The Land Girls are finally remembered
They were called up to help boost food production and fell trees in wartime Britain.
Now the work of the Women's Land Army and the Women's Timber Corps has received the royal seal of approval after a memorial was unveiled in their honour.
The bronze sculpture was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum by HRH the Countess of Wessex.
Despite the weather, about 2,000 people gathered in Staffordshire yesterday. The group included more than 300 women who volunteered during the war, many of them working on farms which struggled when the men left to fight the war.
The sculpture depicts a Lumber Jill – the nickname for the Timber Corps girls – linking arms with a Land Girl, who were members of the Land Army, who is holding a pitchfork. It is to be a focal point to remember and recognise the legacy and achievements of the women who kept the country going while the two conflicts were fought overseas.
As part of the service of dedication was led by the Rev Canon Roger Hall which included prayers, hymns and the Last Post.
The countess led the proceedings and then spent time talking with some of the Land Girls and Lumber Jills at a reception.
The Women's Land Army was first formed in 1915. During the Second World War, more than 80,000 women laboured to help produce 70 per cent of Britain's food.
The Women's Timber Corps worked in forests and sawmills producing pit props, railway sleepers and barricades in a bid to boost the war effort.
It was disbanded in 1946, although the Women's Land Army continued for a further four years. In total, nearly a quarter of a million Land Girls and Lumber Jills served their country.
Great grandmother-of-four June Rose Williams, aged 85, of Wednesfield, was a Land Girl in Herefordshire., where she helped with the likes of hay making and thrashing. "We used to go about 8am and come back about 4ish. I was only about seven stone. It was hard work and we did all kinds of jobs.
"It is nice to be remembered at last. It seems funny to say we did our bit, but it was a good life. I am proud to be part of the occasion," she said.
Mary Malpass was based at a hostel at Lea Hall, Eccleshall, and spent two-and-a-half years helping the war effort by supporting farms across the country.
The 86-year-old Cannock grandmother has helped with the fundraising appeal for the memorial.
"We were in a hostel and went out every day to different farms. We did a good job, it was important when the men were away at war that we took over their jobs. It has been a lovely event and it is a very nice memorial. We have got to be remembered the same as all the soldiers. We did our bit for the war."
The Stafford Grammer School band performed at the event showcasing a series of songs from the era such as White Cliffs of Dover and Jerusalem.
Around 20 youngsters aged from 14 to 18 took part.
Director of music Gavin Lamplough said: "It has been absolutely wonderful, it was an absolute pleasure to be there.
"It is not a case of just another concert, this carries an extra significance. We have talked a lot in our rehearsals about the importance."
And two Stafford women were used as models to help create the memorial.
Izzy Wright, 23, of Tixall Farm, is the granddaughter of Land Girl Mary Wright and she was honoured to pose for the sculpture. which stands opposite a statue to honour the Bevin Boys – young men conscripted to work in coal mines – which was erected last year.
"It was quite strange and a big honour. This is a wonderful occasion. It is great to get them all back together. They did as much as the guys in the army, they kept the country fed, the crops growing."
Her fellow model university student Sarah Martin, aged 19 from Wellyards Close, Weston, added:"It is really great to get royalty here, it is just amazing what they did they really deserve some recognition. It is great so many are here."
Women's Land Army tribute project co-ordinator Julie Scott said they were honoured to welcome the countess to the prestigious occasion. "It has been a privilege to fund raise for this memorial. The Land Girls and Lumber Jills were, and still are, an inspiration to us all."So many people have agreed with us and have been a great support for which we are genuinely grateful," she said.
After the service of dedication HRH viewed two Fordson Major Tractors, which were famously used during the war years.
The Staffordshire branch of the Women's Food and Farming Union spent four years raising £85,000 for the statue which is slightly bigger than life-size. It was created by sculptress Denise Dutton from Stoke-on-Trent.
People came from across the country to attend the ceremony including a 101 year-old from Yorkshire.