9:20am Saturday 30th May 2009
Now in their eighties, the ladies had enrolled to join the Land Army and the Timber Corps – though many had never before worked on a farm or used heavy machinery. But they adapted admirably, learning new skills and working hard in all weathers and at all hours.
“I had come from Pontefract to stay in the hostel in Shortbank Road, in Skipton, and worked as a tractor driver going from farm to farm,” said Gladys Holmes. Mrs Holmes, now 84, settled in the town and married Brian. Last month they celebrated their diamond anniversary.
“Being a Land Girl was really hard work and quite dangerous a lot of the time,” she said. “We ploughed, did disc work and sowed seed as well as doing threshing and baling at hay time.
“Some of the machinery was too big to go through the gates and we had to build ramps to get them over walls. It was quite dangerous but we thought nothing about it.”
The girls also learned how to look after their machinery. “I could take a manifold off and clean it,” Mrs Holmes added.
Winifred Wilks, 84, from Lancaster and now living in Settle, spent her posting in Shropshire.
“I used to do a lot of milking and did milk delivery with a pony and float. The pony knew what it was all about as well because it would run around the field when I was trying to catch it,” she said.
Mrs Wilks said there were three other girls working on the farm. “We did mostly dairy work, but helped with the haymaking too. We had to get up at about 6am which wasn’t too bad. I used to get homesick and would go home on the train as often as I could, but I did enjoy the Land Army.”
Rose Walmsley, 88, from Grassington, spent her land army days at Old Hall Farm, at Threshfield. “We did all sorts of farm work – felling wood, gathering crops. I remember topping and tailing a lot of turnips,” she said.
In 2007, more than 60 years after the end of World War Two, the Government announced it was to honour the Land Girls and those who worked in the Timber Corps with a certificate and brooch and around 30,000 were issued – 1,700 of them in Yorkshire and Humber.
A delegation of 50 former Land Girls, five from Yorkshire, were invited to attend a ceremony at Downing Street last year where they were awarded with their badges of honour by Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The Land Army originally started in the First World War and was then disbanded. It was brought back into existence in 1939 and went right through to 1950, continuing to provide food for the country as it struggled with post-war rationing. At its peak the WLA had 80,000 girls working on British fields.
The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, Brigadier Johnny Wardle, told the guests at Coniston Cold, where the Land Girls had gathered for a celebratory tea: “It was an extraordinary service that you gave to the country and I think that, today, modern people would find it quite difficult to understand how dangerous and hard the task was.
“You were driving vehicles that were extremely heavy in terms of their clutch, gear box and steering wheels; using equipment that was designed for brawn, rather than brains,” he said.
He also applauded the Timber Jills – the girls who worked in forestry, also known as Lumber Jills – for the hard work they would have encountered without the benefit of the sophisticated timber-collecting, hydraulic equipment used today.
“If the country had not been kept fed, warm and had pit props supplied for the mines we would have been in a very sorry state,” he said. “We would not have been able to support the men in the front line and you deserve a well-earned pat on the back.
“My only regret, and I don’t mean it to detract from its importance, but I would have preferred you to have been given a medal, rather than a brooch, particularly in view of the fact that you have waited so long.”
Dorothy Clough, of Carleton, said she was extremely proud of being part of the Land Army. Her only disappointment for all the “girls” was that the certificates they received did not bear their individual names and she said it would not have been a huge job for the Government to have arranged this.
She was, however, delighted that their importance in history had eventually been recognised.
After spending many years living abroad, Dorothy is now firmly ensconced in Craven and is taking her advanced driving test in a month’s time, proving that you are never too old to improve your driving skills.
Coun Marcia Turner, retiring chairman of Craven District Council, told the guests that she was honoured to have been invited to join them and that, although she was only a child at the time, she remembered Land Girls working on nearby farms.
“In actual fact, I still feel part of it,” she said. “I was born the year war was declared. I was also married on the third of September (the anniversary of the declaration of war) and my name means ‘Goddess of War’.”
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