A woman whose invaluable contribution to the war efforts during the Second World War has been nominated in the Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters campaign.
Miss Winifred Jacob Smith came from an extremely well known and community-spirited family in the Knaresborough area. During the Second World War, she was responsible for the welfare of members of the Women’s Land Army across Yorkshire.
She is also known for bequeathing Scriven Park – now Jacob Smith Park – to her community upon her death in May 2003, aged 91.
The campaign is a North Yorkshire County Council project to highlight and celebrate figures from the past who were immensely influential within the county. It draws on County Record Office archives and the work of local history groups.
Winifred was born on 4 August 1911, in Humberton, between Knaresborough and Boroughbridge, to parents Jacob and Dora Smith. It had been tradition within the Smith family for the eldest son to be given the first name Jacob. However, as Jacob and Dora only had daughters, they incorporated Jacob into the surname so the tradition could live on.
The Smith family had long established roots within the farming industry in Knaresborough; and Winifred’s mother, Dora, was president of the Knaresborough Women’s Institute (WI). At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Winifred, aged 30, and her sister Dorothy joined the Women’s Land Army (WLA) for North Yorkshire.
The purpose of the Women’s Land Army was to fill the agricultural jobs left vacant after many farmers had gone to fight in the war. The work on the farms was labour-intensive, and involved long days working in the fields.
Winifred’s efforts in the land army had a massive effect on North Yorkshire as after joining in 1939, she soon became the organiser for North Yorkshire’s WLA and later the whole of Yorkshire. This would involve carrying out welfare visits on Land Girls in their accommodation, and writing monthly Women’s Land Army newsletters, which were sent out across Yorkshire.
The work of the Women’s Land Army was crucial to feed the nation during both wars and even after the Second World War.
Dr Mike Tyler, curator at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, said: “One of the local notable figures was Winifred Jacob Smith. She was the county organiser for North Yorkshire, she had responsibilities for interviewing new recruits to figure whether they were up for the work.”
Upon her death in May 2003, Winifred bequeathed what was then called Scriven Park near Knaresborough to her local community for all generations to benefit from the freedom and beauty that public parks bring.
Winifred left the park to Harrogate Borough Council, which continues to maintain it for the local community to enjoy, and it was officially opened to the public as Jacob Smith Park in 2008.
The Friends of Jacob Smith Park is a local community group established in 2008, alongside the opening of Jacob Smith Park to the public.
Jo Smalley, secretary of the Friends of Jacob Smith Park, said: “Winifred was a strong, caring, capable, generous and practical-minded North Yorkshire woman who was committed to her family and championing farming in the county. She was also dedicated to her community of Knaresborough and also to the women who were billeted to farms across North Yorkshire, whose welfare she was responsible for in her role as Organiser for the Women’s Land Army during WW2.
“Miss Winifred Jacob Smith MBE granted us all the freedom of the park, and we must never take it for granted. It is so important that it is enjoyed as Miss Jacob Smith intended – by everyone – and cherished for generations to come.”
On 28 February 1951, Winifred Jacob Smith received an MBE from King George VI for her leadership of the Yorkshire Women’s Land Army during the Second World War.
The Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Councillor Carl Les, said: “It is people like Winifred who are so influential and inspirational within the county. Their selfless behaviour and willingness to leave behind what they have for generations ahead adds to the heritage of North Yorkshire.
“Winifred’s work and contribution towards the Women’s Land Army and war efforts shows true North Yorkshire grit and determination to make things better. This is why our campaign is so important to seek influential figures from across the county.”
Nominations for the Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters can be sent to MadeInNorthYorkshire@northyorks.gov.uk
Ten life stories will be featured in the series, after which the public will be invited to vote to find the greatest son or daughter.
Read more about Miss Winifred Jacob Smith and Made in North Yorkshire.