3rd September 1941. Schools’ Land Army.
In the mass mobilisation of World War II even school-children were asked to volunteer to help on the land in Harvest Camps which were set up around the country. This in a background of widespread evacuation and the disruption of bombed-out cities.
This little known contribution by the youth of Britain was highlighted Today in 1941, on the second anniversary of the declaration of war, when the Daily Telegraph reported that the ‘Schoolboy Farm-Harvest Camps were to be extended – Government act to save crops’.(1)
The Board of Education was now taking action to extend the Camps until the corn was gathered. The Board pointed out that the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Hudson, ‘considers that due to the late season there was a chance of much corn being lost’.
The Report continued: ‘St. Swithin is blamed for the fact that rain had fallen twenty-nine of the forty days from 15th July to 23rd August and that…the boys are doing a grand job of war service‘.
Back in 1939 when war began, the boys, (not girls yet), from both public and state schools were involved in holiday time work to collect the harvest, but were expected to meet travel costs and contribute to their board and food of 11 shillings weekly. Wages of 6d-8d (pence) an hour hardly covered costs.(2)
Opposition came from those fearful of infringements of previous Acts to protect Children, then there were all the hazards relating to children’s welfare, what we would call ‘health and safety’.
In 1940, for instance, one child lost an eye when someone wildly tossed a clod of earth, at the Warwick School Camp resulting in the Head being sued for damages and legal costs.
As food production became more desperate, demand came for ‘term-time’ work and a tussle between the Board of Education, Teacher Unions, and the Ministries of Labour and Agriculture, led by the powerful Ernest Bevin and Robert Hudson.
Rapid intervention by the War-Cabinet, saw the Board of Education by early 1941 telling Local Education Authorities (LEAs), to fix school holidays to coincide with seasonable agricultural demands. Leicestershire for example curtailed the summer holidays to facilitate three weeks in October to get the potato harvest in.
By May 1942 all opposition fell away with the legitimisation of term time work under Defence Regulations, Orders-in-Council, ironically drafted under RAB Butler, Education Minister.(3)
Now children were permitted to be away from school, for a maximum of 20-half days each year. All was to be voluntary, after permission from father [? mother], a close relative or for evacuees, billeting household. They would receive agricultural workers’ minimum wage, and had to be aged 14, except where there was a shortage.
The whole system was orchestrated by the Ministry of Agriculture through the County War Agriculture Executive Committees (CWAEC).(4)
By 1943 there were over 1000 camps and girls were now employed, either in single-sex or mixed camps. By 1950 only about 100 remained.
After the 1951 harvest, School Camps ended, though camps continued in other forms until October 1954.
(1) Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 3rd September 1941.
(2) This was at a time when a worker’s wage might be £2 a week. In old money L.s.d. stood for pounds, shillings and pence.
(3) Regulation dated, 5th May, 1942.
(4) Established under Reg 66 of Defence (General) Regs 1939).
Ref: histclo.com/essay/ww2/ Photo Image.