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The Land Girls who fed the nation in the war
12:22pm Friday 25th October 2013 in Features
Land Girls in the fields in Essex, among those who kept the country supplied with food and timber during the Second World War
Tomorrow, former Land Girls who helped keep the nation fed during the Second World War will be gathering at Murton’s Yorkshire Museum of Farming for a historic reunion. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.
THEY were known as the Land Girls – members of the Women’s Land Army who, during the dark years of the Second World War, helped keep the nation fed.
Many, such as Hull typist Gwen Marsh, had had no previous connection with agriculture.
Gwen was 17 when she and a friend joined up. They were sent to Sherburn near Scarborough, travelling by train, then bus, and finishing with a three-mile walk to a hostel. The girls slept in bunk beds, she recalls. The bunks had a plywood base with a thin mattress and couple of army blankets.
“The beds always felt damp with perspiration. One day we came back from work to find large holes bored into the plywood to reduce the dampness.”
Conditions were hard, the toilet arrangements basic. “Usually it was the back of a hedge or whatever, you couldn’t be modest.” One of the hardest jobs, she recalls, was pulling turnips for sheep to eat.
“The ground was frozen – we were too far from shelter so had our packed lunch huddled together, it was really cold on those hills.”
Yet she and the other Land Girls have fond memories of those long-ago days.
“I really enjoyed being in a hostel, the companionship and sharing what little we had in make-up etc,” she says.
“One time we mixed Vaseline and black boot polish to make mascara but going to see a weepy film was a disaster. We didn’t need tanning products.”
The Land Army was disbanded in 1950. But for many of the women who served in it, the memories still burn bright.
Earlier this year, with the help of a £60,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton opened the largest permanent Women’s Land Army exhibition in the country.
And tomorrow the museum is holding a reunion for former Land Girls, their friends and supporters.
They will be travelling to Murton from across the country to meet met ex-colleagues and share precious memories.
Gwen Marsh is among those planning to come, as is Dorothy Taylor.
Originally from Doncaster, but now living in Bridlington, Dorothy joined the Land Army at 16, although she couldn’t become an official member until she turned 18. Within six weeks, the clothes she had taken with her didn’t fit, she recalls – because she had built up so many muscles working the fields.
While in the Land Army, she knitted a “Land Army Doll’, which became such a popular mascot everyone wanted one. “The knitting pattern went on to feature in a hoist of national magazines and newspapers,” says Naomi Beeley, community outreach worker at the museum.
Those who attend tomorrow’s reunion will be able to see the museum’s doll collection – and will also be invited to share their own memories.
Meanwhile, the museum is continuing to add to its Land Army exhibition.
“We would love to hear from anyone with connections to the Women’s Land Army, or from anyone with an interest in the topic,” says Naomi.
• Tomorrow’s Land Girls reunion at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming is by invitation only, but the museum and the exhibition will be open to the public.
• For more information on the reunion or the collection contact Naomi Beeley on 01904 489966 or email: email@example.com
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