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The Land Army in Derwent

Derwent dams are famous for their part in the war effort; with the training for the Dambusters raids.  The RAF practiced low-level flying needed for the targeting and destruction of the similarly constructed dams in Germany. 

Another less publicised part of this war effort was mainly done by women, who were enlisted into the newly created Land Army, which was divided to for the Women’s Land Army (WLA), the Land Girls and the Womens Timber Corps (WTC), the Lumber Jills, The Land Army was formed to free up more men to go to war.  Around 80,000 mainly young women made up the force and they wee issued with a uniform of green jumper, green tie and brown hat.  Their work was varied often agricultural, growing and harvesting food to feed the nation.

The Lumber Jills took over the provision of timber for industry.  One of these lumber teams was based at Derwent.

Amongst those women who worked at Derwent, the following were all from nearby villages;

Gladys Bronham from Bamford
Milly Crookes from Derwent
Gladys Hadfield from Bamford
Ivy Rooks from Hope
Marjorie Walker from Castleton

The workforce was supplemented by some Danish men brought into the country as allies and some German men who were prisoners of war, it seems that the German prisoners were content to work hard, probably because they realised how well they were being treated.  They were allowed to visit other villages and enjoyed a fair amount of freedom.  Some of these men later married local women and settled in England.

The work days were long.  Some of the team had several miles to walk to the plantations.  Others had responsibility for preparing the horses for each days work.  This involved collecting the horses form Joe Taggs field where they were allowed to graze.  The horses were then harnessed into the heavy drays and walked to whichever plantation was being worked.

One section worked by the team was Grimbar Carr beside Snake Pass.  The entire area was felled, stripped and cut into pit props for the coal mines.  The area then had to be replanted to ensure continuity.  The work was gruelling, heavy and at times dangerous because most of the workers had no previous experience.  After each days work, the horses had to be returned to their stabling, where they were groomed and fed.  The horses took priority over people because their workload was so important to the war effort.

Sometimes the team had access to tractors and again experience was sadly lacking and the skills for driving were learnt by trial and error.

The effort put into the work was vital in keeping the wheels of industry turning and it wasn’t until 2008 that the British government recognised the huge part the Land Army played in the war and presented a medal to the surviving women, all of whom are now over eighty years of age.

By Diane Russell
The Bishop's Walk - The First Ten Years