War work on the farm

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land-army-ladies-wTWO Helensburgh women have received inscribed badges of honour — 60 years after their hard work in the Second World War.

Anne Coll (left) and Mary Copeland were in the Women’s Land Army and worked on farms, planting crops and tending animals to keep the nation provided with food while the men were away fighting.

Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for Environment, announced in January 2008 the Government's decision to award a badge of recognition to female war veterans who worked on the Home Front to provide food and timber for the nation during the Second World War.

“The specially designed badge recognises the tremendous efforts of the Women's Land Army and Women's Timber Corps and acknowledges the debt that the country owes them,” he said.

The Women's Land Army and the Women's Timber Corps, known colloquially as the Land Girls and Lumber Jills, reached their peak in 1943 when there were some 80,000 women working on the land, and it was continued after the war, finally being disbanded in 1950.

With their uniform of green ties and jumpers and brown felt slouch hats, they worked from dawn to dusk each day, milking cows, digging ditches, sowing seeds and harvesting crops.

The surviving members campaigned for years for recognition, and were delighted that the decision had finally been made.

They each received a special certificate, signed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

It stated that the Government wished to express its “profound gratitude for your unsparing efforts as a loyal and devoted member of the Women’s Land Army/Women’s Timber Corps at a time when our country depended upon you for its survival.”

Mrs Copeland, 85, of Birch Cottages, Sinclair Street, said she was delighted to receive her honour for a job that she loved but which was cut short after she suffered illness.

“I was about 18 and at the time. I worked in Barr and Stroud in Glasgow who did munitions work but it involved a lot of travelling each day,” she said.

“I heard that Helensburgh farmer Jimmy McKinley, whose farm was at the top of Suffolk Street, was looking for farm workers and I applied.

“You could be sent to any farm, so it was a bonus for me in that I stayed at home. I was able to go to the farm first thing in the morning. I looked after all the animals and I learned a lot and I enjoyed it. I know how to lift potatoes and sort out turnip heads!

“Unfortunately, after I had been working for a year and nine months, I developed rheumatic fever and had to give it up.”

Mrs Coll came from Paisley to work at McAusland’s farm in Kirkmichael on her 17th birthday, and for three years she was a Land Girl at several other farms in and around west central Scotland.

land_army_posterThe 80 year-old, who moved to Helensburgh after the war and lives in Lomond Street, said: “When I joined the Land Army I spent six weeks training in Ayr and was then sent to Helensburgh.

“I was there for about a year before I was moved to other farms where they needed help.

“I looked after the cows and did the milking which was hard work. At one farm in Kelso I had to get up at 3am as they had a big herd. Looking back, you just wonder how you did it, but it was a lot of fun and it was amazing the things I learned.”

She said that her husband, who died recently, had encouraged her to apply for the medal, and added: “If it had not been for him saying that I should apply for it and that I deserved it, then I wouldn’t have received it.

“But 60 years is a long time to wait to be recognised. When it arrived I was chuffed to get it.”

The Prime Minister said: “Their work was absolutely vital, and it is right that we thank them now for their dedication in the service of their country.”

They were among 25 throughout Argyll and Bute who received the honour at ceremonies in July. Another burgh recipient was Ella Campbell, who now lives in Ireland and who worked at Shandon Farm, Croftamie, and at another farm at Thornliebank.

Some years ago a reunion was held in Dumbarton Burgh Hall, and among those who attended was Miss Bell who was in charge of the Land Girls in the Helensburgh, Dumbarton and Alexandria area.

In 1993 a Rhu woman, Sheila Inglis, of Laggary House, wrote a book entitled 'Graips and Gumboots' about her experiences as a Land Army farm worker in Ayrshire and the friendships she made. A graip is a three or four pronged fork used in agriculture and horticulture.

  • This article is largely based on reports which appeared in the Helensburgh Advertiser, and the text and main picture are published here by kind permission of Advertiser editor David Carnduff.