The women who served in the Women’s Land Army in the Second World War are now in their eighties or older and researchers are queuing up to get their memories before it’s too late. A pity that the film The Land Girls was so disappointing. One of my many student summer jobs was in a factory. If our supervisor were in a good mood she might entertain us with her stories of working on the land, including ‘seeing stars’ when she was kicked by a carthorse. The Land Army was not for the fainthearted, as is made very clear in Lorna on the Land by Doris Pocock, which I’ve just read.
The book is set in 1939 in the months leading up to the outbreak of war; some people are sure it will come, others won’t believe it. Lorna doesn’t actually get onto the land until chapter XIX as the book starts when she’s about to leave school. She’s known as ‘Dux’ because she’s school captain and one of those reliable, capable girls. She is inspired by the idea of National Service to join the Women’s Land Army and her fluffy friend Nibbs is determined not to be left out. We then have exhaustive descriptions of every stage of applying and preparing for the work, including detailed accounts of getting kitted out in the uniform. Both girls rather fancy themselves in this but Lorna is realistic about what work on the land may mean, while Nibbs is full of romantic pastoral fantasies.
They are to train for two weeks on a farm to see how they get on. Not surprisingly, Lorna loves the work and does well while Nibbs is not really up to it, although she perseveres in spite of her fear of cows and dislike of pigs, rat killing, mud and just about everything else involved in farming. By the end of the book romance has blossomed for another of the girls, Lorna has rescued an airman from a crashed plane and Nibbs has befriended a Czech refugee who turns out to be a brilliant musician. Training over, Nibbs is informed that she’s ‘not strong enough’ for the work involved, to her secret relief, while Lorna is lucky enough to be placed on the very farm where she has trained.
‘And indeed Lorna did feel glad already – deeply and quietly thankful, to be definitely in the Land Army, and to know that she would there remain for the rest of the war, doing real National Service …”Ready? Aye, Ready!”’
‘There it was, the pretty little green-and-gold brooch, with its design of a sheaf of corn, symbol of all she was doing and meant to do …’
These quotes give a taste of the book’s tone. What surprises me is that it wasn’t published until 1946, when its propaganda value had surely passed. Earlier (1942), and with a similar title is Jill on the Land by Phyllis Matthewman. I haven’t read that but do have a copy of the same author’s Timber Girl (1944), which is about the Women's Timber Corps: the ‘Lumber Jills’. These are not children’s books; Timber Girl is definitely a romance although it gives a lot of detail about the work of the Corps. Lorna/Jill on the Land are both included in this list of resources for the study of the Women’s Land Army. I suppose the books were aimed at young women. Matthewman’s book is less breathlessly patriotic and I think is the better for it.
Other girls’ novels of interest for the period:
Susan at Herron’s Farm, Barbara Wilcox, 1946.
Toby at Tibbs Cross, Dorita Fairlie Bruce 1942.