In England in the early 1940s there were so many men in uniform fighting overseas or flying against the Luftwaffe that the Women’s Land Army was formed. Women were asked to join up and take over the agricultural jobs that had to be done to feed people: tilling the soil, planting turnips and potatoes, picking fruit, and shoveling pigshit. The program had worked well in World War I. Some were already from farming families, but about a third of them were city girls who had never planted anything more useful or backbreaking than a geranium in a flowerpot. They had to be shown which end of a cow the milk came from. Eventually the need became so critical that they resorted to conscription. The British were drafting women!
(The U.S. later had a similar program, the WLA of America. Over one million women were recruited between 1943 and 1947. They were paid between 25 and 40 cents per hour … and out of that they had to buy their own uniforms and pay for their meals!)
We have enjoyed several period dramas set in this era lately, such as Bomb Girls, about workers in a Canadian munitions factory, and Call the Midwife, about nurses who worked to improve the lot of extremely poor pregnant women in London in the 1950s. This one is about on a par with those. There are the usual characters, including the rich bitch on whose estate the girls are quartered. In the ramshackle, drafty farmhouse, of course. Then there is the fat, venal fellow who runs the local black market, played for laughs by Mark Benton. There is the little Hitler of the Home Guard, obsessed with his own power and delusional about spies and sabotage. The girls themselves are the usual assortment. In short, this series won’t show you anything really new, but what it does, it does well.
I had two revelations in watching this, one of them not very flattering to the Brits, and the other reflecting badly on us. As shown here, there was a group of people known as trekkers. These were people who had been bombed out and had nowhere to go. They were treated like dirt, took to the roads, and were hounded from place to place like criminals. No doubt some of them turned to petty crime to feed themselves and their families, and I’m sure resources to take care of them were slim at a time when everything was being rationed, but still. Shame on you, Britain!
And shame on you, United States of America. I knew that we had exported our racial poison to the battlefields, where “colored” troops were not allowed to mix socially with whites and got all the shit jobs. Trucking in the Army, peeling spuds in the Navy. I had not known that we imposed our sickness on the British people, who reluctantly allowed all the best places to be designated WHITES ONLY for the duration. What were the Brits to do? They needed us too badly. It makes you sick to watch it … and what else is new? Until the civil rights movement really began to gather steam in the ‘50s, it was taken for granted.