THEY were the unsung heroines who helped feed the nation throughout the darkest days of the Second World War.
And yesterday the thousands of women who formed the Women’s Land Army in Scotland finally won recognition for their endeavours when a memorial in their honour was unveiled by Prince Charles.
The striking memorial, by Yorkshire artist Peter Naylor, has been erected at Clochan on the Fochabers Estate in Moray as a lasting tribute to the young Land Girls who were drafted in to work on the country’s farms as Nazi raids on supply ships threatened to bring Britain to its knees.
At its height, the Women’s Land Army (WLA) saw around 8,000 young women working across Scotland to provide food and timber to keep the country going as many men went off to fight. Members of the WLA were awarded a medal recognising their efforts in 2007. But until now there has been no permanent memorial to Britain’s “forgotten army”.
Unveiling the statue, which depicts Land Girls standing on a farm gate, smiling and waving, Prince Charles paid tribute to the “truly remarkable” work of the WLA during the war.
He said: “It gives me enormous pride to be able to join you on this exposed hilltop to pay a small tribute of my own to all the remarkable Land Girls who did so much during the years when the country was under threat.
“There are still several hundred Land Girls left – the only problem is that it’s taken nearly 70 years or something in order to ensure there was a memorial.”
During his visit to the Fochabers Estate, Prince Charles met a number of veterans of the WLA, including Mona McLeod, who is also a member of the Land Army Memorial Scotland Trust, formed three years ago to raise the funds for the memorial.
Mrs McLeod, now 89 and living in Edinburgh, went to work on a farm in Galloway after her father, a Leeds University professor, volunteered her for service. She said: “I’m delighted we’ve got a memorial, it was more than time. I think the youngest of us must be 85, so we’ve just got there by the skin of our teeth.”
She described the back-breaking work involved on the farm, recalling: “You worked 50 hours a week – 60 hours for six weeks during harvest – and you might do something terribly boring like hoeing turnips and then you would be with all the other farm labourers.
“Or you might spend the whole day on your own cutting thistles or having a lovely day with the shepherd working with sheep.”
The memorial trust was formed under the chairmanship of Jim McLaren, a former president of the National Farmers Union Scotland, whose mother, Katherine, was a Land Girl.
Yesterday he said: “Many women received a commemorative medal from the government in 2007, but we believe that a public monument and the trust’s accompanying educational activities will help to ensure that the WLA’s extraordinary story is preserved forever.”
Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environment secretary, also welcomed the erection of the memorial. He said: “The splendid sculpture in Moray is a fitting tribute, which shows the appreciation we all have for the Women’s Land Army and ensures their extraordinary story is preserved forever.”