Working on the land

War memories: At age 16, Esther Stanton was part of the Australian Women’s Land Army during World War II. "It was tough work but something I'm very proud to have done." Picture: Geoff Jones
War memories: At age 16, Esther Stanton was part of the Australian Women’s Land Army during World War II. "It was tough work but something I'm very proud to have done." Picture: Geoff Jones

You didn’t have to serve overseas to play an important role in World War II.

As farmers served abroad and put their lives on the line for their country, people were needed to do their jobs back home such as picking fruit, shearing sheep and driving tractors.

The Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) was formed in 1942 to combat rising labour shortages in the farming sector. The average working week was 48 hours, with pay starting from 30 shillings a week.

Esther Stanton was 16 when she enrolled.

Now 90, the North Parramatta resident has fond memories of being a “land army girl”. “There were plenty of jobs and no men,” Mrs Stanton recalled.

“When the war was on, men were called up when they turned 18. We did the things men did in the country, which brought food to the city. I was going to school and suddenly, I was living away from home and my parents, working hard.”

Mrs Stanton was among 500 land army girls stationed in and around Batlow in the Snowy Mountains.

The district supplied dehydrated fruit and vegetables to World War II troops.

“You would go to the shed, where there were rows and rows of potatoes,” she said.

“Many were peeled and turned into a mash powder, which was then parachuted down into the trenches where the men were fighting. Dried orange peel was also parachuted down so they could make orange juice.”

Mrs Stanton was stationed at four farms, including a stint as a cherry picker.

“I’m very proud and was glad to have served in the land army,” she said.

“A lot of people were fearful of the war but I was outgoing and willing to have a go at anything. It was jolly and friendly time that broadened my outlook on life. I formed friendships with people that lasted a lifetime.”

Mrs Stanton used to march with fellow AWLA veterans on Anzac Day each year. The group marched for the last time in 2012.

“We weren’t allowed to take part in the march until 1988. There’s only a handful of us left now,” she said.

Mrs Stanton will join hundreds at Prince Alfred Park next Tuesday for the Anzac Day dawn service.

“It makes me proud to be an Australian. It’s a great country.”