With conscription beginning in 1916, a shortage of male workers meant Warwickshire farmers had to consider other options, including hiring women.
The shortage of labour due to the Military Services Act (conscripting men into the army) meant fewer men available to work on the land. Representatives of Warwickshire’s predominantly rural communities were anxious that, come March 1916, there would not be enough labourers to begin the farming season.
The solution had been to give the jobs on the land to women. After all, reported the Stratford Herald, in the papers stored in the Collections of the Birthplace Trust, the ladies were doing a sterling job already. They were taking over many jobs traditionally done by men, training as jewellers, operating level crossings, even working in aircraft factories.
There was also an assumption made that the Warwickshire women were reluctant to do the labour required. As the Herald reported, some farmers thought it would be difficult to get women “in the mind”, especially as they “now had to deal with the ‘new woman’ with new-fangled ideas”.
What the women themselves thought of this is not recorded. What is obvious is that, by March, there were already women working on local farms and doing a good job of it. At Henley-in-Arden, it was reported that some ladies were already doing “their bit”, such as Miss Nield of Bushwood Hall and one Mrs Wise of Lapworth. Ladies such as these, wearing their government-issue green armlets, their skirts a regulation fourteen inches shorter and eschewing boots for the recommended clogs were clearly not finding farm work particularly onerous!
This series of blogs supports a new exhibition at Hall’s Croft: ‘Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war’ – The First World War, Shakespeare and Stratford. The exhibition and blog project are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.