Friday, 1 November 2019

World War 2 Eighty Years On - Dig for Victory and Rationing


The phoney panic was short lived as no enemy action followed these initial raid warnings.  Memories of the use of gas during World War I brought real fear of aerial  gas attacks and the need to be prepared.   One precaution was to apply green gas detector paint to the tops of pillar post boxes in the area.  During these early days of the war everyone was encouraged to practice wearing their gas mask whilst at school, at work and at home.          

Increasing home food production to replace the imported seventy per cent from overseas resulted in pasture and derelict land being ploughed for arable crops. Agricultural workers and tractor drivers, together with agricultural engineers and mechanics if over 21 years old were classed as being in a reserved occupation exempt from conscription, but those who had joined the Territorial Army or were Military Reservist were called up.  The organization for the ploughing and planting  of crops came  under the control of the War Agricultural Committees whose officers advised farmers and local Councils which land to plough, which crops to grow and where but this  advice was not always suitable for the designated land or the farmers. The newly acquired arable land often failed to produce good yields, the village recreation ground being one such area.  Legal action followed if the land was not farmed to the satisfaction of the War Ag. Committee, Wartime Emergency Acts allowing the farmer to be dispossessed of his land if found necessary.   Buckinghamshire War Agriculture Committee requisitioned 120 acres of Dorney Common, the Eton Wick recreation ground, lammas fields and commons for arable crops.

The area of  Burnham, Taplow, Dorney, Eton and Eton Wick was managed by local agriculture officer,  Mr C.J. Twist. 


Photograph courtesy of Buckinghamshire County Council
Dig for Victory’, a wartime slogan adopted by the Ministry of Food to encourage the population to grow more of their own food.  Responding to the call, Eton College boys under the guidance of their masters, took over allotments along the Eton Wick road close by the Slough - Windsor railway line cultivating vegetables during their school half days.  Children at Eton Wick school also did their bit by growing lettuce and other vegetables.   

Amy Buck, landlord of the 'Three Horse Shoes' public house was a lady who knew her way around.  Despite the rationing, Amy always seemed to have the extra bag of sugar or other things that were in short supply.  With these she would trade, such as  with the greengrocers wife, Mrs Bond in return for those scarce vegetables, such as onions.
           
Pigs and chicken had always been kept by some people in the village but the war brought greater need for this practice.  Various regulations were introduced to control the keeping and slaughter of livestock, a license being required from the local Ministry of Food office to slaughter a pig for home consumption.  This did not always stop the pig suffering an unfortunate accident.  A makeshift copper for the required hot water, a secluded spot in a garden or yard and someone with the skill, would quicken the demise of the unfortunate animal.  This illegal slaughtering at times led to acrimony amongst pig owners, with one party or the other threatening to report the incident to the police.  Killing of the pig was disturbing to some children, one lady remembering that as a child she would take herself to the far end of the village to get away from the squeals of the animal. 

The recipients of the meat asked no questions as to the source of supply observing the wartime slogan ‘Be like Dad, Keep Mum’.  Eggs, rationed to one egg per week for each person, also became a commodity for barter.  Keeping rabbits was another way to supplement the meat ration.

George Piggott, an evacuee, hearing his host needed a chicken killed, offered to do the job.  Assuring his host that he knew what to do, he was told to carry on.  Perhaps George had no knowledge for the traditional way of killing a chicken, for he proceeded to dispatch the unfortunate chicken by execution with an axe.

Evacuees found village life very different from that of London, to them, the new growing crops of cereal looked the same as grass.  Having been caught playing in a field of oats, they failed to understand why they would damage the crop which to them looked the same as grass.

The local Ministry of Food office set up at 39 High Street, Eton by the Urban District Council was managed by Mr J.D. Gale as Food Executive Officer, and Mr G. Walley as chief assistant.  The loan of a typewriter by Harry Chandler for the duration of the war gave a saving of £12 to the office. The task of preparing the five thousand ration books in readiness for local distribution took three and half days and required the voluntary assistance of ladies from Eton College and a number of residents of Eton.  Licenses were also issued to retailers to sell rationed foods and to those dealing solely in butter, particularly farmers. The license was later amended to include margarine.
           
Inspectors appointed to check the organization and control of the rationing system were offered by the County Chief Inspector and accepted by the Eton food control committee with the proviso that no legal proceedings would be taken without reference to the committee.

The grocer held about two weeks supply of rationed foods for customers registered with him. The Ministry of Food required the shop keeper to furnish weekly returns of ration food stock, shortages and complaints.  Snap visits by Ministry Inspectors to check on hoarding and any other irregularities was always a possibility therefore accurate records of registered customers had to be kept.
(Harry Chantler)



This is an extract from Round and About Eton Wick: 1939 - 1945. The book was researched, written and published in 2001 by John Denham. 

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