As more and more men were taken off the land to be sent to the Front, attention turned to women as possible agricultural labourers. As early as 1915 the Board of Agriculture considered this, but it was January 1917 before the  Women’s Land Army, was officially set up.

In the Borough of Wenlock, things were surprisingly advanced. At the beginning of September 1916, the Hon Secretary to the War Agricultural Sub-committee reported that 10 women had already received the green armlet and several more were qualifying. Mrs S.A. Bridgwater was the first to complete the 30 days qualifying work, he said.

Shropshire Archives ref. 4629/1/1918/126

Armband of the Women’s National Land Service Corps, a forerunner of the Women’s Land Army. Shropshire Archives ref. 4629/1/1918/126

Women who qualified were presented with a green armlet that had a red felt crown on it, showing they were doing a national service. It is not known whether they had any other special clothes at this stage.

When the official Women’s Land Army was set up in 1917, their uniform had breeches, which was considered quite shocking to some. The handbook contained the following advice: You are doing a man’s work and so you’re dressed rather like a man, but remember just because you wear a smock and breeches you should take care to behave like a British girl who expects chivalry and respect from everyone she meets.

A woman had to complete 3 months proficient service to be awarded the green armlet and a uniform (worth 30/- it was said). This consisted of breeches, a knee length tunic, jersey, mackintosh, leggings, 2 pairs of boots per annum and all topped off with a soft felt hat.

Women were paid 18/- a week to start with and that rose to 20/- after they had passed an efficiency test.

There were three sorts of work a woman might do:

  • Agricultural (milking or field work)
  • Forage (which was haymaking to create food for horses)
  • Timber cutting

Not surprisingly there was considerable prejudice against women agricultural workers. When asked by the Military Tribunal in Wenlock why he didn’t use trained women on his farm, one farmer said, ’My cows wouldn’t stand a woman.’ Another said he had tried women but they were ‘a total failure’. However, it was a case of needs must and by the end of the war 250,000 women had enrolled nationally in the WLA, but as soon as the war ended the Women’s Land Army was disbanded. Men were returning from the war and needed jobs, and women had to return to their homely duties.

Ina Taylor