Call for Land Girls' war effort badge

RICHARD BATSON They were an unsung army of young women who stepped into men's shoes to toil on wartime farms. Now there are calls for them to be given badges to mark their contribution to Britain's war effort.

RICHARD BATSON

They were an unsung army of young women who stepped into men's shoes to toil on wartime farms.

Now there are calls for them to be given badges to mark their contribution to Britain's war effort.

In the wake of an armed services veterans badge being claimed by ex-soldiers, sailors and airforce personnel, a former Land Girl is seeking similar recognition for the Women's Land Army.

And a scribbled note from a senior government figure has given a chink of hope of victory, after an initial rebuff.

When Norfolk's men were called to war service, the county's fertile fields were tended by more than 1,600 Land Army girls at the height of the war - living in digs and hostels, and tackling tasks from milking cows and mucking out pigs, to driving carts and steering ploughs from dawn until dusk.

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Eight-five-year-old Mary Smith from Sheringham, who did three years in the WLA including driving tractors and harvesting, said: “My friends at church told me about their veterans' badges and I thought 'why shouldn't we Land Girls get one too?'

“It was enjoyable, but we worked hard and deserve some recognition.”

One of her counterparts Frieda Feetham attends an annual reunion at the Norfolk Shire Horse Centre at West Runton where there is a museum to the WLA. She added: “We never got any gratitude. We were not even allowed to use the service canteens in Norwich, when we could have done with it after working long hours in the fields.

“The owner of one canteen in Elm Hill was even threatened with police action for selling us chocolate bars.

“We had a job to do and did not really expect recognition, but it would be a nice courtesy, as other civilians such as nurses got gratuity payments after the war and we did not,” added Mrs Feetham from Lower Tasburgh, though she conceded: “There are not many of us left.”

When North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb took up Mrs Smith's plea with Defra, he received a response from secretary of state Hilary Benn, saying the government had no plans for any badge, but it was aware of “the tremendous debut which the nation owns to the women who worked on the Home Front and who served in the WLA” and that a monument to the efforts of seven million wartime women was unveiled by the Queen in Whitehall in 2005.

However scribbled across the bottom was Mr Benn's comment “Why can't we do a Land Army badge?”

Mr Lamb said: “It was obviously a note to his civil servants which came to me in error. But it shows the secretary of state is sympathetic, so I will keep pushing.”

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