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Thursday, 28 May 2020

Digging for Victory: Sepia Saturday

A man digging is this week's prompt photograph from Sepia Saturday.  After featuring two family photographs,  my immediate thoughts turned to the wartime "Digging for Victory" slogan and the role of the  Women's Land Army - with personal recollections from a former Land Girl.

 I have two rare unique family photographs - the only ones of my husband and father actually gardening.

My husband muck spreading - a farmer friend brought us trailer  load of manure for our garden c.1978.  The effort of clearing it put my husband off gardening, I think, for evermore, as it is now very much my province - without any muck involved!   I have no idea what the branches at the side were there for.

Another  reluctant gardener - my father always made sure the garden was looking good in terms of being neat and tidy and the grass cut, but he had next to no interest in it beyond that.  Until he retired, when I gave him some garden vouchers and a book on vegetable gardening.  He took it on board with enthusiasm, and  found it satisfying to  grow our own fruit and vegetable that we could eat.  Here, c.1980  I think he is planting fruit bushes.   We always knew Dad would find retirement a challenge, as he had few  interests outside work, so discovering  this new hobby was a great victory!


"Digging for Victory " was the slogan in two World Wars as the country tried to make itself more self-sufficient in producing food.  

The Women's Land Army  was a  civilian organisation,  created during the First and Second World Wars,  to recruit  women to  work in agriculture, replacing men called up to the armed forces.  At first volunteers were sought. but  numbers  were increased by conscription.   By 1944 the Women's Land Army  had over 80,000 members across Britain.   It was officially disbanded in 1949. 

A photograph c.1917  from my Great Aunt Jennie's collection 
of a friend serving in the Land Army in World War One. 

World War Two and my husband's Aunt Pattie (left) in her Land Army uniform and her mother Alice (right) serving as an Air Raid Warden. 


My local heritage group Auld Earlston  has a project to collect memories from older residents and in 2018 I talked to Barbara about her experiences as a  Land Girl during the  Second World War.  Her thoughts are below - a bit lengthy, but worth reading - so do carry on. 

Land Girls gathering in Earlston for work on local farms  
during the Second World War.

Being Called Up  
"I was living in Edinburgh, left school at 14 and was   working in a lawyer's office when I was called up in 1944.  I was given the choice of becoming a FANY - joining the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry or the Land Army.  I chose the Land Army as it was always the one organization that appealed to me.  I was delighted to be given the choice, as my sister was just conscripted into  Munitions with no alternative offered."  [Can you imagine how teenagers today would react to this direction]

Working on a Poultry Farm 
"It was a huge change for me when I was sent to Georgefield  Farm in  Earlston,  looking after the large poultry section - cleaning out the hen houses, feeding the hens who were free range poultry,  and rounding them up at night to shut them  away from prowling foxes. I became strong there and could heave around 100weight sacks of meal.
We started work at 7am and finishing time depended on the time of year.  In winter we shut the hens up around 4pn but in the lighter nights, it could be midnight before we finished. After the grain was harvested,  the hens were sent into the cornfields and it took ages to get them back in the hen houses.   It was amazing what you could see in the moonlight  - we had torches but you were lucky if you could get fresh batteries for them. For those long hours,  I can never remember getting paid more than £2 a week. We had a uniform of khaki breeches, a V-necked pullover and a brimmed hat."
Wartime Food 
 "Four or five  of us lived in a bothy on the farm and we ate well - all on the rations.  Sandwiches, though  were boring - jam, spam or cheese. One of us took it in turns to return to the bothy to prepare our midday meal - often macaroni cheese or mince and tatties. I had not done any cooking before,  but I soon learnt on the coal stove.  A great perk was that we were allowed a dozen eggs a week, which I often saved to take back home for my weekends off.  Everyone heartily disliked  the dried eggs which were part of the staple wartime diet,  so fresh eggs were a big treat.  We never ate chicken the whole time I was there. If the chickens were sick or injured,  they were killed and put in the incinerator.  It was only after the war, I thought "Why did we never get to cook it?" 
Leisure Time 
"We had a good deal of freedom. as we could walk easily into the village;  we went to dances, often twice a week in the Corn Exchange, and enjoyed listening  to the Polish Band.  [Polish soldiers were based in the village training for D Day]  Drink wasn't served at the dance, and it was never a problem in the village.  The evening finished with the playing of the Polish and British National Anthems.   We got every second weekend off and I  often went back home to Edinburgh  - five shillings and sixpence return  on the bus. 
The whole of the war I only had two dresses which I wore alternatively to the dances.  If you wanted to get a new winter coat, that took almost all your clothes rations for the year.  It helped to have a father or brother who could pass on their unwanted coupons.
We had no radio to find out what was going on in the world outside,  but one of us took it in turns to walk into Earlston to get a newspaper - usually the Daily Herald or Daily Express." 
"In Earlston, I met my husband who was home on leave.  We married in 1948 and  Earlston has been my home now for 70 years". 


 The monument to the Land Army and the Timber Corps [women working in forestry]  at the National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The Arboretum is a 150 acre woodland site that stands as a scenic commemoration to British servicemen and women with nearly 300 different memorials.  My daughter visited there in 2018 and found it a moving experience.

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity 
to share their family history through photographs

Click HERE  to see what other Sepia Saturday bloggers have d
 been digging up from their  photographic collection. 



  1. I had no idea women were drafted into wartime service to help at home with the war effort. I've always thought those women volunteered to help where needed. A real eye-opener for me!

  2. Lovely pics...and I really enjoyed reading the details from the Land Army girls...they were incredible!

  3. So funny you mentioned the Land Army. Just the other day I was looking for a new series to get into on Netflix and "Land Girls" came up. That was the first time I had ever been aware of this wartime service.

  4. Fascinating account of life in the Land Army. That's a branch of the service that I would have willingly volunteered for.

  5. Great to have the words of a veteran of the Land Army to read. Thanks!

  6. I read a vintage romance about the Land Army, so it was interesting to hear your relatives actual experience.

  7. Nice to see the action photos of gardeners not speak of the interesting article you wrote concerning the Land Army, there were so many people involved in the war effort than we realise.

  8. A brilliant story with perfect photos. I didn't know the background of the Women's Land Army. If they had uniforms I wonder if they had a band!

  9. Love your family gardening photos and stories. The memories of the Land Army “girl” are great to have preserved. I knew about the Land Army but not that they were conscripted.

  10. Now that I saw your mucking photo I remember I have several myself. Not old enough though. I really enjoyed the memories of being in the Land Army.

  11. I love your photos and the interview that you did with Barbara. The monument is a fantastic tribute to the women working the forestry. Well done!

  12. Thank you all for your positive comments. I have to admit, I came close to giving this prompt a miss, as I had only the two ‘digging” photographs. But then inspiration struck and I turned to the story of “Women’s Land Army”. I am so pleased that this has evoked such interest. Women in the UK were conscripted in 1941, but I had not realized quite how they were directed into various roles - as Barbara explained to me.


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