will leave a lasting impression.
The warden, Mrs Settle, showed us to our room and we waited until the girls arrived back from the fields. Everyone was very friendly and I immediately felt at home. Interestingly, historian Stan Haines feels that the ‘Matron’ here was remembered ‘as a bit of a martinet’. No sooner had Leyton girl Ellen Brown signed up, than she was called into the office at Writtle where there was a farmer ‘desperate for a Land Girl’ and told ‘he will train you’. So she ‘went home, packed, and got a train to.
Market by 4 a.m. on a Monday morning, which usually meant working weekends … [another] weekend job, when we started at 7 a.m. and finished at 4 p.m., was harrowing the fields after the potato pickers to make sure none had been left behind. She seemed proud of the fact that she was ‘the only one to throw cow-dung on to the rhubarb’, something the other girls avoided. Eva Parratt There is a personal account of Eva’s experiences written for her family, which refers to working for the WLA at.
Connie Robinson was working near Maldon, she first noticed the itching during her lunch when seated in a barn. Later the same day, all the girls in her ‘gang’ joined her in the incessant scratching. Told it ‘was only fleas’ (although there were nits to contend with too), the girls were advised ‘not to worry’. What it did mean though was that the ‘first one back [to Mangapp’s, a ‘large-ish’ hostel at Burnham-on-Crouch] could run a bath and get rid of them’ even though they didn’t like to admit.
Until she married Eric Matthews, a marine, and she opened a greengrocer’s shop in Wakering High Street – so some relevance in her choice of shop. Some girls continued in farm work, however. Iris Richardson was one of these, because she had enjoyed the work in Essex and on larger farms in Buckinghamshire. She remembers men returning from the war to work the land once again and the many soldiers who were still billeted at the end of the war in Warwick Drive in Rayleigh, not far from her family.
Through the streets, looking to attract girls of 18 years plus who were not engaged in essential industries. In January 1947, the Essex Newsman reported that ‘many more girls were needed’ but there was only a ‘trickle of enquiries’ according to the Essex secretary of the WLA, Mrs Wakeland-Smith. Those girls who joined post-war found themselves doing rather different chores, like removing the barbed wire entanglement at Rochford Golf Course and transporting it to Creeksea, where it was dumped in.