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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Life in the Women's Land Army

by Suffolk Family History Society

Contributed by 
Suffolk Family History Society
People in story: 
Edna Smy (nee Dallas)
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 January 2005

Volunteering to join the WLA at the age of 17 I could not wait to get out and do my bit for my country.

Childhood dreams of a lovely old farmhouse with cows and sheep in green fields were soon shattered when I found myself with forty other girls in a prefab building standing in fields well away from a village nor far from the East coast, bus stop two miles or more away.

The girls came from all walks of life, rich and poor alike. Aged from 17-30 we were all thrown together yet somehow managed to agree most of the time.

A long dormitory held our sleeping quarters, cubicles held two double bunks; each girl had a wooden locker where she kept her meagre possessions. The dorm was heated in winter by three iron stoves where on cold evenings we would rake out the ashes and bake spuds we had brought in from the fields. We had nothing to put in them but when you were hungry as we always were, well we ate them with relish.

We were called at 6.30am. It was a free for all for the washroom which held twelve wash-hand basins and three bathrooms, with so many girls we often ended up four to a bath; there was no privacy, and any modesty soon vanished.

The dining room cum common room held two long tables, seating twenty a table. You had to be quick in the breakfast queue otherwise you could end up with cold porridge and no jam. We were given a pack of four sandwiches, a small piece of cake to take out into the fields which lasted until 5pm. Our evening meal was at 6pm and there was never enough to keep our hunger at bay; the open air made one ravenous.

Our uniforms consisted of green woollen jumper, fawn corduroy breeches, fawn cotton shirt, long knee length woollen socks, a pair of hard brown lace up shoes, and a topcoat. All the uniform was of good quality. We had no issue of underclothes, so had to use our clothing coupons on the bare essentials.

Most of my WLA service was spent in the county of Suffolk. We were employed by the War Agricultural committee. Farmers would ask for so many girls for hoeing, ditching etc, and a lorry would come and take us to our place of work.

At first there were no training hostels where you learned to milk, tractor drive, or thatch. It was hard work, but we learned fast and most of the girls loved the life. In some cases it changed our lives for ever, as it did mine.

Most girls who could milk lived on a farm, if you were lucky and got a good farm you were one of the family, if not life could be miserable although you could complain and get moved on.

Social life was quiet. Most evenings several girls would cycle or walk to the nearest pub where half a pint of shandy had to last you all evening; our wages were very poor. At times local army units would invite us to a dance. This was great, and we would dance the evening away, often to be seen home by an amorous soldier, and a date to meet again — happy days.

Unlike the ATS, WAFF, or WRENS, the WLA had no medical. On joining, the recruiting officer told me to get a medical certificate from my doctor, which I did although he gave me no inspection, just too it for granted that I was healthy.

It must be said that after weeks spent in the open air, girls looked a picture of health, with hair bleached by the sun and a suntan envied by many a town girl.

In spite of the hard work, long hours, working in sun, rain and snow, I enjoyed my time in the WLA and would do it all again.

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