At the start of the World War One, Britain imported around 50% of its food requirements so when Germany successfully mounted naval blockades in 1915 the country faced a problem. Harvest failures in 1917 exasperated an already precarious position. Left with just three weeks of food reserves and facing the prospect of famine The Board of Agriculture founded the Women’s Land Army.
Over a quarter of a million female volunteers came forward to work the land. ‘Land girls’ as they were commonly known, worked mainly in agriculture. The majority worked as milkers and field workers, some working with horses, and others with the tractors.
Appeals for women workers were made via recruitment posters and rallies. Demonstrations were held all over Hertfordshire and we know from the local Gazette were held in Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Tring, Kings Langley and Apsley.
Myryl Smith who worked at farms in Tring was given no formal training and later recalled that the work was ‘all instinct’. Commencing work at 5 am daily, Myryl’s tasks were varied and included ploughing, looking after cattle, milking, feeding farm animals and looking after the farm’s accounts.
Myryl delivered milk to most of Tring with a horse-drawn cart, a physically arduous task. After her day’s work she volunteered at a local canteen for two hours each evening serving meals to local men on leave from the front. In recognition of her service, she was awarded the ‘Order of the Red Triangle’ by the YMCA.
During the Second World War Many women were drafted into the factories to help make
these vital products. In December 1941, national service was introduced for all unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 30. By mid 1943, 90% of single women and 80% of married women were employed in the armed forces or in industry.
For example, The firm John Dickinson and Co. Ltd. based in Apsley employed many women during this time. They converted their various mill sites into factories for manufacturing a whole variety of products for the war effort. Among the most ingenious items were petrol tanks for long-range fighters and bombers made of paper, which could be jettisoned after use. It enabled these aircrafts to travel much longer distances without the need to refuel.
Looking for Wartime women related acitvities?
Design a poster calling women to work during the war. Choose a role you want to advertise for, or maybe make a general poster calling for women to support the war effort through work. Have a look at these First World War and Second World War posters at the Imperial War museum for inspiration. Share your finished design on social media using #dacorumheritage #armedforcesday