Land Army Girls

These Extracts Are From A Recently Released Book Entitled “Until The Boys Return” By Juliet Ludbrook. Following Extensive Research The Story Of The Land Army Girls Can Now Be Told For The First Time. It Is Recommended Reading And Highlights The Roll Played By These Girls During The War Years.

The process for enrolling was to contact headquarters in King Street, Perth, or apply through a National Services Office situated in most of the larger towns. Interviews were carried out at King Street and, once accepted, the new Land Girl was kitted out and given a service book listing conditions, responsibilities and pay structure.

Full-time members were enrolled for twelve months or “the duration”. They had to undergo a medical examination and be passed as physically capable of outdoor rural work. Contracts were not to be broken though resignations were permitted if satisfactory reasons were given to the Deputy Director General of Manpower (DDG).


A member “must work where directed” though they would not be placed unless suitable accommodation was available. To refuse a placement or to carry out instructions or go AWOL incurred disciplinary action at the discretion of the DDG and a Land Girl could be discharged for serious misconduct, inefficiency or unsuitability.

Pay was a minimum of 30 shillings (3 dollars) a week and keep or 50 shillings (5 dollars) a week if keep was provided. The same rates applied between assignments. Sick leave of up to 12 days per annum could be granted. Members were not to work more than 48 hours without overtime. After twelve months they were entitled to 12 days annual holiday on full pay at the rate of 50 shillings (5 dollars) per week. While in training they received 20 shillings (2 dollars) per week plus keep. Fares were only paid to and from assignments, unlike the other services in which members also received general postal and travel concessions.

With their first destination entered into their service book, and suitcase in hand containing whatever clothes and equipment were available, the girls were sent off on their adventure. Those destined for the Instructional Depot at Fairbridge, north to Geraldton or destinations south, made their way down King Street and along Wellington Street to the Perth Railway Station. Their employer was responsible for meeting them at the end of their train journey and transporting them to their new home and place of work. Adding to the challenge of their journey, the names and directions on railway stations had been removed in case if invasion.

When Ethel Smailes joined the Land Army Girls, because she was gradually coming to terms with the events of the war, as well as escaping her family life. She remembers three of her Sunday school teachers saying “goodbye to all the kids in their classes because they were going overseas to war”, Ethel was 18 when she enrolled and had been working as a cashier in a tailor’s shop in the city and remembers the American sailors and other servicemen coming in to get their uniforms altered: “They were always wanting to date you …… but I was scared stiff”:

“All these soldiers and sailors used to come and get things done to their suits and things and it sounded very interesting ….. and I eventually decided I’d like to do something. Because I didn’t get on very well at home with my mother I thought it would be an outlet to get away and see life away from home and my father agreed. He had to give me his permission and that’s how I come to join up.”

Asked why she chose the Land Army in preference to one of the regular forces she replied: “Fear. Fear of being sent away to other places. I didn’t want to get mixed up in real war.”

Ethel Smailes, who was sent to Illawarra Orchard towards the end of the war, remembers the time she spent there with great affection:

“We never went anywhere for our weekends off because we had nowhere to go, so we used to stay in the house. The other girls, they always went to Perth but Betty and I didn’t. One night we heard somebody walking around the house and I jumped into her bed and we hugged each other; we were frightened like anything so in the morning we reported it to Mr. Price. He just laughed at au. He told us it was the apples dropping off the tree because they were too ripe, or the kangaroos pulling them off.”

Even though Ethel and her friend spent quiet weekends, there was always the excitement of meeting the train three times a week when people from all over the district met up:

“Our mail used to come in Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and us girls used to walk – it was about two miles – we used to walk in from Illawarra into what we called the siding, it was the Karragullen station, the train used to come up from Kalamunda in those days and they brought mail in and other goods and things that was needed.”

Ethel also remembers the local dances at Karragullen Hall:

“……an old hall ….. just a little old hall it was ….. and we had hurricane lamps, no electricity. By this time a lot of boys had come home from the war and they’d all crowd the dances to look over us Land Girls. We only had a dance once a fortnight or once a month, I think it was …. and there was one local lady called Mrs. Essie Littlely ….. anyway she was a lovely woman and she’d make the most beautiful coffee in a big kerosene tin and put it in a copper that was there in the hall, and heat it up, and we’d dish it out and we had a lovely, lovely evening. Saturday evenings like that with the local ladies, they looked after us very well. Oh yes, a Mr and Mrs Beard from Pickering Brook – Mrs Beard was a wonderful pianist and her husband played the drums and used to come over and charge us five pounds (ten dollars) a night ’til midnight to play for a dance and if we wanted to go over midnight we’d take out a collection ’til 1 o’clock”.

on 7th July 1945 the Land Girls from Illawarra held a dance in aid of the Red Cross. It took a few trips down to the hall two miles away to decorate it, put up Land Army posters, get the wood for the fire, prepare the prizes, raffle tickets – and the floor. The Saturday of the dance was a ‘lovely sunny day’ and the girls did the finishing touches, adding greenery and setting out the supper – with cakes and tarts they had made themselves and sandwiches supplied by the local Carinyah Red Cross:

“At 7.30 the Land Girls were at their best, and all dolled up in their winter uniforms; we adjourned to the hall, to be greeted by a host of happy people from all parts of the neighbourhood. The floor was very fast and with a good pianist playing the crowd of people soon enjoyed themselves. There were spot dances, Monte Carlo, and a barn dance for the children, all of which proved very popular, with a crowded floor for each dance.”


It was after a dance such as this ( or was it this one?) that Ethel Smailes’ life changed for ever. She had originally met tall good-looking Ken Smailes when he had delivered wood for making dumps to the orchard:

” …… and I thought, he looks nice and then he suddenly looked up and our eyes met and I gave him a smile and that was it. So after he went I said to the boss, “Who was that, Mr. Price?” He said, “Keep your eyes off, that’s my cousin.” So that was that, so next time we went into the store for our walk who should be there but Mr. Smailes and his truck so he invited us for a lift back. We all hopped on the back and our “cookie” who was with us, she got in the front with him. So anyway this went on for a couple of nights and eventually “cookie” said, “Ethel, Mr. Smailes wants to talk to you, you get in the front.” I said, “Oh no,” I was very shy, very nervous of boys and anyway eventually she said, “Come on, I’ll get in and you get in with me.” She said he was desperate to talk to me. So anyway I got in and he was asking me how I liked orchard work and that sort of thing and brought us back to Illawarra and we all got out and started to walk inside, and he said, “Miss Judge, could I speak to you for a moment?” And I thought, “Oh yes, Mr. Smailes.” And he said, “Would you, there’s a dance on Saturday night in Karragullen, would you like me to take you to it?” I said, “Oh we’d love it,” and so he came along Saturday night and took six Land Girls to the dance and that was the start of my romance with Mr. Smailes.”

Their romance blossomed from then on. After the War the Prices at Illawarra asked Ethel to stay on at Illawarra.

” ……. they gave me a lovely room in their house and it was very nice and I was very well looked after ….. I helped with the children and spare time I was helping Mrs. Price with housework and working down at the packing shed, and in the meantime Mr. Smailes, we’d gone to Ken now, used to come and court me ….. take me out every Sunday or if there was a dance on Saturday night we’d go out and we never went straight inside the house. In Mr. Price’s garden he had a beautiful jacaranda tree and under it was a lovely love seat and we always used to sit there until I had to go to bed and say goodnight, and we did most of our courting under a jacaranda tree and we’ve grown jacaranda trees ever since.”


Ethel married her Mr. Smailes and wasn’t the only one to find true love in the Darling Ranges. Joan Smith, Dawn O’Meagher and Daphne Spriggs also married boys from the area (covering the army, navy and air force) and between them added twenty children to the valley – a significant post-war contribution to the district.

Article: “Until The Boys Return” by Juliet Ludbrook

Images: 1, 2, 3, 9 Until The Boys Return
4, 5, 6, 7. 8 Tom Price