Tuesday 8 August 2023

Peggy’s War: A story of a Land Girl and the Women’s Land Army

In the September 2023 issue of Family Tree magazine (UK), now on sale, I have an article about the Women’s Land Army (WLA) of Britain, featuring the life of Laura May (Fisher) Marshall, known to her family and friends as Peggy. Unfortunately, there was not the ability or space to include many of the background stories and pertinent photos of Land Girls, especially those of Peggy and her husband, Arthur Marshall.

If you do not have a Family Tree subscription, I recommend getting one.

So, here is a bit of an addendum to the published article.

It was titled “Peggy’s War” both for her involvement in the WLA as well because so many of her family had roles in the conflict. One of Arthur’s brothers gave his life. At times she might well have thought the war was a personal struggle.

The Women’s Land Army

The WLA was forged with the intent to support agricultural activities in Britain at a time when many farm workers elected to join the military in the fight with German forces in Europe. Thousands of young women, many from urban localities joined the WLA, partly to expand their own personal experiences, but also to assist in the war effort. While most women in rural communities were already working on farms, there were still not enough people to provide the labour for efficiently food production. Thus, a concerted effort was made to recruit those in towns and cities across the country.

Land Girls, as they were called, were recognizable in the long smocks, unique breeches, boots and head gear, and badges and armbands they wore.

They were celebrated in almost every community in which they worked and lauded by governments for their dedication.

WLA members march in the Lord Mayor of London’s Show in 1918 (photo originally published in London Daily Mail; image captured from website Women’s Land Army & Timber Corps; this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License)

There is a great deal of information to be found about the WLA on the website Women’s Land Army & Timber Corps

The Fisher Family

Laura May Fisher, known by her family and friends as Peggy, was born 9 April 1898 at 4 Headstone Terrace, Harrow on the Hill, London, to parents, James John and Minnie Elizabeth (Buckland) Fisher. James was an independent house builder and decorator.

1898 birth record for Laura May Fisher (acquired from General Record Office)

Peggy was the fourth of five children. Her three older sisters, Doris Isabel (b. 1890), Barbara Joan (b. 1892) and Marjorie Eileen (b. 1893), were born in Lewisham, Kent, where their parents had met and married. By the time the third child came along the family were in the process of relocating to Forest Hill, Kent. A brother, Harland, was born across the Thames River, in Paddington, Middlesex, in 1896.

Shortly after Laura’s birth, the family moved to Eastbourne, Sussex. Her youngest sibling, Ivor Albert, was born there in 1899. Peggy would have received her education in East Sussex, likely in a number of different schools.

The birthplaces reflect the movement of the family around southeast England as the father secured work as a house contractor in developing communities. The family lived on Gore Park Road in Eastbourne between 1899 and at least 1908. They then moved up the coast to Old Church Road in Hollington, north of Hastings, where they resided until after 1911. By 1918, with all their children gone, James and Minnie had moved across town to 375 Harold Road, where they remained until 1928 when Minnie, by then a widow, immigrated to Canada. James had died in 1927. Minnie lived with her son, Ivor Albert, in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, until her death in 1955.

Locations of Fisher and Marshal family residences from 1890 to 1927 in London and East Sussex (base maps used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Peggy appears to have begun her new role as a Land Girl in mid- to late 1918 at Barkham Manor Farm, in East Sussex, owned by Robert Kenward. Her name was posted on the first Good Service Ribbon list published for East Sussex, in April 1919.

List of Good Service Ribbon winner in East Sussex; acquired from The Landswoman, April 1919 issue, published on website Women’s Land Army & Timber Corps

Several workers were hired on at Barkham Manor following the war, including a stockman named Arthur Samuel Marshall. Arthur was an army veteran, having served with the 5th Royal Sussex Regiment in France following his enlistment on 18 February 1915. He was demobilized on 12 March 1919 and returned to find work in his home county of East Sussex.

From the time they both arrived at Barkham, Arthur and Peggy became close.

The Marshall Family

The Marshall family lived in Broomhill, a rural district of Rye, East Sussex, on the Dungeness Peninsula, during the time Arthur and his siblings were born and raised. Arthur’s birth date was 1 February 1893.

1893 birth record for Arthur Samuel Marshall (acquired from General Record Office)

Samuel Arthur Marshall, Arthur’s father, was a farm labourer, born just to the east, in Lydd, Kent. Arthur’s mother, Emma Jane Roope Loraine, was born in Dartmouth, Devon, but came to the Rye area with her family, when her father, a coastguardsman, was transferred there.

Arthur took up animal husbandry, first as a shepherd and then looking after cattle and horses. From his home at Broomhill Farm, he joined the British Army. Following his service, he began work at Barkham Farm, over 30 miles to the east of Broomhill.

We don’t know what prompted Arthur to take up employment there. It appears, though, that he may have served under Lt. Robert Kenward, Jr. in the Royal Sussex Regiment with both being deployed to France the same day. Robert, who died during action nat Auvilliers, France in 1916, may have indicated to Arthur that there could be work at Barkham Farm after the war. His employment probably began there in the spring of 1919.

Marriage of Peggy & Arthur

The marriage of Peggy and Arthur was supported by the whole community and publicized by many news agencies. No doubt her being awarded the Distinguished Service Bar for heroic efforts in saving the life of her fiancé led to her acclaim.

Photos from The Daily Mirror, 19 November 1919 issue, published in recognition of the marriage of Peggy Fisher and Arthur Marshall; images acquired from website The British Newspaper Archive (used with permission from Reach Plc)

Peggy’s bridal party was made up mostly of Land Girl friends with whom she served. She and her husband were given a guard of honour by 12 Sussex Land Girls, in full WLA uniforms, in exiting the church after the wedding. A decorated farm wagon accompanied by horse-mounted Land Girls accompanied the couple to their reception.

Peggy & Arthur

While Peggy and Arthur and their families may have been “typical” people who served their country during WWI, their personal accomplishments were deserving of the accolades they received. As did all the Land Girls who volunteered in both world wars, I should add.

I hope you will read the whole story in Family Tree magazine.

Some Other Photos & Media

See Women’s Land Army and Imperial War Museum websites for many more pictures.

Movies of Land Girls from World War I vintage https://www.britishpathe.com/asset/77320/ & https://www.britishpathe.com/asset/77035/

Emma Jolly, Land Girl; photo acquired from Women’s Land Army & Timber Corps

Photo of East Sussex Land Girls outside Country Hall in Lewes, 1919 (Peggy Fisher may be in the group (captured from inactive website the first world war east sussex)

A member of the Women’s Land Army operating a single-furrow plough on a British farm; Imperial War Museum reference IWM (Q 54607)

Devon Land Girls on the way to the potato fields; images originally published in The Daily Mirror on 28 March 1918, acquired from website The British Newspaper Archive (used with permission from Reach Plc)

Parade of Land Girls in Brighton in March 1918; published on 13 March 1918 in The Illustrated War News, acquired from website The British Newspaper Archive (used courtesy of the British Library Board)

Statue at the National Memorial Arboretum, AlrewasStaffordshire; image acquired from website Women’s Land Army (photo used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License)

A Blogiversary


This post marks the 10th anniversary of my Discover Genealogy blogsite, the first one, Discovering Genealogy, having been published on 11 August 2013. I have learned a lot myself since that date and shared many experiences and ideas that I discovered. While the numbers of posts have slowed since the early years, I have endeavored to continue to pass along some thoughts that might help others with their family history research.

Along the way, I developed some ideas about how Mother Nature had a role in the lives and livelihoods of our ancestors and related many examples of how natural phenomena impacted people and communities.

It’s been a pleasure to offer stories and tidbits about genealogical studies since 2013 and I will try to present what I hope will be regular posts that are informative and entertaining in the future, starting with post number 374, Peggy’s War, below.

Thanks for being a part of Discover Genealogy by reading my posts and occasionally commenting on them.