Land girls in rush to tell all

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The Independent Online
RED-PAINTED fingernails on a pitchfork handle, Marcel-waved hair, gumboots and slacks - we must be talking Land Army girl style. It is a look that conjures up one of the more straitened periods of British history, and yet, more than 50 years on, it has suddenly never been so fashionable in parts of the West Country.

Since the small town of Dulverton in Somerset was chosen as the location for a new British film comedy, hundreds of former land girls in the area have been inspired to tell their stories.

Radio stations and newspapers have been blitzed with letters and calls from women concerned to set the record straight. They were not, they insist, sex mad and certainly not always dressed "up to the nines":the hours were too long and the work too arduous for that.

The Western Morning News in Plymouth has been so swamped by offers of authentic personal testimony that last week it asked readers to stop writing in on the subject, although the film, Land Girls, is not due out in Britain until September.

The problem is that the film is based on Angela Huth's 1994 novel of the same name and this was a work which lent weight to a few wartime legends. It tells of two members of the Women's Land Army who share the same lover - the farmer's son - and enjoy other liaisons yet still have the energy to get up at dawn each day to milk cows and thresh hay.

Well received at the Berlin and Sundance film festivals, the film opens in the US next month. The prospect of its release in Britain has worried some ex-land girls. The National Landgirls Association has campaigned for more than 30 years to win recognition for the part the army of 200,000 women played in winning the war, and anything that might harm that is unwelcome.

Even for those land girls who look back fondly at the time, the memory of the gruelling labour has not dimmed.

"I used to be out in all the wet and cold weather and it was terribly hard work," remembers Edith Hocking, who now lives in St Austell in Cornwall. "It was one of the best times of my life, although it was very hard and of course we were all very worried about our families. I had a brother and a sister in the Armed Forces and I really did not know what would happen to them, or to our country, in the end."