The Land Girls

The Women’s Land Army (WLA) was a British civilian organisation created in 1917 by the Board of Agriculture during the First World War to bring women into work in agriculture, replacing men called up to the military. Women who worked for the WLA were commonly known as Land Girls (Land Lassies). The Land Army placed women with farms that needed workers, the farmers being their employers. The women picked crops and did all the jobs that the men had done. Notable members include Joan Quennell, later a Member of Parliament, the archaeologist Lily Chitty, and the botanist Ethel Thomas.

It was disbanded in 1919 but revived in June 1939 under the same name to again organise women to replace workers called up to the military during the Second World War.

We have to thank those hard-working women for keeping the country supplied with food during two world wars. Similar organisations existed in other countries, but this post is only about the British women. The photos need no captions, and they are all from WW2. Taken between 1939-1945.

The Women’s Timber Corps was part of The Land Army.

Women At War: Britain 1939-1945

As well as working in many traditional male jobs during WW2, women also joined the armed forces.

Members of The Women’s Guerrilla Corps being instructed in how to carry and use a rifle, 1941. All the women are aged between 40 and 60, so too old to join the regular armed forces at the time. They were training to resist any German invasion of Britain.

A female pilot of the Air Transport Auxiliary, 1944. They ferried planes from aircraft factories to airfields across the UK. This lady is about to fly a Spitfire.

A group of West Indian army recruits at a training camp in 1943.

Two plotters for an anti-aircraft battery, waiting for enemy aircraft to arrive over the coast.

Volunteers of The Home Defence Corps learning hand to hand combat. London, 1942.

A civiilan war worker fixing tracks onto a tank, 1940.

Polish volunteers in the British army undergo combat training, 1943.

A member of The Observer Corps stands ready with her binoculars to spot German aircraft, 1943.

A group of women from The British Mechanised Transport Corps push an ambulance out of soft ground, 1940.

Women At War: 1914-1918

With most men being required for military service during WW1, that left a huge gap in the employment market at home, and created the need for some women to serve overseas too. Women took on many traditionally male roles during the men’s absence, and thousands more chose to serve as nurses, or in branches of the armed forces.

Members of the Women’s Fire Brigade at the training school.

Munitions workers. Thousands of women worked long hours in that dangerous job. During the war, over 400 of them were killed in explosions or accidents whilst working.

Female Ambulance drivers leaving for France. They worked close to the front lines, and many were killed or injured.

Railways had to run and be maintained throughout the war.

These are female luggage porters working at a London Railway Station.

As well as driving buses, women were employed to repair and service the buses too.

These women are recycling paper by pulling apart old ledgers.

Women also did hard physical jobs outside, such as these female building workers.

In 1918, the King and Queen held a gathering at Buckingham Palace to thank all the women who served in the forces during the war. These are members of the Women’s Royal Air Force.

The gathering inside the palace. Those in white aprons are nurses who served at the front, or in hospitals at home.

Working Women In Victorian Britain

These photos are from a book by Michael Hiley. They show Victorian women in their working clothes. We owe many of these fascinating photos, sketches, and detailed descriptions of Victorian working women to Arthur Munby, who interviewed many, and collected their photographs as well as their stories.

Housemaids, early 1860’s. They are dressed in their best for the photographer, but look at their hands. From Victorian Working Women.

South Wales Mine Tip Girls, 1865. From Victorian Working Women.

London Milkwomen in 1864 and 1872. From Victorian Working Women.

Women mine workers in trousers at Wigan, 1860s. From Victorian Working Women.

Yorkshire girls collecting limpets and other fishbait; 1860. From Victorian Working Women. Their skirts and petticoats appear to be tucked up into their belts in back.

Arthur Munby standing beside Ellen Grounds, a “pit wench” at Wigan. 1866. Right, a photo of Ellen Grounds in her “Sunday best.” Munby stood next to Ellen in this photograph to show how tall she was.

A Strange Romance.

The story of Arthur Munby, barrister, Cambridge M.A., civil servant, diarist, poet, friend of many other writers and of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, popular in high society, and obsessed with Victorian working women, is almost incredible. Utterly middle-class, but not wealthy enough to cut loose from the conventions of society, Munby fell in love with a “maid of all work” — about the lowest form of domestic servant — named Hannah Cullwick. They were both in their twenties. After a chaste courtship of almost twenty years, they married in 1873, but — as much by her wish as by his — she continued to pretend to be his servant.
Hannah Cullwick, maid of all work; at right, Hannah “in her dirt.” from Victorian Working Women. She was strong enough to lift her husband off the ground and carry him around. He liked it.

Female Fashion: Edwardian London, 1906

I found these photos by the keen amateur photographer Edward Linley Sambourne, who was also the chief cartoonist for Punch magazine. They are early examples of candid street photography, using a hand-held camera. He was obviously interested in the fashions of the day, and as you can see, most women were still wearing corsets and very long dresses or skirts at the time.

A ‘modern’ young lady, stepping out. She appears to be full of confidence.

Described by the photographer as a ‘Common shop-girl’, this lady is reading a book as she walks along. Much like people looking at their phones today.

A ‘progressive’ lady walking with her bicycle. She would have been making something of a ‘statement’, in 1906.

This lady is carrying a ‘modern’ handbag. The forerunner of today’s familiar female handbags.

Another ‘handbag and book’ lady.

Two elegant friends walking together. They are also carrying books and one has a letter in her hand, ready to post it.

And two more doing the same.

Some ladies at the time favoured black, or dark clothing. Sometimes this was to indicate modesty, or they may have been in mourning. Here are two of them. The first lady appears to have spotted the photographer.

A well-to-do older couple exiting their carriage in Central London.

Women and children wandering in a London Park. The children were dressed in very similar clothes to the adults.

Can you imagine wearing so much clothing in high Summer?

Reporting Sick

I haven’t been well for the last few days, so have been presented with a dilemma. How do you call in sick, when you are Retired? During all those years at work, it was simple enough. You didn’t feel well, so you rang a number, informed the company, and that was that. Now there is no employer, so how does that work? Of course, I don’t actually have a deadline to meet, and Julie is well aware that I am ‘poorly’. However, there are still the everyday jobs to get done; a bit of cleaning, shopping, taking Ollie out, that sort of thing. I just don’t feel up to much of it, but there is hardly someone to call in to cover, is there? I am left with a strange feeling of guilt, a house that could do with a good clean, and the weird experience of being off sick for the first time, with nobody to answer to. I did manage to wander around for an hour with Ollie yesterday, but had to have a lie down afterwards.

I know that this is only a Man feeling ill, so doesn’t account for much. Men are notorious for laying it on a bit thick, and this reputation is deserved, in my experience. Women are often more resilient, and seem to be able to cope much better with minor ailments, and still being able to get on with life. With me, as with most men, as soon as something doesn’t feel right, or stops working as normal, I go into full shutdown, and have to wait until it passes. I believe that the answer to this is simple. Women are ill more often than men, and with good reason. They have a lot more things that can malfunction, and a regular monthly excuse to feel unwell, into the bargain. Most men have little or no idea what is going on inside a woman’s body, and what’s more, they don’t even want to find out.

Women are just more resilient. They can get the kids off to school, lunches done and packed. Get themselves ready for a day at work, go out and do it, collect the kids again, then come home, do the housework, and get an evening meal ready. And all this, during a real bout of ‘Flu, or screaming ovaries, or throbbing gallstones. Men just don’t work in the same way. We stop. It all just stops, as we cannot even contemplate the next chore, the scheduled task, or tomorrow’s plans. We are ill, and that’s that. Nothing improves until the illness is over, and even then, we might need an extra day, just to be sure. Nothing to be proud of; it is just how it is, and will always be.

I woke up at 3am on Sunday, with a griping pain in my stomach. The day before, I had felt as if my joints were made of Meccano, and my head was best described as ‘fuzzy’. It got steadily worse, and by Monday morning, I was sure that I had been run over by something in my sleep, or beaten by ghosts with baseball bats. The griping pain had also increased, and I had to consider the possibility that an eagle was trapped in my gut, clenching its talons, in a bid to escape. I was back in bed by 10.30pm last night, cold and exhausted. Julie is getting some shopping today, and has told me not to be out too long with the dog. It is a real case of ‘Man Illness’, classic in every sense. It feels real enough to me though, and I’m not getting any younger…

The Blog is similarly in a state of malaise. Constant, seemingly pointless viewings of ‘Some Japanese Films’ continue, and the spam section is full of adverts for ‘Dumpsters’. Two posts remain in ‘Drafts’, with me lacking the enthusiasm or will to complete them. The only thing on the up is the weather, which is bright and sunny, and unseasonably warm. That can’t last, of that I am certain. So fellow bloggers, please accept this as me ‘Reporting Sick’. I will see you on the other side of whatever this is.