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Lady Dalmeny & the Women's Land Army

Having never endured … Sorry, Freudian slip there. Having never experienced working for a female boss, a passing thought has often been as to what this would be actually like. However, from presently working with a bunch of women, tears, tantrums and tiffs would all seem to be on the cards - and so it’s a good job that the women don’t behave in the same way! As touched upon in a previous article, equality for women had beginnings with the Suffragette movement, but it was their role during the two World Wars which ensured the practical reality, and no where was this more so than from working on the land. During a time of national crisis everyone had to pull together, and transcending the social hierarchy Lady Leon, of Bletchley Park, could be seen during the first week in May 1916 hard at work at Bletchley Park Home Farm, hoeing beans with the assistance of four women helpers. In fact this would have gladdened the heart of Lord Selborne, the President of the Board of Agriculture, for throughout the past few months he had made several appeals for everyone to grow as much food as possible. Yet as the threat posed by the German U boats increased, so the need for home produce became paramount, and in February 1917 the Women’s Land Army was formed, under the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. Also helping the war effort was Lady Dalmeny, who, following the break up of her marriage, had moved from The Grange, Bletchley, to Northamptonshire, where by April 1918 she was voluntarily undertaking strenuous war work on the farm of Harold Brown, at Sywell. Yet perhaps Harold had little choice in the matter, for it was whilst riding with the Pytchley Hunt (of which she was a member) that towards the close of the season Lady Dalmeny had surprised him by declaring “I am coming to work for you.” And so it would be, for having acquired a practical insight into farming whilst at Bletchley, these skills she now usefully employed at Sywell, to and from where she cycled a round journey of 24 miles every day. Putting in a full day’s work, there was no task to which she could not turn her hand - from carting mangolds, to washing sheep, to harnessing the horses - and clad in breeches, leggings and a smock, her attire was in the style of the Women’s Land Army girls, who, being issued with an overall worn over breeches, high laced gaiters, and a floppy hat, soon became known as ‘the lilac and sun-bonnet brigade.’ With the prospect of another World War, the Women’s Land Army was reformed on June 1st 1939, and this time the not unbecoming uniform would consist of corduroy breeches, leggings, boots, green jumper, brown jacket and khaki broad rimmed hat. In fact the girls would sometimes be viewed as ‘too glamorous’ by the farmers’ wives, and hopefully there was no basis for the Land Army song ‘Back to the land, we must all lend a hand,’ to be unofficially termed ‘Backs to the Land.’ Nevertheless, it was soon deemed that hostels would be preferable to the lonely, and perhaps vulnerable, billets on isolated farms, and in August 1941 for Bletchley a site was chosen in Church Green Road. However, this story will have to be the subject for another article. By their roles in wartime, women unquestionably established the basis for their equality, and nowadays, as profiled by such programmes as ‘The Apprentice,’ and ‘Dragons’ Den,’ they are just as prominent in business and commerce as men. And so if any lady boss has the need for a mature male - always willing, although sometimes not always able - do get in touch. Your commands will be my every wish!