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Bedfordshire Women's Land Army

Bedfordshire Hostels
Milton Ernest

Bedfordshire Women's Land Army > Bedfordshire Hostels
Location: Ministry of Works hutment for 40 land girls in Milton Ernest village
OS Ref: TL01385648
Description: Accommodated 40 land girls.
Opened: Monday 16 February 1942
Closed: 31 March 1950
Milton Ernest hostel

Milton Ernest hostel

More information about this hostel

  • First Bedfordshire "War Ag" hostel built in the county.
  • Managed by the YWCA. Miss Felicia Taylor was the first Warden. Subsequent wardens: Miss Lowe, Miss Bremner, Mrs. Lancaster. 
  • "The girls who came from various parts of the country, including London, were from many different trades and professions, but they were all of a splendid type and were looking forward to their new occupation. The majority were recently called up or had volunteered for service with the Land Army and this will be their first experience of farming" (Bedfordshire Times & Standard, 20 February 1942).
First intake of Milton Ernest hostel land girls

The first party of the Women's Land army to be drafted to the new hostel at Milton Ernest, being loaded on a lorry in Harpur Street (see Marks & Spencer's store behind) in Bedford, 14 February 1942. Mrs. Graham, Chairman of the Bedfordshire Committee of the WLA (second left) sees them off (photo source: Bedfordshire Times & Standard, 20 February 1942).

  • "They were office girls, waitresses, shop assistants and factory workers but without exception they said they preferred the countryside and the freedom of an open-air life" (source: Bedfordshire Times & Standard, 20 February 1942).
  • "The purpose of the new hostel is to accommodate the girls who will be sent out to farms each day to work. For a start they will go to farms that are being run by the War Agricultural Committee, whilst some will be allocated to individual farms. Most of them will be engaged on general agricultural work, although some who show an aptitude for dairy work, tractor driving, etc., will be allowed to train for these tasks" (source: Bedfordshire Times & Standard, 20 February 1942).
  • Mary Pakes, the first Forewoman to be appointed there (in January 1944), served from 16 February 1942 to 14 February 1946, and kept in touch with most of her fellow land girls for the rest of her life.
  • When the hostel celebrated its third birthday anniversary in February 1945 (the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945) there were still six of the original land girls there.
Dawn Skeggs at entrance to Milton Ernest hostel

Dawn Skeggs at entrance to Milton Ernest hostel

  • They made their own entertainment in the hostel but sometimes, outside organisations provided a boost to wartime morale. A Ministry of Information film show was shown on 14 October 1942. There were occasional concert parties from ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) and CEMA (see below). A "Brains Trust" (a popular wartime radio panel game programme) was duplicated by officers of the Beds "War Ag" at the hostel one evening and was reported on in December 1942.
  • The Land Girl magazine reported in April 1945 that a party of 37 young women from Milton Ernest hostel had attended a concert arranged by the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) at the BBC Studio in Bedford and had "thoroughly enjoyed" it.
Milton Ernest hostel

Milton Ernest hostel in the late 1940s

  • Mary Pakes, on her final day with the Land Army was due to lead the Milton Ernest hostel contingent at the Grand Parade of the Beds WLA on 14 February 1946 before Princess Elizabeth in Bedford, but at the last minute was called upon to lead the contingent from the private farms.
  • In April 1947, there was an announcement in the Land Army News that Milton Ernest hostel had been awarded 1st. prize in the "Brighter Hostels" competition, aimed at encouraging land girls to improve the interior decoration of the rather spartan huts.
  • The hostel was active for eight years (surpassed only by Leighton Buzzard hostel).
Map showing hostel location

Location of Milton hostel, north of Bedford
OS 6" map, 1950s

More Pictures of Milton Ernest Land Girls

Stuart Antrobus Historian/Author

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Page last updated: 28th February 2014