Sheffield pays tribute to wartime Women's Land Army 'lumberjills'
“The land army fights in the fields. It is in the fields of Britain that the most critical battle of the present war may well be fought and won”.
Lady Denman, director of the Women’s Land Army, sums up the importance of Land Girls during World War Two.
Locally, Sheffielders responded and the first women trained at Low Laithe Farm near Wombwell before being sent on to their billets.
The Women’s Land Army looked for physically fit young women, who had no dependants (usually unmarried), who were mature enough to leave home and to be sent anywhere in the country.
Women enrolled at a local Women’s Land Army headquarters, or by registering their name on the National Service Guide at the local post office. Women had to be 17 years old in order to join the Women’s Land Army (although some women joined when they were younger).
Women were then invited to attend an interview. This would give the panel a chance to meet the young woman in person and present their medical certificate, along with two character references. A check also had to be made to ensure that women were not already in reserved occupations (jobs that were essential to war). Around 1 in 4 applicants were successful.
If successful, women received the Women’s Land Army brooch.
There were many reasons why women wanted to join the outdoor life of the Land Army. Women came from typically working or middle class backgrounds and so circumstances for joining up were unique to each individual woman. The government slogan for the time was ‘For a healthy, happy job, join the Women’s Land Army’. Many propaganda posters were used to entice women into the Land Army.
Training varied hugely among Land Girls: some had 4 to 6 weeks or training, some had none at all! If girls were trained, this could take place at an agricultural college or by working at a training farm before having a permanent posting.
The Timber Corps was a separate branch of the Women’s Land Army and was started in 1942 due to the German occupation of Norway causing a shortage of imported timber. This branch received even less recognition than the typical Land Girl.
The WTC uniform was slightly different as ‘Lumber Jills’ had a beret instead of a hat and had a different armband. Their badge showed a fir tree, as opposed to the sheaf of wheat for the Women’s Land Army. Between 6-8,000 women are reputed to have been Lumber Jills, although records are contractor numbers may well have been much higher.
The women worked alongside men who had to teach them everything about chopping of the tree, through to loading it on to a lorry. The work didn’t just include the wielding of an axe, but also the skilled work of measuring of trees and the undertaking of the administrative work out in the forests.
Lifestyles varied according to where their accommodation was and how many other girls were billeted at a particular place. If they were lucky enough to have an RAF base near them, or indeed an American base, then the social life was going to be livelier when compared with a single Land Girl billeted with an elderly couple.
However, not all of the social life of a Land Girl involved men. A somewhat ‘normal’ wartime social life was kept back at their place of lodging. Many had recreation rooms which had comfy chairs, books and a piano or gramophone player (if they were lucky).
The girls had very little time off work. Due to isolated work, the women were encouraged to learn new skills and hobbies.
Records of the Women’s Land Army and Lumber Jills are particularly sparse. Of those who worked locally in the Sheffield Lakeland area, we know of Evlyn Jenkinson (nee Rodgers) from Grenoside, who was a rat and vermin catcher and rode a 500cc motorbike to each location. Her sister Edna Bailey, a Lumber Jill was drafted into forestry work in the Bradfield area.
Another Lumber Jill from Sheffield, Dorothy Crofts, nee Swift, returned after the war to her job as a tram conductress.
The Sheffield Landscape Partnership and East Peak Countryside Associates are researching the impact of the wartime Lumber Jills and Land Army Women. If anyone can help, we would like to hear from you. Eastpeakcic@gmail.com
Bamford had a contingency which we would like to learn more about. It’s very likely these women were billeted here for a short while and then moved to other areas.
It’s also very likely they originated from locations well away from the Bamford/Bradfield/Hope Valley area.
Gladys Bronham, Milly Crookes, Gradys Hadfield, Ivy Rooks and Marjorie Walker are recorded as being Lumber Jills and we would like to learn more about these ladies.
The Workers Education Association (South Yorkshire) is interested in hearing from anyone with stories and memories of the Land Army for a project they are working on that covers the South Yorkshire area.
In particular the role that Lady Mabel Fitzwilliam from Wentworth Woodhouse played in both war periods.
Richard Godley will be giving a talk on Lumber Jills on Saturday, September 7 in Stocksbridge, as part of the Three Parish Woodland Celebration events.
This event is a collaboration between the parishes of Stocksbridge, Ecclesfield and Bradfield and the Heritage Lottery-funded Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Partnership.
They are working together to put forward a vision for the future of woodlands in the area. The events cover heritage, archaeology, woodland management, wildlife conservation and supporting species.
See www.wildsheffield.com/whats-on or call 0114 263 4335.