From the office: The Women's Land Army in WW1

By Editor, 3 November 2016 - 1:45pm

An article in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine has inspired Sarah Williams to look at the time that her grandmother spent working on a farm during the First World War

Sarah Williams is editor at Who Do You Think You Are? MagazineThursday 3 November 2016
Sarah Williams, Editor
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Women farm workers WW1
My grandmother, far right, clearly eating the fruits of her labour with her fellow workers

I love it when a feature in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine ties in with my family history (you would think, as the editor of the magazine, I would make that happen all the time) but I particularly enjoyed the article this month on the Women's Land Army (WLA) during the First World War because it reminded me of a notebook that was found amongst my grandmother's possessions detailing her time in 1917 picking fruit on a farm in Cambridgeshire.

I had always thought that my grandmother had been in the WLA, but reading Caroline Scott's article and looking back at my grandmother's diary and photographs I'm not so sure. She was certainly working on the farm as part of the war effort but her earnings were based on her pickings not a WLA salary.

The 'log book', as it is referred to, was kept by the five girls who shared accommodation in a small cottage on the farm which they named 'Kathwindo' as a combination of their names (two Kaths, one Win and a Dora – Marge turned up too late to have her name incorporated into the cottage name).

Women's Land Army WW1
The cottage is named with a scrap of paper pinned to the door!

The young women talk about hunger (food plays a big part in the book and they are always 'starving') and exhaustion, but there is much more about the camaraderie they experienced: "Uproariously gay meal & evening", "Cycled to Long Sutton 7 miles in glad rags sang en route", "Played cards and converted place into regular gambling den".

They clearly did not think so much of the WLA workers they met: "made acquaintance of the other war workers – "Daily Mirror" style in breeches & overalls, more noted for picturesque attire than hard work" but they all had fun together at a 'Fancy dress ball' held in one of the barns for the war workers and there is much talk about two men, Gordon and Eric, who become regulars at Kathwindo and clearly provided a welcome distraction!

My memories of my grandmother are of her as an old woman. Hearing about her bathing in a stream in just her knickers and vest (watched from a distance by the Station Master) or having fun at a fancy dress party "viewed with awe by the gaping rustics" gives me a much more rounded view of her as a person. And when we aren't lucky enough to have diaries or letters about our ancestors, understanding the world they lived in is at least a step in the right direction.

Read more about the Women's Land Army in WW1 in the November 2016 issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, on sale now.

 
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