Workday Wednesday: Land Girls

A few weeks back here at Kintalk, we posted a blog on the Bomb Girls of England, those women and girls who worked in the munitions factories in the English countryside during World War One.

In New Zealand, as in the UK, the manpower shortage meant there was also a significant shortage of workers to another most important part of the economy – the farms -  and that problem was solved by the introduction of  The Women's Land Service.

An estimated 4000 young women, most often townies, were sent to work on farms with a view to doing the ‘man’s work.’ For many, it was their first time on a farm and there was no getting around the fact they had to become jacks-of-all-trades, and do real, gritty farm work.  They docked lambs tails, learned to shear, harvested, sowed, baled fertiliser planted, drove tractors  – any farm work that needed to be done, they did it.  Despite this massive culture shift, the head of the Women’s Land Service described the young women as “a very fine type, not afraid of work and willing to learn.”

By accounts, many of the girls were good workers. Maybe too good as the article “Is It Jealousy?” in the Auckland Star (2 November 1943) suggested when the North Otago Farmers’ Union moved to employ the girls as domestic workers instead of farm workers. The article suggested the farmers wanted the girls to be taken down a peg, and condemned the move.

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The Land Service was not a scheme without problems, however. Locals could resent the girls, conditions could be gruelling, wives were often suspicious, and the girls themselves could be subject to sexual harassment.

Sadly, inspite of their labour keeping the country going during the war years, their contribution was largely unacknowledged; they didn't qualify as service people so were unable to be members of the RSA. In fact the only group to openly acknowledge their contribution was Federated Farmers. The Land Girls held reunions for many years after the war, and in recent times were finally given some recognition - Certificates of Appreciation from the New Zealand Government.

For more about the Land Girls, check out Dianne Bardsley’s book “The Land Girls: In a man’s world, 1939-1946.”  There are borrowable copies available in Auckland Libraries.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 and is filed under ,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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