Welfare Officer for land girls in Bedfordshire, 1918-1919
Little has been documented on individual members of staff of the first British Women’s Land Army and the Women’s County War Agricultural Committees in each county. It was they who organised and looked after the women who volunteered to work on farms locally to take the place of men who had gone off to fight for their country during the First World War. We are indebted to Philip Knight-Jones, from Winchester, for giving us some brief information on his wife’s aunt, Ruth Hendry, who served as a Welfare Supervisor in Bedfordshire during the second half of the Great War, when this women’s land ‘Army’ of female civilian agricultural workers was set up as one answer to the labour shortage on farms. It was their work, together with the farmers, the remaining older male farm workers and the various county War Agricultural Executive Committees, which managed to stave off starvation and feed the nation.
Ruth Hendry was born in Helensburgh, Scotland, on 6 July 1894, the eldest of five children. Her father, Hamish Hendry, was a writer and poet. Her family subsequently moved down to Biddenham in Bedfordshire and Ruth was educated at Bedford Girls Modern School. After leaving school in 1911, Ruth attended a dairying course at the Agricultural College in Kilmarnock. Being too young to take the National Dairy Diploma she returned home and studied chemistry during the winter. The next summer, 1912, she went to Reading University and there took the National Dairy Diploma. She subsequently ran dairies in Ireland and in Devonshire. During the early part of WW1 she was an instructress at a farm school in Kent, then a lecturer in Lincolnshire where she travelled to many villages demonstrating the making of skim milk cheeses. She was in the front line of technical developments in Dairy Farming.
In early 1918, she became a Welfare Officer for the Women’s Land Army, which had been set up that year to provide a new source of labour on farms. Ruth was appointed to look after the welfare of the female recruits in the counties of Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire. She said that she ‘preferred people to cows’. In order to visit the young women who had been billeted on farms around the two counties she travelled first on a bicycle. Then the organisation provided her with a motorcycle which must have speeded up her visiting and coping with the problems and needs of these first ‘land girls’. Finally, after the end of the war, on Saturday 19 July 1919, Ruth and a friend led the land army girls in the peace procession through the town of Bedford.
Certificate for women's agricultural service during the First World War, presented to Ruth Hendry
After being de-mobbed, Ruth built on her experience of the welfare of workers and had a very successful career in welfare and personnel management. She had a variety of appointments in industry culminating with 25 years’ service as personnel manager with Yardley and Company in the east end of London until her retirement in 1954. In 1951 Ruth was awarded an MBE for her contribution to the welfare of employees in industry. She never married. She died in the autumn of 1985 in Alton, Hampshire.
Page last updated: 13th October 2016