Land girls honour closer

JON WELCH A campaign to win further official recognition for the wartime efforts of Land Girls has moved a step forward following a pledge by a government minister.

JON WELCH

A campaign to win further official recognition for the wartime efforts of Land Girls has moved a step forward following a pledge by a government minister.

Hilary Benn, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, has said he will consider ways of marking the Women's Land Army's (WLA) contribution to the war effort.

His promise came after North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb took up the case of Mary Smith, 85, of Sheringham, who asked the government to introduce a commemorative badge for former Land Girls.

Mrs Smith, who did three years in the Land Army, said: “My friends at church told me about their veterans' badges and I thought 'why shouldn't we Land Girls get one too?'”

The WLA was established during the first world war amid fears of food shortages as male labourers joined the armed forces. More than 260,000 women enlisted.

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It was reformed in 1939 and 80,000 women served during the second world war. A sister organisation, the Women's Timber Corps, sent a further 6,000 women sent to work in forests. They were nicknamed “Lumber Jills”.

When Mr Lamb wrote to Mr Benn, the minister replied that the government had no plans for any badge. But across the bottom of the letter was a hand-written note, apparently for the attention of civil servants, asking: “Why can't we do a Land Army badge?”

This weekend Mr Benn said: “The Government is aware of the tremendous debt which the nation owes to the women who worked on the Home Front and who served in the WLA.

“The Government decided in 1944 not to recognise service in the WLA as service in the Armed Forces as they were always a civilian organisation. However I would be interested to look at other ways to recognise their contribution.”

Mr Lamb said yesterday : “I'm very pleased to hear that. After I got this wonderful letter back I immediately replied to Hilary to say 'I don't think you meant to send this out but nevertheless I'm very pleased you're sympathetic to the issue I'm raising and, as you say, why can't we do something for them?'

“The fact that he's now reinforced that by looking at things they could do is very welcome. There's a group who have remained alive that would really appreciate that. It would mean a lot to them if their efforts were recognised.”

Mrs Smith said: “I'm delighted. We worked jolly hard all hours of the day and night and in all weathers, and if it had not been for us, the food supply in the country would not have been very good.

“I think our efforts should be recognised but sadly it will come too late for many.”

Another former Land Girl, Frieda Feetham, 80, of Tasburgh, near Long Stratton, said: “It would be wonderful and a nice gesture. It would enable the younger generation to know what we did, but I do feel it has come a little too late. We have been snubbed so many times.”

In June the government announced it was awarding a special badge to surviving “Bevin Boys”, young men conscripted to work in coal mines during the war.

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