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Land Girls at the Old Rectory
By Irene Grimwood

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Land Girls at the Old Rectory
By Irene Grimwood
ISIS Large Print - Reminiscence Series, (2000)
ISBN: 0-7531-9698-0
Genre: History, Autobiography

Other Editions: Large Print - Paperback

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - March 3, 2002

World War II disrupted many lives and caused many people to embark upon endeavors that, under normal circumstances, they would never have considered. This is especially true for many women who found that war work enabled them to enter fields previously closed to them, or who found that war work created unprecedented opportunity to 'try something new.' This situation is amply illustrated in Land Girls at the Old Rectory, Irene Grimwood's riveting account of life in the Women's Land Army in Britain.

In 1942, just before Grimwood turned twenty, she elected to leave her job at a cigarette factory and to join the war effort. To this end she enlisted in the Women's Land Army (W.L.A.). This was not a task that was without risks, not the least of which being that she was obligated to sign on for the duration of the war - and she had no idea how long it would last! As it turned out, Grimwood spent 3 years and 3 months serving in the Land Army. For most of this time she worked in Suffolk, and lived with thirty girls in the Old Rectory in Halesworth that had been turned into a hostel. There, Grimwood and her fellow 'land soldiers' lived under the watchful eye of a warden, working long, arduous, and productive hours outdoors, in all weather.

The WLA was made up of able-bodied women, most of which were 'city girls'. They were organized into companies and sent out to help farmers plow their fields, milk their cows, manure their fields, harvest their crops - serving as roving farm hands. Wherever there was a need for their physical labor, they were sent out to do whatever needed to be done. Often the women were greeted hospitably, at other times they were scorned, but over time they proved their worth and were accepted by most farmers. During the war, Britain was to suffer through a series of food shortages, and the effort of the women in the Land Army helped to aid farmers, many of whom saw their male farmhands off to military service, feed a nation.

In this delightful memoir, Grimwood details her life in the Land Army, the friends she made, the work that they did together, and the difficulties they encountered as they adjusted to life as a farmhand - including the blisters and sore muscles that went along with the job. Grimwood gives us a glimpse of some of the numerous adventures and the fun that she had during her tenure in the Land Army. She also touches on some of the sadder moments, such as when a woman is accidently killed.

Not only did I find this book extremely entertaining, but it is also extraordinarily informative. I knew that the Women's Land Army existed, but before reading this book I was not really sure what it was they did. And, I had always assumed that it was made up of country girls that would have been use to the work involved - I never imagined that it was made up mostly of 'city girls'. At first, they often did not know difference between a cow and a bull - but they learned. In addition, this book also highlights one of the numerous ways in which women fully participated in the war effort. The Women of the Land Army took on a man's job, and they did it well. Although their contribution may not have been as glamorous as some other aspects of war work, it was just as vital as the jobs done by the countless women who served in the military, as munitions workers, or who ran the buses. Land Girls at the Old Rectory helps to put a face on an often overlooked aspect the British War effort, and the countless women who put their lives on hold in order to do their part.

Note: The Women's Land Army in Britain was established in 1916 and over a quarter of a million women served in the W.L.A. during World War I. It was disbanded after the war, only to be reborn in 1939 due to the advent of World War II. It was not deactivated until 1950. Britain was not the only country to develop a Women's Land Army during the War, many other countries, including Australia and the Unites States, also had their own versions.

Land Girls at the Old Rectory can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of ISIS Large Print.

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