The Land Girl

The land army fights in the fields. It is in the fields of Britain that the most critical battle of the present war may well be fought and won. –  Lady Denman, the Director of the Women’s Land Army, WW2

Who Won the War?

It wasn’t the WRENS who won the war
Whatever the WRENS may say
It was the Womens Land Army
They won it making hay

It wasn’t the ATS who won the war
They never fired a gun
It was the Womens Land Army
Spreading cow muck by the ton

It wasn’t the WAAFS who won the war
Though they said they did, and how,
It was the Womens Land Army
They even went to plough

It really was the land girls
Who won the war, you see
They heeded all those posters


A little justifiable land girl pride there. It’s from the magazine The Land Girl that began publishing monthly in April 1940. The purpose was to build community and morale among the thousands in the Womens Land Army (WLA)  across the country some of whom worked solo on isolated farms. It also provided useful information about agriculture and horticulture, listed relevant BBC programs, had a lively letter section, poetry, jokes and the occasional short story.  It kept track of the WLA Spitfire Fund and of the Land Army numbers by county.  It had recipes and helpful farm and garden hints. (Milk will rot your Wellington boots)

You can read many of the editions on-line and I found them a fascinating source of social history – particularly the front page editorials . More on that anon.

What led me to The Land Army was a search for something quite different that then led me to the text of Cyril Connelly’s influential review of literature and art – Horizon.  Packed with delights. So it was by accident I came across a remarkable short story by Diane Gardner entitled – yes – The Land Girl. There it is – sandwiched between George Orwell and Brian Howard. You can read it below.

It is a terrific story of cold, calculated revenge, social class and domestic warfare.

It’s written in the form of a diary. Una is a land girl who lives with the Farrants on their farm. It’s clear that Una is somewhat troubled, willful and spoilt. She grew up with a guardian, was expelled from school, went to college and is clearly of a different social class than the Farrants. She’s frank in her appraisal of Mr. Farrant’s  physical appeal – I wish he wouldn’t wear leather gaiters: they make his legs look far too thin – and thinks the cowhand robust and good-looking if you like the earthy type. And she is glad that her land army uniform does not bulge in the wrong places.

The clash of social class is further revealed by her condescension at the decor of the cowhand’s “parlour” and his wife’s teeth.  But she enjoys the good brown ale at “The Drovers” and finds Mr. Farrant not bad-looking. It’s a recipe for disaster.

The war with Mrs. Farrant begins over the sugar, moves on to spilt tea and escalates from there.

“ My good woman,” I said. “ I haven’t taken up farming to be ordered about by you.”

“This is my house and I’ll be obeyed in it.”

There’s an open warfare confrontation over snow and boots and Una vows to pay her back. How she does, makes for a chilling story as she cold heartedly goes about getting her revenge. Well – read it for yourself.

The Land Girl

So who was Diana Gardner?

I had never heard of her. Look her up and discover she’s a painter, illustrator, and author of one story collection, Halfway Down the Cliff (1946) and one novel, The Indian Woman (1954). In 2006, Persephone Books published a new collection of her stories called A Woman Novelist that includes “The Land Girl” and wrote about it here.

I know that Gardner lived near Virginia and Leonard Woolf in Rodmell, Sussex and that Virginia was rather sniffy about her neighbor and her “sheep-witted’ father.

I know that she was an artist. But apart from a couple of woodcuts and references to a few publications she seems to have disappeared without trace.

Look at this amazing example of her work:

Diana Gardner – The Hedge Hoppers – Rodmell, 19 August 1940 – wood engraving

Virginia Woolf tells the story of the picture. She spent much of the Battle of Britain period in and around her house at Rodmell, near Lewes in (now) East Sussex. The war was often overhead.

Monday 19 August 1940 – Yesterday, 18th, there was a roar. Right on top of us they came. I looked at the plane, like a minnow at a roaring shark. Over they flashed – 3 I think. Olive green. Then pop pop pop – German ? Again pop pop pop, over Kingston. Said to be 5 bombers hedge hopping on their way to London. The closest shave so far. – The Diaries of Virginia Woolf 1936 – 1941

This was the famous, low-level, daylight raid on RAF Kenley when nine Dornier17 bombers of 9/KG76 crossed the coast at under 100ft and continued to their target at this height. They were literally under the radar.

Where were those bombers headed and what happened to them? Read tomorrow’s thrilling installment: The Hedge Hoppers and the Hardest Day.

Meanwhile, in The Land Girl for late1940 there are accounts how work in the fields of south east England continued in spite of the battle overhead and the danger. The WLA carried on.

And to close – here’s a cheerful ditty to be sung to the tune of: Sing a Song of Sixpence, Pocket Full of Rye.

And living dangerously? How about this?

A Land Girl and the Bail Bull, Evelyn Dunbar 1945

Featured image: Threshing, Kent. Evelyn Dunbar, 1942-3

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