The posters read ‘For a healthy, happy job – Join the Women’s Land Army’; ‘God speed the plough and the woman who drives it’; ‘We could do with thousands more like you’, and the rosy-cheeked young women in them smile out from the idyllic English countryside.
But of course being a land girl, or member of the Women’s Land Army, during World War Two wasn’t all sunshine and roses – the work was backbreaking, the hours long and the pay, if it came, paltry. Some land girls hated it while others had the time of their life, and the play Lilies on the Land, coming to the Ark in Borehamwood, shows the full range of experiences, good and bad.
“The play is unique, I’ve never been in anything like it before,” says Kate Copeland, who plays Margie. “The audiences’ responses are amazing – they’re engaged, warm, they laugh but you also hear sniffles as well, it’s deeply moving.”
The play is based on more than 150 letters and interviews with original land girls, as well as songs from the period, and charts the personal journeys of four women from very different backgrounds who sign up to the Women’s Land Army.
The Lions Part, the play’s original production company, wrote an open letter in Saga magazine asking former land girls for their memories, anecdotes, sayings, songs and poems and, only expecting a handful of responses, were delighted by the response they got.
“They came up with this incredible script from the letters and interviews,” Kate explains, “every line is taken verbatim from those. Their memories are very immediate, it makes it really rich because that’s how people spoke then.
“Two original land girls have come along with their photos to show us. It’s incredible. The play is very resonant for them – it’s really what happened. I feel privileged to be in it.”
Lilies on the Land is at The Ark Theatre, Shenley Road, Borehamwood on Friday, May 4 and Saturday, May 5 at 7.30pm. Matinee on Saturday, May 5 at 2.30pm. Details: 020 8238 7288, www.thearktheatre.co.uk