The Women's Land Army was first begun during the First World War as a way for the country to continue to produce at a sufficient level even though the majority of its workers - men - were at war. The government cleverly realized that the women of the country were an untapped resource which could be taken advantage of while the nation was at war.
Sure enough, women quickly came to fill these positions, which were often agricultural, though some had factory and cannery jobs instead. Unfortunately, this change in women's status did not go over with many of the farmers, which led to the Board of Trade sending some of its agricultural officers around the country, persuading the farmers to allow the women to work.
However, once the First World War was over and the men shipped back home, life quickly returned to the way it had been before the war.
However, with the Second World War, there was again a shortage of male workers as thousands of British men were shipped off to war. Because of this, women were soon recruited to pick up the slack.
Again, the majority of the work the women did took place on farms, though other women helped fell trees or were rat catchers. Still other women were busy recruiting for the Women's Land Army, which in 1944 had 80,000 women working the land.
The hours the women worked were long; a twelve hour or longer work day were not at all unusual. Moreover, the women were also underpaid because not only was the agricultural industry already known for underpaying its workers (which led many of the men who were not at war to quit their jobs), but their earning power was also seen as not being equal to that of a man's.
While the majority of the women came from the local countryside, many of the women who were part of the Land Army were from towns and cities and were typically bused or trucked to whichever farm they worked at.
Lady Denman, a suffragist and leader of many women's committees, became Director of the Women's Land Army shortly after the Second World War broke out. The Minister of Agriculture himself asked her to fulfill the position.
The Women's Land Army helped forward the women's movement because it showed that not only were women able to do the work that was commonly assigned to men, but they could also work just as hard. While their labor was exploited during the war effort, these women did contribute significantly to the goods Britain was able to produce even in the light of a reduced number of workers. During the war, these women proved their mettle and established a precedent that would later aid in ability to get employment after the war.