Australian Women's Land Army Winter Dress uniform

Contributed by: Griffith War Memorial Museum

Women's Land Army Winter Dress Uniform  (photo by Gordon McCaw) Women's Land Army Badge Service Star Badge Land Army Hat Badge Land Army recruiting poster Land Army recruiting poster Land Army working overalls  (photo by Gordon McCaw) Land Army commemoration article Wedding of Ces and Peggy Williams, May 1, 1948 Peggy Williams with husband Cecil and their four sons. All marched on the same day in the Anzac Day March, Sydney. AWLA First Anzac Day March in 1985 lead by Iris Nieser, Dorothy Hill &  Doris Pitty (flags), Sheila van Emden and Mary Robinson (Banner).  War time uniform worn by Beryl Jensen. Australian Women's Land Army Brooch presented to Peggy Williams by Prime Minister, Julia Gillard at Parliament House Canberra on 20 August, 2012. Peggy Williams OAM Margaret (Peggy) Williams in Land Army uniform Margaret (Peggy) Williams in WANS uniform Peggy Williams working on a farm with draught horses
[Collapse all]

Object information

Significance statement

This Australian Women's Land Army uniform represents a section of society that performed an incredibly important role in the war effort by maintaining the food supply for the armed forces in Australia and overseas and the general population on the home front. It also assists telling the personal story of Peggy Williams and the impact and reality of war on one of many thousands of Australian families at the time. Known as the 'Land Girls', the Land Army women were volunteers and recruited to work on farms and factories left empty by men at war.

The uniform was donated to the Griffith War Memorial Museum by Peggy Williams OAM on behalf of the Australian Women's Land Army Association. The Association had recently disbanded due to age and mobility.

When war ended, their service was largely ignored and many of the women felt shunned as both the Federal Government and the Returned Services League denied them recognition. Always considered the 'Underdogs', the Australian Women's Land Army was finally recognised in 1985. Through the hard work of Sheila van Emden, they were able to participate in the Anzac Day 'Big March' through the streets of Sydney.

Some time later, with assistance from the National President of the RSL, the AWLA was given the right to join the RSL as Ex-Land Army. This was followed by an invitation to send in a submission as a Civilian Service Medal was to be made available. This was successful and they were awarded the medal.

The Association's next aim was to try and gain recognition for the Australian Women's Land Army in its own right. Following an interview with member for Benelong, Maxine McKew, this request was presented to Parliament and followed up by Senator John Faulkner. Approximately 18 months later on 20 August 2012 at Parliament House in Canberra, Prime Minister Julia Gillard awarded the surviving Australian Women's Land Army members a Brooch of Distinction for their services.

Author: Heather Waide and Peggy Williams, 1 May, 2015.

Description

The Women's Land Army Winter dress uniform is a dark khaki coloured, two piece wool/gaberdine suit. The jacket is hip length with four pockets on the front. The two top pockets are pleated patch pockets with a flap closure and button. The lower pockets are flap covered slit pockets underneath the belt. The jacket has a fold back collar and is worn with a fawn coloured shirt and dark tie. Four buttons form the closure. The jacket has a matching fabric belt with a silver buckle. The belt threads through two keepers at the back. The jacket has a lower back pleat and buttoned shoulder lapels and is lined with khaki cotton.

A long sleeved khaki coloured blouse is worn under the jacket with a dark brown tie.

The skirt is an A-line shape with six gores. It has an opening on the left side with hooks and eyes and a small silver buckle. A second buckle for adjustment is on the right hand side. The skirt has two angled slit pockets in the front. The skirt is unlined.

A dark brown felt hat is part of the uniform. A 30mm wide dark brown petersham ribbon decorates the hat and holds the badge. The hat brim is worn turned up at the back.

Brown lace up shoes complete this uniform.

History and Provenance

Story by Peggy Williams:

My name is Margaret (known as Peggy) Williams OAM (nee Feast). I was born on 31 May, 1925 in our home at Elizabeth Street, Ashfield, Sydney.

In 1942 the word 'WAR' seemed to be on everybody's mind, a threat to Australia. My Dad was in the Army with this being his second war, and my brother Jack was also in the Army stationed in the Middle East. I was left at home with my Mum, an older brother and a younger brother. I was very restless and wanted to be involved, so I joined a voluntary organisation called the Women's Australian National Service (commonly called the 'WANS'). We bought a teal blue uniform and would meet a couple of nights a week and on weekends to learn First Aid, Black Out Duty and Canteen Work to be prepared for this threat to our country. Army personnel would come to these meetings to recruit girls to join the Armed Services. You had to be 18 years or older. They later came back to recruit girls to go into The Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA); again you had to be 18 years old, however with parental consent you could join if you were as young as 16.

My darling brother George was a severe asthmatic and his many applications to the Army always came back as 'Medically Unfit'. This poor boy was sent a white feather which in those days was a sign of being a coward. He was devastated and I believe never got over this. This gave me the motivation to join The Australian Women's Land Army. I perfected my father's signature, gained a doctor's certificate and at the end of June 1942 I joined the Australian Women's Land Army. Needless to say, my father was very angry and said I wouldn't be able to do land work. He did let me join though, stating 'You will only last a week!'

My brother George would be in charge of the household and would look after our Mum and brother Bill.

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Margaret (Peggy) Williams OAM (nee Feast) was born on 31 May, 1925 in the family home at Elizabeth Street, Ashfield, Sydney.

On May 1, 1948 Peggy married Ces Williams. They were soul mates and enjoyed 65 wonderful years of marriage and had four sons who are all returned servicemen.

Ces was patron of the AWLA (Australian Women's Land Army) supporting Peggy in all her endeavours with this association. Ces died on 11 October, 2013 after a battle with melanomas.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

Story by Peggy Williams:

After joining the Australian Women's Land Army in 1942, I was sent to Leeton in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area in NSW to work on the fruit and vegetables. We were there to feed the troops because the farmers and their sons had gone away to the war. My first job was picking oranges and I was surprised to see the large heavy bags required and the tall ladders.

When I turned 18, I got my licence and began driving a utility truck working permanently at Yanco near Leeton. I learnt to drive a tractor and manage a horse drawn plough and felt quite proud of myself. The truck I had been driving needed repairs and new parts so I was sent to Griffith for about a month, residing at Mirrool house.

Known as the 'Land Girls' we proudly wore our uniforms when travelling on leave and khaki overalls when working. We were given a great deal of respect from all we met.

During the war and our time in the AWLA, we formed wonderful friendships, living and working together. We watched our friends lose their husbands, brothers, fathers and boyfriends and would counsel and help each other and today those friendships remain. Three years in the Land Army took its toll; old friends were not the same. We are all so very proud of our time in The Australian Women's Land Army.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Story by Peggy Williams:

After the war ended, I lost contact with my Land Army mates until one Anzac Day march at North Ryde RSL. The Land Army had been invited to march behind their banner during the RSL's Anzac Day march. I could not believe my eyes! I found some of my 'Leeton' buddies and became one of them again. I joined the Australian Women's Land Army Association, got myself a cream dress and green blazer, and in no time at all I was on the committee and attending monthly meetings.

The Land Army Girls were able to march behind their banner in the Sydney Anzac Day 'Big March' for the first time in April 1985. This was achieved by the hard work and persistence of Sheila van Emden.

The following September, I became President of the Association and remained in that position for 27 years. During this time we were always the 'underdogs'. We were never considered as Ex-Service Women, being told we were 'Man Powered' into the Land Army. This gave me the reason and motivation to fight for what we deserved. I had a wonderful group of ladies who trusted me; I kept them informed and asked their opinions on everything. Finally we were recognised.

Some time later I met Alf Garland (National President of the RSL) in Canberra and he asked me what he could do for 'My Girls'. My response was: 'Give us the right to join the RSL as Ex-Land Army'. Although it took a while, it did happen. This was followed by a letter inviting us to send in a submission as a Civilian Service Medal was going to be available. A submission was prepared and we were awarded the medal.

Unfortunately we were insulted by a group stating we only worked on farms etc. This inspired me to contact Maxine McKew, member for Benelong, to try to gain recognition for the AWLA in their own right. Maxine took this to Parliament with Senator John Faulkner following it up.

Approximately 18 months later, on 20 August, 2012, surviving AWLA members went to Parliament House, Canberra to be presented with a brooch of Distinction for our Services by Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

A month later at the Australian Women's Land Army Association's September AGM, the organization disbanded due to age and mobility.

Where did this information come from?

Mrs. Margaret (Peggy) Williams.

  1. Place of origin:

    Sydney, NSW, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    This uniform was donated to the Australian Women's Land Army Association. When the AWLA disbanded due to age and mobility, the uniform was donated to the Griffith War Memorial Museum.

  3. Occasion(s):

    The uniform was worn for formal occasions, travelling and church.

    The khaki overall was worn while working.

Trimmings / Decoration

Narrow khaki tape ribbon with red embroidered initials A.W.L.A. is worn on both shoulder lapels. The tape is hooked through the lapels at the sleeve join.

Fibre / Weave

The uniform is made of khaki coloured wool gaberdine.  

Lining is made from khaki coloured heavy cotton.

Shirt is made from khaki coloured cotton.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

The jacket and skirt are machine stitched. 

Jacket lining is hand finished around the armhole and sleeve hem. Jacket centre back pleat is hand finished.

Some skirt seam allowances are unfinished. Other seams are finished with pinking shears.

Skirt is unlined and has a hand sewn hem.

Label

Jacket label:    V579   Made in 

                      1944   Australia

                      Size 11

                      NSW

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

The uniform jacket and skirt are cut on the straight grain of the fabric.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

The uniform jacket closes with four buttons at the centre front.

The skirt opens on the left side with hooks and eyes and a small silver buckle. A second buckle for adjustment is on the right hand side.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The uniform jacket is lined with khaki coloured heavy cotton, possibly twill.

The jacket is made with shoulder pads.

Skirt is unlined.

Measurements

jacket skirt
Girth
Chest 920 mm
Waist 780 mm 780 mm
Hip 1000 mm 1000 mm
Hem circumference 1150 mm 1530 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 680 mm
Front waist to hem 250 mm 640 mm
Back neck to hem 680 mm
Back waist to hem 250 mm 640 mm
Sleeve length 580 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 125 mm
Cross back 350 mm
Underarm to underarm 490 mm
Convert to inches

Matching belt, 40 mm wide.

Dress Themes

The uniform was worn for special occasions and while travelling in the winter months.

A cotton dress was worn in the summer months.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Extract from Senator Faulkners's speech to the Senate seeking recognition for the Australian Women's Land Army:

The Women's Land Army functioned with military style and precision. The women were supervised by land army matrons. They wore uniforms, were rotated around a number of manual tasks, lived in dormitories, were assigned leave passes and were confined to barracks for undisciplined behaviour. An initial six-month probation period determined their capacity to manage often intensely physical tasks. These women never served overseas, nor were they required to wield a weapon, pen or thermometer, but their strenuous physical work was essential to the war effort. If our farms had failed, so too would have our fighting forces. These women made sure that Australians, in and out of uniform, continued to eat.

The stories of the Australian Women's Land Army are inspiring. Members of the Land Army believed it was their patriotic duty to feed the troops, a task more important than the sprained ankles, aching muscles, broken ribs and sheer exhaustion which resulted from their demanding physical labour. Land Army work ranged from fruit picking, vegetable growing and packing, to wheat, sheep and dairy farming. The women, primarily from cities and towns, were never warned about snakes, dust storms, locusts and leeches. They endured hardships they never imagined for the sake of 'doing their bit' for their country and its troops overseas. The women's stories detail wonderful camaraderie, strength, determination and, to be fair, fun. 

During the war, Land Army women received lower wages, fewer concessions and fewer medical benefits than the other women's services. Land Army women were also refused entry into many service clubs and hostels. The end of the war brought demobilisation and the abandonment of the service recognition recommendation for Land Army women. In the years following the war, members of the AWLA campaigned long and hard for specific recognition of their efforts.

Condition

The uniform is in excellent condition, including the blouse and hat.

Insect damage

Two small moth holes on the jacket.

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Holes

comments

Add new comment

  • Rebecca Pinchin Jul 03

    This is a great entry - Peggy's story makes great reading.

[Collapse all]