Farming for victory

Peggy Williams
Peggy Williams
Civilian Service Medal 1939-1945 (1995)

City-born Peggy Williams had little inkling what she was in for when she volunteered for the Australian Women's Land Army, arriving at a dusty bush station in July 1942 to help feed the nation through World War II.

Untrained and innocent of rural life, Peggy and the other Land Army women found themselves camped on straw mattresses in the livestock hall at the Leeton showground, subject to army-style discipline and exhausting dawn-to-dusk labour, during which they coped with snakes, locust plagues, drought and the other perils of farm work.

'The work was back-breaking. I'd no idea that things like picking fruit and ploughing were so hard - or how much farmers have to put up with,' she recalls.

'We just got stuck in. Nobody complained. Everyone helped each other without anyone giving orders. The spirit was really amazing. We had country women among us, and luckily they taught us the basics.' Their advice saved her from snakebite and chemical poisoning.

'There were sad times too, when somebody's husband or sweetheart died. We consoled one another.' Her own sorrowful moment came when her dear old plough horse dropped dead: she couldn't bring herself to help the farmer burn the carcase.

After the war the men returned to fully-working farms, but nobody thought to acknowledge the Land Army women who'd helped keep them going. Peggy campaigned for years for recognition of their service to the nation, and was rewarded in 1994 when the Civilian Service Medal 1939-45 was created. The Medal is for civilians who served in arduous circumstances in support of the war effort as part of organisations with military-like arrangements and conditions of service. Peggy was one of the first to receive the Medal for her commitment to the nation and victory.

Peggy Williams (Civilian Service Medal 1939-1945, 1995)

City-born Peggy Williams had little inkling what she was in for when she volunteered for the Australian Women's Land Army, arriving at a dusty bush station in July 1942 to help feed the nation through World War II.

Untrained and innocent of rural life, Peggy and the other Land Army women found themselves camped on straw mattresses in the livestock hall at the Leeton showground, subject to army-style discipline and exhausting dawn-to-dusk labour, during which they coped with snakes, locust plagues, drought and the other perils of farm work.

'The work was back-breaking. I'd no idea that things like picking fruit and ploughing were so hard - or how much farmers have to put up with,' she recalls.

'We just got stuck in. Nobody complained. Everyone helped each other without anyone giving orders. The spirit was really amazing. We had country women among us, and luckily they taught us the basics.' Their advice saved her from snakebite and chemical poisoning.

'There were sad times too, when somebody's husband or sweetheart died. We consoled one another.' Her own sorrowful moment came when her dear old plough horse dropped dead: she couldn't bring herself to help the farmer burn the carcase.

After the war the men returned to fully-working farms, but nobody thought to acknowledge the Land Army women who'd helped keep them going. Peggy campaigned for years for recognition of their service to the nation, and was rewarded in 1994 when the Civilian Service Medal 1939-45 was created. The Medal is for civilians who served in arduous circumstances in support of the war effort as part of organisations with military-like arrangements and conditions of service. Peggy was one of the first to receive the Medal for her commitment to the nation and victory.