It seems impossible to believe that there would be any roles that women wouldn’t be capable of. But before the Second World War, it was seen as an impossibility of a woman taking a man’s job. But with the death toll mounting and the need for more male recruits; the need for women to step up become too great. Being in the Women’s Land Army was a truly unique experience, some undertook back breaking work but they also had independence that they never had before. If you have an ancestor or relative that was in the Women’s Land Army, you can proud of how hard they worked to help Australia through the war and how much they accomplished. Finding their records is hard work and an accomplishment too.
Initially the Women’s Land Army started in Britain in the First World War. The ladies were hired to take over men’s positions in agricultural work. It was so successful that it was formed again for the Second World War. Australia started our own Women’s Land Army in World War Two after Japan entered the war. In July 1942, Land Armies started to be formed on a state basis. There were two types of workers – full-time (1 year contracts that were renewable) and auxiliary members (they would work for around 3 months for seasonal work). Women were between 18 to 50 years of age and were generally unskilled workers from the city. The Land Army finished in 1945 and from it’s beginning to end around 25,000 women had been through the training and worked for the Women’s Land Army. Before the end of the war, the Women’s Land Army was in the process of being recognised, however this never went through. This had meant that no pension, no service entitlements, no badges or recognition happened. It also meant that service records were deemed as unimportant.
NSW Women’s Land Army records are held in the National Archives. They can be found by doing a record search, then name search, then other military records search. This is the easiest search of the states. Generally their collections are mainly held in the state libraries for people to visit. http://www.naa.gov.au
QLD Women’s Land Army holds records for Queensland service. There are books, photographs, they may have some records, recruitment posters, gazettes. Go to the State Library of Queensland and type in Women’s Land Army. If you have a State Library Card you may be able to request the item to be held for you to view when you visit the library. Or you may be able to view a number of resources from home online. I was able to read a book about the details of the British Women’s Land Army online by using my State Library login and downloading it. http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/
Victoria Women’s Land Army holds an oral interview with some ladies that served in the Women’s Land Army in Victoria, doing flax crops. It gives you an insight of conditions of Australia. They also have one conscription form to view on the website, that is an unusual find as records have generally been lost. http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/a-diverse-state/geelong-voices/australian-women-s-land-army-interview/
Tasmanian Women’s Land Army records are held in the Tasmanian Archives. However they don’t hold service records, their records are generally minutes of meetings, correspondence and newspaper clippings. Tasmania does hold a roll of honour that can be searched though. http://www.linc.tas.gov.au/
South Australian Women’s Land Army information can be found at the South Australia State Library. They have an area that is called SA memory and it holds an example of a service record and some information about the women’s land army and photos. http://www.samemory.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?u=994&startRow=13
Northern Territory Women’s Land Army information is hard to find. There were a few photos of women shearing sheep and I saw in Trove that there were a number of recreation centres in Northern Territory run by the Women’s Land Army. As South Australia used to serve as the government for Northern Territory till 1911, the State Library of SA has an area that covers some Northern Territory history for World War Two. http://www.samemory.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?sel_term=120970&u=1521&t=termsThesaurus&mode=Display+Results
Western Australian Women’s Land Army information is available through the State Library of Western Australia. They hold the Land Army’s gazettes for 1943,1944 and 1945 and some photographs from that era. http://www.slwa.wa.gov.au/find/guides/family_history/heritage_online/war
Other Resources for Women’s Land Army
The Australian Women’s Register has a wealth of different information and links. They even have some biographies of women that served in the Land Army. http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0149b.htm
Trove has a amazing array of books, photographs, video, personal papers, gazettes and newspapers to search through. Type in “Women’s Landy Army” to start your search http://trove.nla.gov.au/
Books like “Thanks Girls and Goodbye” written by Sue Hardisty , that was based on the ABC program of the same name would give you a full sense of what the Women’s Land Army was about.
Australian War Memorial has more general history about the Women’s Land Army . There are many items relating to the Women’s Land Army, such as leaflets, uniforms, history, footage and photographs available through the Australian War Memorial. https://www.awm.gov.au/
The Australian Government is making a change with the Women’s Land Army now able to apply for a Civilian Service Medal. To be eligible, a member of the Women’s Land Army needed to have served 180 days on a farm that was not their own. Some women have even been able to march in ANZAC parades. It’s also interesting to note that many women were given their service record books when they finished their service. The records held details of the farms that they worked, any discipline or conduct issues and dates of service. http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs39.aspx
We may focus on the men and the sacrifices that they had made for our country. But it doesn’t mean that the women left behind had it easy. Women were just as patriotic as their men and they worked hard to show that. I’m sure in some circumstances they worked harder than ever before to prove to others that they were capable. I think the Women’s Land Army gave society a real push towards gender equality. I am glad that the government is finally making a move to recognising their service. I also see that the Queen also honoured some Land Army girls with a royal tea, as their service is not recognised in the UK either. Also if you haven’t caught it, the “Land Army” is showing on Netflix. I hope if you have a land army girl, you get to have a good chat about their service as I’m sure it would have been quite an adventure.