Category Archives: Land Girls

7 fascinating facts about World War 1

Lest we forget 100 years onAs the centenary anniversary of the end of World War 1 approaches I thought I would share a few fascinating facts about The Great War.

Trench warfare has always fascinated me. It’s almost impossible to imagine what it must have been like at the front line being under relentless attack, with the noise of artillery and the constant dangers of shells and gunfire.

However, World War 1 posed many other dangers such as boredom, trench foot, gang green and having to eat your ration surrounded by rats!

1. Britain’s secret weapon

One of the most effective weapons in World War One was the humble handwritten letter, which helped keep up morale among the troops!

A staggering 12 million letters were delivered to the front every week.

Today we think Amazon is speedy, but amazingly during World War 1 it only took two days for a letter from Britain to reach the front in France. Letters were sorted at a purpose-built depot in Regent’s Park before being shipped over the channel to the trenches. By the end of the war, two billion letters and 114 million parcels had been delivered.

Post was important for two reasons
  • Receiving news and gifts from home was one of the few comforts soldiers had on the Western Front. Difficult to believe but most soldiers spent more time fighting boredom than they did the enemy. Writing letters was one of the few hobbies available to them and it was a welcome distraction from the horrors of the trenches.
  • Letters sent home were censored. The British Army claimed this was to prevent the enemy finding out secret information, but it also prevented bad news from reaching the home front. Letters from serving soldiers kept families informed of the well-being of their loved ones, but more importantly helped to sustain public support for the war across the home front.
2. The youngest British soldier was just 12 years old!

Hard to believe but Sidney Lewis was just 12 years old when he lied about his age and joined the army during World War One! Sadly he was just one of thousands of eager underage boys who enlisted and ended up fighting alongside their adult counterparts on the front.

It makes you wonder why they would want to go to war, but for some it was an escape from their dreary lives and dreadful conditions.

How could this happen?
  • Officially you had to be 18 to sign up and 19 to fight overseas. However at the time most people didn’t have a birth certificate, so it was easy to lie about your age.
  • Recruitment officers were paid two shillings and sixpence (about £6 in today’s money) for each new recruit and would often turn a blind eye to boy’s ages.
  • Some officers believed the fresh air and good army rations would benefit some of the more under-nourished lads.
  • Medical checks were made to make sure a potential recruit was fit enough to fight rather than if he was actually old enough.
  • The minimum height was just five feet, three inches, with a minimum chest size of 34 inches, so a sturdy 16 year-old was very likely to be let through.
  • The rule of thumb seemed to be if the volunteer wanted to fight for his country and was physically fit enough to do so, why stop him?
3. Thankful Villages – why the lack of celebration?

A Thankful Village is a community where everyone who went to fight in World War One came back alive. Bradbourne just 3 miles from Hoe Grange is one of just 54 thankful villages in England and Wales.

You would think that being a Thankful Village would be a cause for real celebration, but at the time it was actually a source of embarrassment and shame for many.

The number of men who died in World War 1 was devastating and these villages were surrounded by others where loved ones had not returned.

For the Thankful Villages, it was almost as if they had not joined in the sacrifice. They benefited from the peace after the war but felt as if they had not paid the price.

Bradbourne a Thankful Village However just because everyone came back alive, didn’t mean they were unaffected by the terrible traumas of war and what they had been through. In those days Post-traumatic Stress Disorder was not a recognised condition, and many found it hard to fit back in to civilian life.

Bradbourne is one of an even more elite group of villages, one of just 15 said to be doubly thankful, as again during the Second World War all those who fought against Hitler’s Germany and its allies came back home.

Perhaps the fact that they were all farming families and enlisted together played a role in the survival of their small group?

4. WW1 sparked the invention of plastic surgery

Did you know that plastic surgery was pioneered during the First World War?

A million British soldiers died in World War One, and double that amount came home injured. For many of those lucky enough to return, the wounds they suffered in Europe would leave them permanently disfigured.

The biggest killer on the battlefield and the cause of many facial injuries was shrapnel. Unlike the straight-line wounds inflicted by bullets, the twisted metal shards of a shrapnel blast could easily rip a face off. Not only that, but the shrapnel’s shape would often drag clothing and dirt into the wound.

Improved medical care meant that more injured soldiers could be kept alive, but urgently dealing with such devastating injuries was a new challenge.

At the start of the World War 1, little consideration was given to the trauma of facial injuries. It came as something of a surprise that so many victims survived the field stations to the point of treatment.

Hrold Gillies Plastic surgeonSurgeon Harold Gillies was horrified by the injuries he saw and took on the task of helping victims, setting up a specifically-designed hospital in Sidcup. It treated 2,000 patients after the Battle of the Somme alone. Here Gillies pioneered early techniques in facial reconstruction.

Previously viewed with suspicion, facial reconstruction became an integral part of the post-war healing process. However, in a world before antibiotics, going under the knife for an experimental form of surgery posed as many risks as the trenches themselves!

5. Accidents on the Home Front and Yellow peril

Injuries didn’t just happen on the front line, for those left behind The Home Front could be equally dangerous.

To fill the gap left by a generation of fighting men, more than a million women took the opportunity to join the workforce between 1914 and 1918. They worked across the entire economy – from tram drivers and train cleaners, to postal workers, police patrols, engineers and farmers.

Why did so many accidents occur?
  • Ammunition workers in particular worked long hours, often in poor conditions and with dangerous chemicals.
  • Productivity was all that mattered, there was no work/life balance on offer.
  • To keep pace with demand from the front line, 12 hour shifts were common and some women worked 13 days without a break.

As a result accidents were common, but the figures were often suppressed to keep morale high. For example an explosion at a TNT plant in Silvertown, East London, killed 73 people and destroyed hundreds of nearby homes in January 1917.

Dangerous chemicals health problems that would outlast the war itself. TNT, for instance, gave workers toxic jaundice turning their skin yellow – the so-called yellow ‘canaries’ of the arms factories.

6. Feeding the nation – producing enough oats for everyone!

Just as important as the troops at the front line were the British farmers who played a crucial role in producing food for the nation during the Great War. In 1915 German U-Boats cut off trade routes, and the government turned to British farmers to feed the nation during a time of crisis.

With over 170,000 farmers fighting in the trenches and up to half a million farm horses requisitioned by the War Office farmers had to adapt the way they worked to meet the food production challenge.

WLA and WTC Memorial
Land Girls and Lumber Jills memorial

By 1917 over 98,000 extra women were recruited into the Women’s Land Army to fill the labour gap. A further 66,000 soldiers returned from the frontline to help with the harvest. Without the heavy horses tractors began to do the work of many hands.

By 1918, there were 6,000 tractors in operation in Britain. The ‘Ploughing Up’ campaign of 1917 saw an extra 2.5 million acres of land used for growing cereals.

By the end of World War 1, an extra 915,000 tonnes of oats, 1.7 million tonnes of potatoes and 830,000 tonnes of wheat were grown. With the sheer hard work of British farmers and growers, and the Woman’s Land Army, Britain avoided being starved into submission. Find out more about the few that fed the many.

7. A thousand horses per day were shipped from overseas

Horses in World War 1In 1914 the British Army owned just 80 motor vehicles so horses were desperately needed for transporting supplies.

Also conditions on the Western Front were so appalling that motor vehicles were totally unsuitable.

Over eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in the First World War. At the start of World War 1 in 1914 the British army owned just 25,000. The War Office had the urgent task of sourcing half a million more, so inevitably the British countryside was virtually emptied of horses, from the heavy draft horses such as the Shire through to the lighter riding ponies.

My shire cross Oliver would definitely have been needed – I can’t imagine how awful it must have been, especially for farmers who needed their horses for heavy work.

To meet the demand over 1,000 horses a week were shipped from North America, where there was a plentiful supply of half-wild horses on the open plains.

Many of the men, grooms, infantrymen, cavalrymen formed close bonds with the horses in their charge, but they could do little to prevent the appallingly high death rate due to shelling, front-line charges, lack of feed and exhaustion. This tragic story of the suffering of horses in World War 1 is immortalised by Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse.

100 years on – I hope you found these facts about World War 1 interesting and will pause a while on Remembrance Sunday 11th November to reflect on the sacrifices that our forefathers made to ensure the safety and peace of our nation.

Felicity 

Slow Travel in The Peak District

In today’s fast moving technological world we sometimes forget to slow down and take time to enjoy and explore the world around us.

Bradt SLow Guide to The Peak DistrictHowever help is at hand from the latest Bradt Slow Travel Guide which celebrates our fabulous Peak District.This captivating and extensive guide is the perfect travel companion detailing where to taste the region’s best produce, which accommodation offers character and colour (naturally featuring our Hoe Grange Holidays self-catering log cabins!), travel tips on how to make the most of your stay and some fascinating facts surrounding the quirky traditions and stories of local folks.

Bradt’s Slow Travel Peak District brings a new perspective to this much-loved area. Slow down and let expert local author Helen Moat guide you to not just all the well-known places, but away from the crowds to uncover the hidden corners of the Peak District. The author’s love of interesting and colourful stories is linked to the natural and manmade features of the area, highlighting the quirky and unusual, places and points of interest off the beaten tourist track, from dales to abandoned mills, historical ruins, strange follies and irresistible pubs.

Author Helen MoatHelen moved to the Peak District in 1999 and has over time come to realise that “you could live a lifetime in the Peak District and still not cover every bridleway, packhorse route or public footpath. This book is only a taster – and hopefully an inspiration for your own exploration.

Writing Slow Travel Peak District has allowed me to engage with the Slow philosophy as never before: to look up, look down and catch the detail; to stand and stare and ponder; to wander down hidden dells or jitties. I’ve learned to stop and chat with strangers: National Trust volunteers, foodies, twitchers, ramblers,climbers and river swimmers, to name but a few – and found them eager to share their knowledge of and passion for the Peak District. I’ve learned to read the landscape, from the ruin on the hilltop to the tell-tale rise of an Iron Age hillfort or an abandoned mill. I’ve learned the songs of birds and to scan the hillsides for signs of life. It has been a life-enriching experience.”

As part of her research for the guide Helen visited us at Hoe Grange and loved our cosy log cabins nestled in the undulating limestone hills.

“This pretty, immaculate farm, set in rolling countryside below the High Peak Trail offers four spacious log cabins, three sleeping four and one sleeping six. Owners, Felicity and David, have worked hard to reduce the business’s carbon footprint with solar panels and wind turbine, supplying much of the farm’s energy requirements. The couple are fastidious in their attention to detail and in their care of visitors, personally greeting guests on arrival, and welcoming them with homegrown flowers, home-made biscuits and bread, along with free-range eggs from the farm. The lantern lit barrel-shaped sauna and wood-fuelled hot tub on the edge of the farm also add a nice touch for total relaxation under the stars at the end of a busy day . But it’s the award-winning ‘access for all’ accommodation, along with stabling for horse owners that makes this accommodation special. A few hundred yards up through fields will take walkers, cyclists and horse riders onto the High Peak Trail, with stunning views of the countryside. There’s even a Boma 7 all-terrain wheelchair for guests with limited mobility.”

Whether following Helen’s favourite walks and bike rides, venturing into hidden dales, caves and ravines, ambling through the national park’s charming villages or biting into a freshly baked Bakewell Pudding, you’ll find the Slow Travel The Peak District  goes far beyond conventional guide books in celebrating our special region and is an invaluable source of information – I can’t put my copy down!

Why not order your own copy of Bradt’s new Slow Travel Peak District guidebook?

For an exclusive 20% discount visit www.bradtguides.com and enter the code HOEGRANGE at the checkout.

Happy reading!

Felicity

Royal Tribute to the rural war effort

Recently David and I were honoured to attend the unveiling of the Women’s Land Army and Women’s Timber Corps memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum by HRH The Countess of Wessex. Depsite the blustery weather and stormy skies there was a fantastic turn out of ‘Land Girls’ mostly now in their 80’s but at least one over 101 years old.

Land girls meeting The Coutness of Wessex
Original land girls chatting to HRH The Countess of Wessex (photo by Rural Pictures)

The British Women’s Land Army (WLA) was first formed in 1917 as an answer to the shortage of labour on farms when the men left to fight in the trenches during the First Worl War. German U boats disrupted imports of food and a failed harvest made the situation critical.

Land girls
A fitting tribute – wearing orignal uniforms belonging to their family

In respone to meet the demand for farm labour the Government launched the WLA and recruited 23,000 women across the country. Whilst many came from towns and cities they soon learned how to milk cows, tend the animals, plough with horses, whilst a few lukcy ones got to drive tractors.The first WLA was disbanded in 1919, a full year after the end of the First World War.

One of the land girls I met on the day said she ran away from home to join at the age of 16 years as her father used to lash her with his belt, so she forged his signature and escaped!

At the onset of the Second World War in 1939 the WLA was reformed. At this time Britain was importing 70% of it’s food which made the country extemely vunerable to enemy blockades of shipping. By 1945 thanks to government initiatives and the hard work of the 80,000 unsung Land Girls the country was 70% self-sufficient in food. The work continued after the war until 1950 when the WLA were disbanded.

Lumber Jills
Lumber Jills in action

The Women’s Timber Corps (WTC) was formed in 1942 and the girls quickly became known as Lumber Jills. Their tasks included selecting, measuring up, and cutting down trees using axes and saws. Timber was often removed from the forests using horses. It was then delivered to sawmills for the production of pit props, barracades, railway sleepers and coffins. The WTC was disbanded in 1946.

In all over 240,000 young women served in the WLA and WTC during the two world wars and received little recognition for their valuable contribution to the war effort. However in 2008 survivors were awarded a Veterans’ Badge and certificate.The Staffordshire branch of the Women’s Food and Farming Union (WFU) then raised sufficient funds for the magnificant memorial sculpture by Denise Dutton of the Land Girls and Lumber Jills, each wearing their distinctive and iconic uniform.

WLA and WTC Memorial
Lumber Jills and Land Girls memorial unveiled

Well done to the Staffordshire WFU, Eunice Finney and the team for their never ending determination to make this happen. We have a slight family connection and are proud to have been able to help – whilst not a Land Girl herself, as a farmer’s daughter, David’s mother Anne worked alongside the Land Girls.

Felicity

Memorial for Land Girls
Memorial plaque commemorating Land Girls and Lumber Jills