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Bedfordshire Women's Land Army

Veteran Reunions

Bedfordshire Women's Land Army

Screenshot of Zeita Holes being interviewed by TV presenter John Craven about her dairy training for the WLA in 1942

Land Girl Zeita Holes (nee Trott) interviewed by BBC Countryfile 14 July 2019

Zeita Holes nee Trott, a former Bedfordshire Land Girl, appeared on BBC1 TV’s "Countryfile" programme on Sunday 14 July 2019. The 94-year old was interviewed by John Craven at Luton Hoo Home Farm where she received her four week's training for the Women’s Land Army in June 1942, 77 years before.
To see the BBC TV programme click here.

Click here for Zeita's WLA service record

Land Girl Zeita Holes (nee Trott) Celebrates her 90th Birthday

Congratulation to Zeita on her 90th birthday! Find out more about the celebrations and Zeita's time in the Women's Land Army by following the link below:

Milton Ernest Hostel Land Girls Get-Together

Milton Ernest get together 2010

(left to right) Ann Haynes nee Brodrick, Kathleen Cox nee Hopkins, Dawn Filby nee Skeggs, Mary Smith nee Pakes (cutting cake) Trixie Schreiner nee Saunders, Irene Saunders nee Cook, Peggy Albertson nee Davis, Hilda Hicks nee Bright

Former land girls who used to work together from Milton Ernest hostel in the 1940s, during the Second World War, decided to have a Get- Together at Thurleigh Airfield Museum on Sunday 15 August 2010. As well as being the official museum for the American 306 Bombardment Group in the UK, it also has a Home Front section including a display on the Women's Land Army (WLA) in north Bedfordshire. Stuart Antrobus, the WLA historian, was unable to be present but sent them good wishes for the day.

WLA get together cake92-year old Mary Smith, who was the first Forewoman at Milton Ernest, the first WLA hutment hostel to be opened in the county in February 1942, had arranged the event. She surprised and delighted the former land girls, most now in their mid- to late-eighties, by reading out a spoof 'work list' notice (but as she would have done 67 years before) telling them which of them was to report at which local farms the following day to do what the farmers required that day: "Peg, you will go to Mr Hope and Dawn, you will go to Mr. Measures you two can cycle to Thurleigh ". They all had a good laugh and Ralph and Daphne Franklin, the founders and co-curators of the museum, treated the ladies to a glass of champagne to celebrate their return. WLA get together cake 2Cakes made by 'Cookie' (Irene Saunders nee Cook) and Rebecca, Peggy Davis's cousin, were another surprise addition to the buffet which Peggy had arranged.

There happened to be a wartime re-enactment group there that day and one of the men, dressed as an American GI, asked if any of the land girls fancied a jitterbug and Dawn Filby rose to the occasion and showed what she could still do, to the music of Glenn Miller. As a young woman she had actually had a date with the lead singer of Miller's band, Johnny Desmond.

Needless to say, they had such a good time that they all said that they wanted another get-together next year!

Remembrance Sunday Service, Bedford

Trixie Schreiner, Irene Saunders & Pat Roberts (left to right) represent the wartime land girls at the Remembrance Sunday service at the Embankment, Bedford, November 2009.




Tea at the Palace for Two Former Land Girls

Tea at the palaceFollowing the award in 2008, by the Government, of a Veterans Badge to surviving former members of the Women's Land Army of the 1940s, and a Service of Thanksgiving for Bedfordshire Land Girls on 31 May 2009, two women were chosen to represent Bedfordshire at a tea party hosted by The Queen on 21 October 2009.

Audrey Thorne (nee Cooper) and Iris Cornell (nee Manning) were the lucky women chosen by the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire (the Queen's representative in the county), Sam Whitbread. 

Audrey had joined the Land Army aged 17 and worked at Manor Farm, Wilstead, near Bedford, for Percy Thorne.  During her time there she met Mr Pat Thorne and they became sweethearts.  They later were to be married for 58 years, before being invited to spend their day in London, together with ninety former Land Girls, plus their partners, from all over Britain. 
Audrey and Pat ThorneIt was particularly pleasing for the couple because, Audrey having had a recent major operation, they were unable to attend the St. Pauls Church, Bedford service in May.  Audrey said, "I was delighted to have been chosen to attend the celebration of a lunch at the Royal Opera House and tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace what an honour."
(Audrey and Pat are pictured to the right enjoying lunch at the Royal Opera House - photo courtesy of DEFRA)

Iris Cornell (nee Manning) and her husband DennisIris Cornell (nee Manning) joined the Land Army aged 18, because her friend had already joined and was sent for milking and dairy training to Toddington Park hostel.  Unusually, she was then allowed to live at home (in order to support her mother) and cycle to her work at Twinwoods Farm, Clapham.  A few years later, after a period at Hulcote Moors Hostel, she got a job working for the Bedfordshire War Agricultural Committee (the 'War Ag') driving tractors and other agricultural equipment from their depot in Goldington to wherever they were needed around the county.  She met her husband as a result of her work and they had been married 59 years when the call came for them to spend this wonderful day in London together.  She said, "I was thrilled to have been chosen to attend this very special event and represent the Land Girls of Bedfordshire how exciting!"

The visiting "land girls", now in their late eighties or early nineties, were treated by the Governments agricultural department, DEFRA, to a lunch of sausage and mash followed by apple pie and custard, before being coached from the Opera House to Buckingham Palace, where they had afternoon tea with her Majesty the Queen and other members of the Royal family.

All came away with wonderful memories to add to those of their youth, when they and over 200,000 other young women - served the nation on the land, helping feed the nation and win the war.

Veterans Rally at the Cenotaph

For many years former land girls have taken the opportunity to gather together at the Cenotaph -in Whitehall, London -for a brief service a month before the larger Remembrance Sunday ceremony in November, from which (until 2000) they were excluded. Such a ceremony was held on Saturday 10 October 2009 and seven Bedfordshire former land girls joined others from around the country but particularly from Kent.

They were there to remember those land girls who are no longer alive and the sacrifice that they all made in giving up their comfortable homes and moving away to work hard on farms during the war, to enable the nation to be fed.

Later, after the ceremony, they all dined together at nearby Westminster School and enjoyed each other's company for a good reminisce.

Veterans Rally at the Cenotaph

(l to r) Irene Saunders (nee Cook), Olive Gardener (nee Durston), Trixie Schreiner (nee Saunders), Pat Clark (nee Roberts)

Veterans Rally at the Cenotaph

(l to r) Renie Presland (nee Hirst), Vera Barnett (nee Jobling), Zeita Holes (nee Trott)

Land Girls Get Together

Liz day and Samuel Whitbread On Sunday 31 May 2009, I was pleased to attend a service of thanksgiving at St. Pauls Church, Bedford, for former members of the Women's Land Army and Womens Timber Corps, arranged by the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, Sam Whitbread. Over 300 people attended, including over 70 former 'land girls'.
This was followed by a lively reception at the Harpur Suite. The sun shone and everyone was in their 'Sunday best' clothes.
The service, arranged by the Reverend Canon John Pedlar and Mr. Whitbread, included both familiar hymns "All people that on earth do dwell", "We plough the fields and scatter", "All things bright and beautiful" - and a choral version of The Land Army Song, "Back to the land", for female voices. As the historian of the Women's Land Army (WLA) in the county I was able to contribute by suggesting the secular readings an extract from 'Land at War' by Laurie Lee and a moving poem, 'Remember us', by Hilda Gibson. I read the Laurie Lee passage which celebrates the contribution that 'land girls' made to wartime agriculture, enabling the nation to be fed. The poem was read by Faith Baxter, daughter of Mrs Erica Graham, who chaired the WLA county committee during the war. One of the highlights of the service was a live 'conversation' between Pam Rhodes (of BBC's 'Songs of Praise' fame) and three representative former 'land girls' I had chosen to give their own personal testimonies of service on the land during the Second World War. This brought alive some of hardship and laughter which these young women experienced and must have triggered many memories in the minds of those other, now elderly, ladies (some of them in wheelchairs; others quite sprightly) in the congregation.
It was fitting that this final great 'get-together' should come in the year after these former 'land girl' who had given up the comforts of home to volunteer to take the place of male farm workers drawn into the armed forces for the duration of the war were finally awarded a Veterans Badge to acknowledge their sacrifice and contribution to the war effort.

Stuart Antrobus
Author of
'We Wouldn't Have Missed it for the World'

Stuart Antrobus Historian/Author

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Page last updated: 21st November 2022