Britain's "Land Girls" upset over portrayal as flighty nymphomaniacs
‘It’s absolutely ridiculous,” bellows Jean Procter. “It’s insulting. It’s very galling. I feel really mutinous about this.” What on earth is making the redoubtable Mrs Procter, aged 91, so angry? Road works through her village? A new appointments system at her surgery?
The subject of her ire is a new book, Once a Land Girl. The sequel to Angela Huth’s best-selling 1994 novel Land Girls, which was turned into an acclaimed film starring Rachel Weisz, Anna Friel and Catherine McCormack, it would seem harmless romantic fare.
But its mere mention provokes outrage among the original land girls – women who milked cows and brought in the harvest to feed Britain during the Second World War, when young farmers were away fighting....
“The novel and film are absolutely ridiculous,” declaims Mrs Procter, who founded the British Women Land Army Association in 1960. “We’ve spent 47 years trying to educate people as to what we did, and then this stupid story comes along about us getting off with the farmer’s son. There were no farmers’ sons; we’d replaced them.
“Where I worked there was a farmer with one tooth, who chewed tobacco and spat it out in his hand. He put ‘bloody’ in front and behind every word he uttered, so there was hardly going to be any canoodling there. I snorted with laughter when I read about the farmer’s wife welcoming us with wine. They loathed us because we’d taken the places of their beloved sons.”...
At its peak in 1943, 83,000 served in the WLA. During its lifetime, from 1939 to 1950, it involved 250,000 women. Mrs Procter volunteered, aged 18, in 1939. “I had trained to be a children’s nurse, but I saw a glamorous poster of a girl with golden hair, corn under her arm, so I thought: ‘I’ll have a bit of that.’ Of course, it was nothing like that. It was cleaning pig muck and picking maggots off sheep.”...
There was little room for femininity on the farm. “Our muscles grew huge,” says Mrs Proctor. “I was 5ft1in, but when I married I could lift my husband.”
Nature brought compensations. “The little lambs and piglets were lovely, and there’s nothing to beat seeing the jewelled dew on spider webs.”
Yet for all their hard labour, a popular myth endured – bolstered by Huth – that land girls were insatiable maneaters. Wags subverted their slogan “Back to the land” to “Backs to the land”.
“It’s absolute filth,” says Mrs Sackville. “I’m no prude, but these were innocent times. I was far too worried about what my Dad would say if I got in trouble.”...
Having spoken to hundreds of former land girls, Huth admits that half tell her they never saw a man. “But the other half say: ‘You didn’t put in enough sex; we were at it all the time.’” What concerns Huth more was capturing the joie de vivre. “They were doing horrible work, but 95 per cent of them said it was the best time of their lives, that they thrived on the discipline and the fitness.”...
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