Kelling woman’s pride as she features in Land Girls exhibition

A proud North Norfolk land girl joined the celebrations as the toils of the 'forgotten army' were remembered at the unveiling of a new exhibition.

Mary Smith, from Lloyd Court in High Kelling, was among 30 Land Army veterans at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse on August 24.

The 89-year-old, whose letter to North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb resulted in the production of a service badge for land army veterans in 2007, is among the women whose stories are featured among the displays of vintage photographs, farm tool and uniforms.

The land girls were the oft-overlooked troops who helped to stop the country from starving during the second world war.

As the ladies gathered at Gressenhall, it was a chance for them to reminisce about days spent providing for an embattled nation whose survival depended on self-sufficiency, as U-boat onslaughts against merchant convoys prevented supplies arriving from overseas.

Mrs Smith was a land girl who moved to Norfolk after the war. She said she was 'thrilled' with the new gallery.

'It is wonderful,' she said. 'The young people will be able to see what life was like and what we had to do. We were so close to running out of food, so we just got on with it.

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'I am just so pleased to be here to see this. I will be dreaming about it tonight.'

Other exhibits include a voice recording of landswoman Olive Crosswell – the only surviving oral account of life in the land army during the first world war.

The Women's Land Army started during the first world war and was re-formed in June 1939. At its peak in 1943, more than 80,000 women from all backgrounds classed themselves as land girls.

By 1944 there were about 1,650 land girls in Norfolk. Some worked on individual farms and spent long, hard days looking after animals, ploughing fields, digging potatoes, harvesting crops and killing rats.

Others lived in hostels and moved from place to place doing 'gang work', pulling carrots, chopping sugar beet or building hedges.

Across the country, about 6,000 women also worked for the Timber Corps, felling trees and running sawmills.

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