This then and now image shows Land Army Girls at Lewes Town Hall in 1919. The Women’s Land Army had recently disbanded and these women were awarded a presentation medal and parade for their efforts. During WW1 about 23,000 women served in the land army, which was split into three sections; agriculture, forage and wood cutting.
Like the military, those that signed up were expected to wear a uniform, and even allowed for breeches to be worn which was a culture shock for the rural communities that the workers were based in. Official guidance stated “You are doing a man’s work and so you’re dressed rather like a man, but remember just because you wear a smock and breeches you should take care to behave like a British girl who expects chivalry and respect from everyone she meets.”
Women who volunteered for service were interviewed and given a physical examination to ensure they were fit to do the work. Training typically took four to six weeks to complete. In East Sussex the pay for this work was 25 shillings less 17 for board and lodging. You can read much more about the Women’s Land Army here.
The effectiveness with which they did the work shattered the entrenched view that women could not do a man’s work. In 1919 The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of made it illegal to exclude women from jobs because of their gender. And whilst the battle for equal rights in the workplace continues still, it was World War 1 that started the equal opportunities ball rolling.
This image is part of a series of Then and Now images I’ve created for East Sussex Council’s World War 1 commemoration website. The website is focused on the contribution that the men and women of East Sussex made towards the war effort.
The two photographs used to create the image of Land Army Girls at Lewes Town Hall are below. Both photographs were taken from the balcony of the White Hart Pub. You can view the top image full size on my Flickr page by clicking on it.