Ipswich exhibition tells inspiring stories of Suffolk's Women's Land Army

Soil Sisters exhibition sold out in Ipswich this weekend. The organisers: (L-R) Holly Brega, Nicky Reynolds and Vicky Abbott.

Soil Sisters exhibition sold out in Ipswich this weekend. It was painstakingly put together by organisers (L-R) Holly Brega, Nicky Reynolds and Vicky Abbott. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

An exhibition uncovering stories of the incredible Suffolk women who kept the country on its feet during the Second World War took place in Ipswich on Saturday. 

‘Soil Sisters’ was held at The Hold, and was painstakingly put together by Nicky Reynolds, Vicky Abbott, Mary Pereira and Holly Brega after three years of research into the Women’s Land Army (WLA) with the help of tireless volunteers.  

The sell-out exhibition took place at The Hold in Ipswich.

The sell-out exhibition took place at The Hold in Ipswich, and was organised by (L-R) Nicky Reynolds, Mary Pereira, Holly Brega and Vicky Abbott - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

“They undoubtedly changed the face of British agriculture,” says WLA historian, Nicky Reynolds. “In Suffolk, we have a rich agricultural history, and the Land Army has been part of that.” 

“We had the largest WLA hostel in the country, which opened in Lakenheath in 1942. It had 116 girls stationed there. You can imagine the impact of over 100 young, mostly single young women had on a fairly quiet, sleepy area.  

Visitors pored over original artefacts, including this Women's Land Army map.

Visitors pored over original artefacts, including this Women's Land Army map. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

“They’d all be out, working the fields and the farms. There was something like 36 weddings of land girls to local chaps.” 

Nicky and her colleagues have done their best to uncover as many stories as possible. 

“We know about Peggy Brown, who was the forewoman out at Campsea Ashe hospital,” says Nicky. 

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“Then we've got Daphne Lake, who was one of the first women in Suffolk to be awarded tractor driving proficiency. 

Women's Land Army historian Nicky Reynolds has amassed an incredible collection of artefacts.

Women's Land Army historian Nicky Reynolds has amassed an incredible collection of artefacts, photographs and original uniforms. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

“Then there’s Edna Girling, who was tragically killed at the age of 17 years. She was drawn into some baling machinery in a horrific accident. She is the only WLA member whose name appears on the war memorial in Ipswich.” 

Nicky and the team hope that, through their exhibition, these incredible women’s stories will continue to be told. 

Holly Brega has put together a film on the Land Girls and horses of Suffolk, which was screened at The Hold on Saturday.

Holly Brega has put together a film on the Land Girls and horses of Suffolk, which was screened at The Hold on Saturday. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

‘Soil Sisters’ included original uniforms worn by the ‘land girls,’ photographs, paperwork, ephemera and 50 digital resources, including Holly Brega’s film Land Girls and the Horses of Suffolk. 

“We've also manged to track down women who have served who are still with us, so we can conduct oral history interviews which can then be archived,” says Nicky proudly. 

Relatives of Women's Land Army members have been sharing their photographs and paperwork, eager for their stories to be told.

Relatives of Women's Land Army members have been sharing their photographs, paperwork and ephemera, eager for their stories to be told. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

“These ladies are rare gems, but they’re still around. They're in their 90s – there’s Ann Catchpole who’s just turned 100! But it’s a limited window of opportunity that we have, and we’re doing our very best to capture their stories while we still can. 

“They're women who did their bit, often with quiet grace and not much fuss and fanfare, but without them we would have been in a real pickle.”