With the help of Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust, we have been finding out about the Women's Land Army in the First World War and how Cobham resident Daisy Dance was involved.
Daisy Dance was one of three daughters born to George Dance who was a gamekeeper on the Combe Estate in Cobham. George was born in Linkenholt, Hampshire and worked both as a gamekeeper and an agricultural labourer during his lifetime. His position as gamekeeper on the Combe Estate warranted him and his family to occupy Keepers Cottage in Downside, which with its 6 rooms, was rather spacious and comfortable.
Daisy was born in 1898 with an older sister, Rose, and a younger sister who sadly died aged nine. Rose and Daisy both attended St Matthews Church of England School in Downside. Daisy also attended the local Downside Sunday School where she taught Class III boys. When George Dance died in 1918, Daisy and the family moved to one of the smaller Island Cottages in Downside.
The Women's Land Army was set up by the government in 1917 to recruit women to full-time work on the land to replace men who had left to fight in the war. The main drive for the recruit was to increase food production during wartime. Most women in agriculture were milkmaids and field workers, but some were carters, plough-women and market gardeners.
Daisy may have heard the government’s appeal for 30,000 women to sign up as an advertisement was published in the Cobham Parish Magazine in May 1918. Mrs Kitching of Eaton Corner was the Cobham Registrar for the WLA, and the article in the Parish Magazine urged job seekers to apply to her for information.
Daisy enrolled in the Women's Land Army in Kingston on 28th March 1919. She was issued with 3 overalls, 1 hat, 2 pairs of breeches, 2 pairs of boots, 1 pair of canvas leggings and 1 pair of clogs. This was supplemented on the next day with a Mackintosh and a jersey. For each item, she received a receipt in her WLA handbook. She was paid 18 shillings per week, increasing to 20 shillings after she passed an efficiency test.
Daisy acquired a Land Army Agricultural Service badge after two months of service and an armband after three months’ service. After working for the Women’s Land Army for six months, workers received a ribbon to show that they had upheld a high standard of work and conduct.
By 1919, the First World War was at an end and there was a Peace Celebrations procession in Cobham. The Vicar reported on the presence of the Land Army workers at the event in the Cobham Parish Magazine:
"The bedrock industry of agriculture was charmingly presented by a bevy of land girls in charge of an excellent team whose chariot rolled happily under the auspices of a bewitching little angel of Peace, who must have refreshed the soul of the soldier-farmer at home."
It is quite possible that Daisy took part in the celebrations alongside her colleagues.
The Women's Land Army was officially disbanded on 30th November 1919. Daisy continued to work on the land, joining the Surrey Branch of the National Association of Landswomen which was set up in lieu of the WLA.
This article was researched by Victor Eyles of Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust.
Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust hold a collection of photographs and objects relating to Daisy Dance that were collected by Frank Bryan. Many of these items can be seen alongside others on display in ‘Women in WW1’ at Cobham Library until March 2019.
The Images in this article are courtesy of Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust.