Monica’s Land Girls brought in the Sheaves
With the prospect of war on the horizon, the government realised that imports of food would be threatened. So in June 1939 the Woman’s Land Army was established, headed by Lady Donham. By 1945 it numbered 80,000, with many city girls among their number. One of these “townies” was Monica Gudge.
Before she married Norman Gudge, Monica had lived in Croydon. However, on becoming a land girl she was sent to Dial House hostel in Longdown Road, Farnham, with 60 other girls.
They were issued with a smart “dress” uniform with corduroy trousers, shirt, tie and belt, but for work in the fields the girls usually wore dungarees.
Monica was employed as a forewoman, responsible for assigning work to her gang, who mainly worked on arable farms. Depending on the season it included picking up potatoes, and lifting swedes and mangolds. In the cold of winter picking cabbage and sprouts could be very unpleasant. They were expected to tackle any job that a man could do and took on hedging and ditching.
Other women like Madge Jackson, who with her husband, Henry, founded the Rural Life Centre joined the Women’s Timber Corps. They were known as “Lumber Jills”.
After breakfast Mrs Gudge’s team were driven to where they were needed in a lorry owned by the Surrey War Agricultural Executive Committee. If the job was close they sometimes used cycles.
One of the places Monica remembered working at was Lloyd George’s farm at Churt. Packed lunches were provided, but as these rarely included anything to drink, refreshment was often taken at a pub, like the Pride of the Valley at Churt.
Picking soft fruit and pruning fruit trees were other jobs they did. Once, Monica helped to thatch hayricks at West End Farm at Dockenfield. A less popular request was for six girls to act as beaters for a shoot at West End Farm. Monica said the girls did not appreciate this and frightened the birds before the guns were ready. They did not consider this part of the war effort!
At the end of the war the Land Army continued in being until October 1949, but the numbers at Dial House soon dropped off. Monica was demobilised in February of that year.