THE LOST WOMEN
Emily Ashworth explains how her grandmother inspired her to write a book about the land girls of WWII and how they turned around the nation’s food shortage
Writer and journalist Emily Ashworth was so fascinated by her grandmother’s past working as a land girl in the Second World War that she decided to research the era further and write a book.
The land girls were the unsung heroes who helped to save the country which was battling against national food shortages.
Coming to the rescue, an army of 80,000 women took over the gruelling physical labour on Britain’s farms while the men were away at war.
By 1943, land girls aged from 19 to 43 had joined the cause and in her book ‘The Lost Women’ Emily plans to record and document the sacrifices of the women who were forced to leave behind their families and careers to rear livestock, grow crops and plough the land.
Emily, from Clitheroe, said: “My grandma was a real character. When she was young she studied fashion in Liverpool where she was originally from, and just as she qualified as a fashion buyer, she got her call up papers.
“As time went on conscription had been introduced so she was originally posted to Somerset. Her sister who also lived in Liverpool became ill so she asked to be posted nearer to her and ended up being sent to Clitheroe.”
Vera Ashworth, began work as a land girl on a dairy farm in Low Moor as Emily explains: “Without the land girls there was no way the war would have ended the way it did. They kept the farms going and produced food for the country.
“I think we owe them such a lot and I want their story to be accessible to my generation. Our vision of land girls is not a particularly glamorous one but my grandma was! She had bright red hair and always looked fabulous!”
Vera ended up marrying the dairy farmer on the farm she was working – and passed on her memories to Emily before her death in 2017.
“My grandma was one of the last of her generation – and I think it is such as shame that many will take their memories with them, they are such an important part of our history so that’s how the book came about.”
Via social media Emily is also talking to former land girls throughout the UK and has even been in touch with someone in Canada.
“I think it’s great that so many people have come forward to tell their stories. I have been sent books, poems and photos that shine a new light on the land girls. I want to humanise them – they are women just like us.
“The lady from Canada told me that her mum was also from Liverpool and was sent to work as a land girl in the Ribble Valley just like my grandma – but we will never know if their paths crossed!
“One lady told a story about a land girl who failed to make it back in time for the curfew after a night out. The other land girls threw ropes out of the window so she could climb back in. There was a real bond between them – a real sense of working together.
“My grandma told me lots of stories – all the work on the farm was done by hand. The land girls had to learn how to drive a tractor and use a plough.
“She remembered threshing a field on a freezing day in January and she gave her coat and gloves to the girl working next to her as she was so cold. Grandma was a real tough cookie!”
During her research Emily discovered that before the war 70 per cent of the nation’s food was imported. However during the war years the land girls completely reversed that, producing 70 per cent of the nation’s home grown food.
“I have always been a bit of a history geek,” confesses Emily. “But I have found the land girls’ story absolutely fascinating.”
“They were all from different backgrounds, you could be working alongside a miner’s daughter from Yorkshire or a dancer on the West End stage, there was a great sense of camaraderie and, most of them kept in touch and stayed friends for the rest of their lives.”
“They made history stepping into the roles of men and doing a better job than anyone could have expected.”