Kathleen Maud Bailey in the Land Army
In 1943 on my seventeenth birthday it was suggested by my father (recently pensioned out of the British Army) that I help the war effort by joining the ‘Women’s Land Army’. Coming from a military family I think it was a forgone conclusion that I should see service in one form or another.
A military background
My two elder sisters,Barbara & Dorothy, were already in the ‘WRAF’ and were stationed at the Metropole Hotel on Brighton seafront. My father had been a professional soldier for twenty-three years and had seen action in the Khyber Pass in the First World War and again in North Africa in World War Two with the Royal Artillery. My eldest brother had been in the army from the onset of the war.
My determination to join the war effort
Two weeks prior to my seventeenth birthday the family had been informed by the War Office that my brother Edward had been captured by the Germans in Southern Italy. His contribution to the war at this point was over; from there his company were forced-marched up to Germany where he ended up in ‘Stalag’ (prisoner of war camp) for the remaining part of the war. With this in mind I was even more determined to join the ‘Land Girls’ as it was commonly called. My first assignment was at a farm in Robertsbridge in East Sussex and I was to be billeted with a family who worked on the farm. The farm itself was run by a gentleman called Mr. West who did his best to try and train me in the ways of farm life.
Good intentions – disastrous results
Unfortunately I was not the best of students and often put the cows after milking back in the wrong field, once with disastrous results when I put them back in the field with the bull! I never did get the hang of milking! Many a time I left the gates open, only to have to collect sheep at the dead of night who had wondered out on to the main road. I was the only Land army Girl on the farm and eventually I was reassigned to another farm (Broomfield Farm) in Portslade. Much to the relief of Mr. West I’m sure!
RAF dog fights over the Downs
Finally I ended up working in Peacehaven working in the fields owned for Grant-Currie picking sprouts in the freezing cold, the north wind chilling us to the bone. The only consolation was the nearby café where the girls used to congregate to drink mugs of hot tea, toast and marmite at the end of a long hard day. Many a time whilst working in the fields we would just stand and stare at the clear winter skies above as the RAF fought dog fights high above our heads over the South Downs.
Origins of the Women’s Land Army
Often reffered to as ‘The Forgotten Army’, the Women’s Land Army was actually formed in 1917 by Roland Prothero, the then Minister for Agriculture. The Great War had seen food supplies dwindle and saw the creation of the Women’s Land Army (WLA). The WLA was reformed in June 1939 first asking for volunteers and later by conscription with numbers totaling 80,000 by 1944.
DEFRA (The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) has issue a statement that it intends to honour any surviving ‘Women’s Land Army’ members and ‘ Women’s Timber Corps’ with a badge specially designed by the Garter King of Arms. The badge will bear the Royal Crown to commemorate their service and acknowledging the debt that the country owes to them.