'You got much less than the men'

Sheila Smith remembers the war at home

Sheila Smith was born in 1922 in Rangiora, North Canterbury. As men on the land became scarcer during the war, the government decided to enlist the help of women like Sheila to keep up production. The Women's Land Corps was formed at the end of 1941 but low wages and conditions meant that, six months later, fewer than 150 women had joined. Changes to the scheme, including some improvement in conditions, increased the numbers interested in pulling on overalls and gumboots, and by the beginning of 1944 nearly 1900 women were working for what had become the Women's Land Service. Sheila worked for nearly three years on an orchard near her home town.

In this extract Sheila recalls that they did the same work as the men but received far less money:


Sheila Smith: You know we had to do everything the men did and only got about half the pay.

Interviewer: Did you? Can you remember how much you were paid?

Sheila Smith: I remember now but it was something very, you know sort of like 27 and 6 a week or something like that. I can't really remember now, but I know we did. We had to lift 40-pound cases six high, which was quite, meant you had to get a good hoist to get them up over your shoulder, to get them up. You had to do exactly what the men did.

Interviewer: What was the general attitude about the level of pay compared with men?

Sheila Smith: Oh well that's the way it was and you might say to one another, 'Oh, look at their fat pay packets,' but you didn't do anything about it. That was the way it was, women got you known, because you were a woman you got much less than the men.

Interviewer: So there were men alongside that were actually being paid on the same day and you knew that there was more in their pay packets?

Sheila Smith: Oh yes, and they got ever so much more - but that was the way it was in those days. Women just you know. 
Interviewer: Did you ever feel angry about that?

Sheila Smith: No, I felt envious sometimes. I'd think, 'Oh, aren't they lucky?' But as I said that was the accepted thing that you are a woman.

Interviewer: And there were no stirrers who said were going to get…?

Sheila Smith: No you just held out your hand and got your pay packet and were grateful for it.

Sheila Smith

Sheila Smith, 1943 and at home in 2007.


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