Noeline Baker

Born on Christmas Day 1878, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Noeline was one of five surviving children. Following the death of her father, along with her immediate family, she emigrated to England. There, she trained at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Her connection with Surrey began in 1905 when the family moved to Guildford. It was there that she became involved in the campaign for female suffrage.  This was at a time when a number of women campaigners were resorting to adopting illegal tactics as a way of attracting attention to the cause. Noeline joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), and was a founder member of its Guildford branch in 1910.

At the outbreak  of war in 1914, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) called an end to illegal tactics and encouraged women to participate in supporting the war effort on the Home Front.  Exhibiting a flair for organisation, Noeline was to play a key role in the direction of Surrey women towards the vital task of food production. The importance of enrolling women in this task was enhanced by a number of key events in the widening and deepening conflict of World War One.  Firstly, the introduction and extension of conscription into the armed forces for men from January 1916 exacerbated the labour shortage faced by farms at a time when demand was high.  A second factor was the decision by the German Imperial Government to introduce a policy of Unrestricted U boat Warfare on February 1 1917.  This meant that any ship in the Atlantic and seas around Britain was at risk of attack by German submarines.  The following day, the Women’s Land Army was created.  An organisation which required recruitment, mobilisation, training and relocation of women farm workers provided further opportunity for Noeline to deploy her skills.  She became the organising secretary of the Women’s Land Army for Surrey, a role which attracted the attention of the local press, especially as she became involved in a propaganda role on the Home Front, addressing rallies.

Noeline’s contribution to the war effort was judged of sufficient note for her to be awarded an MBE in 1920.  Having returned to her native New Zealand after the war, Noeline came back to England in 1939 and was briefly reappointed to her previous role as secretary to the Land Army for Surrey before returning once more to the country of her birth. There, she achieved further recognition for her work as a botanist. In New Zealand, she is remembered in perpetuity through the naming of the Noeline Glacier and Baker Saddle, both in the Southern Alps.

For further reading about her life and achievements, there is an excellent biography of her life and work written by Leah Taylor and published in the New Zealand Dictionary of Biography in 1998.

 

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography  There is a photograph of her, five years before her death.

Land Army    The Land Army, popularly known as the ‘Land Girls’, had 23000 members by the war’s end.  Disbanded in 1918, it reformed in 1939 and was a much larger organisation.  At the time, it was a significant boost to female emancipation; its members wore uniforms which included breeches which gave the wearer much greater freedom of movement.  Furthermore, it gave women an opportunity to live away on the farms where they were based.

Shields Daily News’ 25/08/1958: ‘Started land Girls, dies at 79.’

The Surrey Advertser, 29/10/1916: ‘SURREY’S LAND ARMY OF WOMEN.’  This is a reference to a rally of the Land Army in Surrey at Guildford of which Noeline was secretary.

Surrey Mirror, 18/10/1916:’ WOMEN AND THE LAND.’ A report on a meeting  of the Surrey Committee for Women’s Farm Labourers at the Theatre Royal, Guildford, which she attended as honorary Secretary.

 

 

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