The story of the Women’s Land Army is now fairly well known, but most of the books I’ve read focus on the actual farming, and on the perils of living on the farm. However I hadn’t realised that a large proportion of the women in the Land Army actually lived in hostels of varying size. This book looks at life in the hostels on Yorkshire, a very varied group of facilities, ranging from purpose built hostels using standard wartime huts to rather impressive country houses (which often came with their own problems).
We start with a look at the development of the hostels, mainly looking at the First World War Land Army and its accommodation arrangements. Next comes a look at the Second World War system, which actually remained in place to 1950. Next is a biography of Miss Winifred Jacob-Smith, who organised the hostels in North Yorkshire during the war and across all of Yorkshire in the post-war years, and whose reports are a key source for the book.
Next comes an overview of life in the hostels, before four of the hostels get chapters to themselves, based on the contemporary notes taken by Miss Winifred Jacob-Smith. These four chapters perhaps give the best idea of what life was like in these hostels, and how it changed over time. They are followed by a chapter that covers every known hostel (and one or two of uncertain use).
One gets the clear impression from these sections that the biggest problem faced at these hostels was finding the right people to run them. They fell into a rather unusual position – not barracks, as they were hosting civilians and not schools as they were hosting adults, but also not the operational base for the Land Girls. This must have put the hostel wardens in a rather difficult position, and some clearly didn’t respond well. While most appear to have been hard working and conscientious, there were also plenty of complaints about wardens taking all of the lights meant for the dorm rooms for their own quarters, poor food, arbitrary rules etc. Of course the wardens also had complaints about some of the women, although it is notable that some of the more complained about wardens also produced some of the least impressive complaints!
This is a somewhat niche topic, but I found it an interesting read, especially because of the extensive use of Miss Jacob-Smith’s reports, and of accounts by former Land Girls, which give a real feel for the atmosphere within these hostels.
1 - The Origins of Hostel Accommodation for Women Working in Agriculture
2 - Women's Land Army Hostels from the Second World War to 1950
3 - Miss Winifred Jacob-Smith MBE: The Organiser of the Women's Land Army in North Yorkshire (1939-1945) and the Whole of Yorkshire (1945-1950)
4 - Home Comforts and Living Conditions
5 - Stockton House
6 - Dishforth Hostel
7 - Easingwold Hostel
8 - Thirsk Hostel
9 - Tales from Women's Land Army Hostels Across Yorkshire
10 - References and Sources of Information
Author: Marion Jefferies
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military