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Wartime Farm



  • A preview of this week's episode (5 0f 8):

    "The Wartime Farm team tackles the conditions faced by British farmers in 1942, when Hitler's U-boats continued to bombard British ships, slashing imports and inflicting massive shortages on the country.

    Ruth finds out how Britain coped with shortages of the wood vital for the war effort in the building aircraft, ships and rifles, as well as pit props for crucial coal mining. With her daughter Eve, she travels to the New Forest and discovers how women known as 'Lumber Jills' were drafted in to fell trees in the Women's Timber Corps.  Meanwhile, Peter and Alex face up to the wartime petrol crisis. Peter embarks on an ambitious plan to convert a 1930's ambulance to run on coal gas. Alex experiences the conditions faced by the Bevin Boys - conscripts who were sent to coal mines instead of the armed forces because the need for coal was so great. Peter having converted the ambulance and collected the coal to run it, the question is will it work?

    Also this episode, the boys revert to a Victorian solution to the shortage of animal feed - using traditional horsepower to operate a root slicer - whilst Ruth sets up an Emergency Feeding Centre. Subsidized by the government to provide cheap food off ration for air raid victims, these 'British Restaurants', as Churchill dubbed them, quickly caught on. Eating out had traditionally been the preserve of the upper class and most ordinary people had never eaten in public before - many even felt embarrassed at the prospect. The 'British Restaurants', envisaged as a short term response to food shortages, made a lasting change to the nation - introducing the concept of high street dining for the masses."

  • PalaisglidePalaisglide Posts: 3,414

    Root slicers in our neck of the woods had a big handle probably geared but it chopped the turnips easily.
    Never saw a Lumber Jill, saw the handle of a cross cut saw though as we cut up wood the hard way.
    British Restaurants were a godsend, when I started as an apprentice just before Christmas at a wage of 13/4 (thirteen shillings and four pence) the boss Arthur Brown told us lads we had to walk down to Alma Street and get a dinner in our one hour dinner break and gave us the money, four pence.
    We would join the girls from the warehouse across the road and it was around seven minutes walk to St Johns Church Hall. The first time I went in was an eye opener being used to having school dinners I recognised the long tables and forms but the size of it took my breath away. A long counter with what seemed dozens of girl and women serving masses of workers from around the area. Twelve until one was workers only as most of the local firms did not have canteens and there were a lot of local firms on war work.
    You would join a queue and in no time would be at the counter picking up a tray and cutlery, then it would be "Pie or Mince" Or Pie or Stew" you did get a choice but the pie would be either the mince or the stew with a crust on top then boiled potato's no time to mash, veg in season it was always fish on Fridays being on the coast had its advantages, and then the second choice, "Rice or steamed and custard" or "Pie and custard or Tapioca" there seemed to be no shortage of rice or tapioca, a pot of tea and you were off to a table. You were never asked what veg as it was just piled on and someone around would eat what you did not want, no problem with me I ate the lot. The noise was terrific as plates and cutlery rattled people talked music was played over the speaker system and it was all go, as fast as you cleared a plate the girls hovering whipped it away and then you were ushered out to let the next lot sit down. After the workers went then the public would be let in and although many closed some of those restaurants were still in business until the 1960's the one in the centre of Middlesbrough being one of them.
    We handed over our fourpence being lads and the girls got to know us filling our plates, the men and women workers paid sixpence it was subsidised probably by the firms with no canteens. The food was plentifull and good and yes boiled onions or leeks were often served in winter although we did have plenty of cabbages and unlike today where the choice seems to be "white, Savoy, Red" we had a range of them and what we called winter greens so sprouts would figure a lot.
    We had onions at home in the dark days of winter and Mother gave me strict instructions on cooking them. Peel skin off leaving top and tail, put in pan with water to cover bring to the boil leave a minute or so and empty out water, repeat this, now do it again but let onions simmer until soft, with a little bit of farmhouse butter they were delicious. Leeks went into puddings that were steamed or braised in stock, Dad would cut the head off a cabbage leaving the stalk and cut a cross on the top, that would grow our spring greens, same with sprouts.
    We killed our own pigs on site and I never ever saw a policeman in attendance. We killed two a year and gave two to the Government, the pig club did the same. We had one local Bobby and a Sergeant would cycle in from Stockton a couple of times a week, they would both come and visit, a cup of tea some of mothers cake (we had butter and eggs so always had sugar from trading) and then leave with a bit of bacon in the pocket. That is how things were done in wartime and it seemed to run smoothly enough.
    Norton was one big Market Garden serving the Towns around and I did see those big diggers they showed last night.


  • PalaisglidePalaisglide Posts: 3,414

    Sorry David, the gloves are off, there was either a massive North South divide in farming or else they are picking out the very odd happenings which probably did take place but not general events.
    Straw Houses? the story went the two lads gave up their room for the rat catcher. They then built a straw house (I was expecting the three little pigs and the wolf at anytime) supposedly for two, roofing it with nettles after telling us straw was so plentiful it was almost a waste product!! so thatch with straw then.
    They then moved in one narrow bed a table and chair complete with a naked flame lamp?? In a straw house? Those two either had strange sleeping habits or one found out the rat catcher was a woman and moved back, lusty lads those farmers.
    We never poisoned rats where livestock abounded for obvious reason, we trapped them. On a Saturday afternoon you would see men walking into the Tan yard across the Green with wire cages and Terriers, us kids were barred, but knew that several rats were dropped into a concrete ring and a terrier dropped in then timed as to how long it took to kill the number of rats, big money would be laid and I suppose the men had a good afternoon of sport!! It certainly reduced the rat population.
    Kids Camp? we had the usual two weeks potato picking and we went and picked potato's it was not a holiday. We would be picked up at school in open trucks boys and girls driven to a place of work and join with all the locals picking potato's in wire trugs and emptying the trugs into carts that came round as we picked. They would go to the yard be washed and or riddled then dried off for bagging. It was solid hard work and not all were up to it so they would be put to bagging under cover, the one time we were glad to get back to school.
    No one has mentioned POW's yet we had them working around the village on all kinds of work from coal bag filling to small holdings, Italians who marched down the road under their own NCO's and a lone British soldier on a bike at the back rifle slung over his shoulder, and they sang, i never heard so much singing, they certainly boosted the choirs in all the local churches on a Sunday Morning.
    We knew the Lindy Hop from films but here it was called the Jitter bug and brought initially by the Canadian Airmen stationed all around us RCAF, my mother worked at Goosepool as an electrician the largest of the bases. It became the Jive in my dancing years then changed name and form many times.
    As to gingham flour or grain sacks? everything was rationed including animal feed so why did they need to advertise, sacks of all kinds were recycled until they fell apart.


  • Hi Frank - I was wondering what you thought about last night's "offering".  As always you've told it like it REALLY was!   I thought the programme made a mess of trying to involve the children - gathering herbs etc maybe, but certainly not children using  pichforks (we call them pikels)  to rake the cut grass in that graveyard.  Even the "presenter" used one -   aaarrgh! - haven't they ever seen or heard of a wooden hay-rake?   We would set traps for rats too.  After the winter months - when the dairy cows were turned out to grass for the first time - a terrier or two (or sometimes a clonk with a shovel) was the way to get rid of those odd few rats which had managed to overwinter in the shippons.  There was always some hay & stuff which got left in that space in front of the actual stalls - we call it "the byng" - and when that was cleaned out the rats would emerge. I was really cross when they said that rats don't have a bladder.  WRONG.  They do - and they can climb.

    They did get it right with Ruth's hairdo, however - my Ma was called Ruth and she had her hair done like that.  I remember those funny hair-clips, which were still in Ma's dressing-table drawer years after the war ended. Yes, they should by this stage have talked about the POWs who worked on farms.  It was mostly Germans who worked for us - the food they brought to work from their camp canteens was really awful, so my Ma and Aunt would give them whatever extra stuff was available from our own kitchen.   I can clearly remember two of them - one was called Walter and the other's name was Hans.  They were probably in their late 30s and - according to my Pa's reminiscences in later years - were thoroughly nice chaps who didn't seem at all "pro Nazi", as were the younger men.  They made toys and little presents for us - I remember one wooden toy which looked like a table tennis bat. Perched on the flat round surface were little carved & painted chickens which  nodded/pecked when you moved the bat in a sort of horizontal/gyratory fashion - the chickens's heads were connected by fine string to a weight beneath the bat.  Walter made a lovely wooden jewellery box for my Aunt - I still have that, and it still has the dedication/inscription  (inc. photo of a rather handsome man in uniform) inside the lid.

  • PalaisglidePalaisglide Posts: 3,414

    Hello Ma, I was prepared to give them the benefit of working from old documents, they are now well off what it was really like. As you said when I saw the pitchforks I nealy yelled, "not for kids" where is H&S when you need it.
    Labour shortage? when the farmers wanted some help the word went round like wild fire and the village turned out, grandma's to children would be stooking or raking, the men would be stacking and thatching the ricks we knew the ropes so needed no telling and always the impromptu party after it was done.
    Ask people when we won the first land battle and they say Alamein Oct 1942, wrong it was the recapture of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in late 1940 early 41, all us kids knew about it as troops pushed down from the Sudan and up from what is now Kenya but was East Africa and many of those Italians ended up within a mile of us and working for us quite happily too.
    They moved to Canada and we got Germans, I think they were graded from Nazi down and our lot were the lowest risk. They too marched down the road under their own NCO's with the Soldier on his bike bringing up the rear, rifle across his shoulders, they broke off in groups into the market gardens farms and many other jobs, a couple worked in the Blacksmiths on the Green, one married the Daughter and stayed.
    My friends Dad had a coal business and he had four Germans for bagging the coal and helping, they came up from the rail staithes at lunch time and ate with the family and me, with mother and dad on war work I spent a lot of time in his home.
    We got to see them as normal men and would spend time writing English words for them to say and write, they would wash up after lunch then all go back to work then to camp at the end of day.
    When they marched down to church on Sunday's there would be a flock of girls watching, there was a shortage of young fit men in our area. We still hated Germans who were fighting us and thought our Bombing was what they deserved, we had been bombed but those Germans just seemed different.


  • Hi everyone.

    I watched the programme this week and wondered why they hadn't got any " German Prisoners" working on the farm. I was told by my mother that my Grandparents had then working for them, and Gran would feed them although as you say Germans were hated, she always used to say they were someones sons and husbands. My Mother never agreed with that sentiments as my Father was in the army fighting them in France.- D-day and was at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. To this day she still hates Germans and she has just had her 99th birthday.

    The pitchforks were not a thing to be handled by todays children,or any other day for that matter, it was a very silly thing for the BBC to allow.

    I also wondered why they didn't have a Jack Russell on the farm, they wouldn't have had many rats with one of those about, but I suppose they were trying to incorporate everything that might have happened. I agree Frank, with so much straw why would you get yourself stung, and why didn't they put some form of waterproofing over the roof before they put on the nettles. As my OH said, he wouldn't have like to have spent a night in the straw house. Am I being too picky, or completely missing the point,but I think they have tried to cover too many aspects, and as for the salmon/potato/sauce sandwichimage, but the children seemed to like it, maybe it tasted better than it looked.

    Good to read everyone's views,


  • Hi Chris - I don't think you're being too picky at all!   As you'll have read, my own comments are usually somewhat derogatory - it annoys me so much when the programme makers say and do things which I know are incorrect, because I think it's utterly wrong to make "historical" programmes with so many errors and then try to pass them off as a factual re-creation.

    I thought I'd send off for the booklet which accompanies the series - I have a small collection of books about farming - but found that the Open University/BBC website doesn't seem to work when you try to place your order.  I got no further than being able to entering my postcode - then.....................nothing.   Must admit I wasn't too surprised - just a bit disappointed - as it's yet another let-down, which is what this series has turned out to be for me.  Whilst looking at the website I saw some comments which were along the same or similar lines to Frank's & mine, so I decided to watch the last episode again on i-player to see whether or not I still felt the same. I do! 



  • As one with a bit of history himself, I'm also finding the content less credible each week too.

    The Victorian Farm series was excellent because it was filmed at a farm (Acton Scott) where it was already a working  museum farm, farmed by the owners who had owned the farm during the Victorian era.

    Then came The Edwardian Farm series, which was full of errors. Unfortunately this Wartime Farm series has gone downhill since the second episode. 

  • PalaisglidePalaisglide Posts: 3,414

    Chris, My Mother also hated anything German until the day she died, she had seen two wars and had uncles and cousins killed in the first and Nephews killed in the second so for her there was no going back.
    The night the Church bells rang which was the warning for invasion she was out of the shelter into the stable and back with two pitchforks and a very determined look on her face, holding the fork she said "let the B####### try landing here" and believe me with her Irish temper she would have chased them, luckily it was a false alarm.
    I looked down on those prisoners unaccompanied working away, to me brought up on Sergeants three, Beau geste,  Clive of India, Gunga Din, prisoners were honour bound to escape, this lot seemed content to be away from it all and that puzzled me until much later, we all live and learn.
    They have definitely lost their way with this one after starting reasonably well.


  • PalaisglidePalaisglide Posts: 3,414

    Not a lot to say, I never saw flax grown in our area but did learn that the linseed oil I kept my bat in condition with came from flax seed something I never knew.
    We did basket making at school as well as raffia weaving but the potato picking trugs were all wire baskets.
    The American GMC deuce and half trucks were 1950's and the Jeep probably a bit later.
    The bread made from sillage was what many Germans ate it was not here, they did not make that point very clear.
    Ruth seems to be well used to plucking and ploating birds and rabbit, all the women in our family could do that without turning a hair, few could do it today.
    Next week they come to VE day which was not the end of the war as a lot of people think it went on until August 5th 1945 with Victory over Japan. All the effort turned from the war in Europe to what we thought would be a very long war in the Pacific.
    Then we got the austere years when rations were reduced and bread rationed for the first time, it was never rationed during the war. That went on until the 1950's, ten to twelve years of shortages, it was not war ends all back to normal but things getting much worse. How did our mothers manage?


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