In today’s podcast I recall how Great Britain coped without the rest of Europe when our backs were really against the wall, I have called it
There’s no waste where there’s pigs
that was one of my mother’s much used expressions
With my interest and hope of Great Britain leaving the European Union I’ve been chatting to friends and relations, not I would add, trying to influence them in any way. That statement will cause some disbelief among friends on the social media, but it’s true. I have no idea how my family are going to vote in the forthcoming referendum.
I’m first to admit that I’m quite a political animal with leanings to the right of Margaret Thatcher and next to Attila the Hun and on top of that I have never agreed with anything the European Union stands for. As a writer I use the social media as a tool to express my views which I am happy to do and am first to admit they are strong views.
At home however although I make no secret of either my politics or my religion I also believe they are personal and have never attempted to evangelise either. This could hark back to my time at sea when both subjects were Taboo. In a confined space of a ship, a shipmate was just that and everyone’s personal space was sacrosanct. I can still hear a much travelled Master at Arms saying “If yer can’t stand the smell of yer shipmates’ breff yer shoon’t a joined”. Hence no preaching or tub thumping at home!
Not sure what that digression was about! As I was saying, chatting to my daughter and grandson in particular, about my memories of when Great Britain – I like that, much better than the UK – coped in WWII when we really were on our own. Being of my great age and probably sounding like Del Boy’s Uncle Albert “Djoorin tha wawar!” I began chatting on how we, and in particular my mother coped with the shortages of everything and food in particular.
Ma was a fearsome, strong minded, independent woman and the daughter of a coal miner and brought up in Edwardian times in a Durham pit village. My Pa was a career airman in the RAF, having joined the Royal Flying Corps as a boy cook and a Warrant Officer when WWII broke out. We had left a life in married quarters and settled in a delightful Home Counties village called Woburn Sands which is on the borders of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. As a service wife Ma was quite used to her husband being away for long periods, so she didn’t suffer the sudden trauma of being abandoned when their spouses were called up to serve King and Country and having to cope alone with their children and keep house and home together.
It may have been less traumatic for Ma but having to feed and clothe my elder sister and me when everything that could be, was rationed and if it wasn’t, it was either unobtainable or in short supply was difficult and then just to stop us from getting too soft in our idyllic surrounding the government decided to pressurise us into taking in a Jewish family from the bombing in London consisting of a mother and her two daughters. Their home had been reduced to rubble while they were in the shelter of an underground station. Thank goodness they were an absolutely lovely family but I’m sure you can imagine the total upheaval it brought to our existence.
When I hear the likes of Bob Geldof and the bleeding heart brigade of politicians and actors pontificating about welcoming Muslim Refugees into their homes, I cannot wait for a single one of them to fulfil their promises, their Libtard – ‘promise much and perform little’, fantasy world.
Anyway I digress again. I look back on that time and how my mother decided that no matter how Adolph Hitler aided and abetted by our own politicians and their red tape interfered, we would survive and my goodness we survived. I can only speak for my mother and she is long dead and anyway the statute of limitations must have long expired for mother and all her friends who saw it their duty to get round the restrictions placed on their welfare.
We had a large garden so mother became a bricklayer; don’t ask where the bricks appeared from but Marston Valley Brick Company made them some 7 miles away. She built a fine Pig Sty and two female piglets appeared to become our breeding sows as a way to supplement our meat ration. Our evacuees’ mother turned to and built a chicken run and six pullets and a cockerel appeared. Egg production was the plan, mainly to feed us as eggs were a rationed commodity. Again mother had a cunning plan. We were able to exchange one’s egg ration for an allowance of chicken feed. Chickens were killed for food as soon as they stopped laying eggs and I soon became quite adept at wringing their necks and plucking out the feathers.
Somewhere in my mother’s plan and the reason we added a cockerel to our menagerie right from the start was that she intended to breed her own replacement flock of chickens. Hence the need for a cockerel to fertilise the eggs and thus all of our eggs were fertile. She had read a book somewhere about a family who made their own incubator, I think it was a novel rather than a DIY book but we subsequently had a tea chest cut down and fitted with a couple of electric light bulbs and we eventually supplied ourselves and friends and neighbours with a constant supply of little yellow day old chicks.
It was probably after the war that I discovered that the maker of rules and regulations to put a spoke in mothers’ plans wasn’t called “The Bloody Ministry of Food”, anyway we had started with two prospective breeding sows and mother could only have a licence to keep one. So a second Pig Sty was built on our Allotment plot and whenever an inspector called or someone from the local Pig Club paid a visit their inspections were rotated between the one in the back garden and the other in the Allotment. The licensing was all to do with the supplies of pig food and how much meat ration had been surrendered. For centuries, gardeners and smallholders had kept poultry and the odd pig or two for their own house use. The powers that be recognised that come what may that such practice would continue, so they encouraged groups of people to form Pig Clubs that were allowed legally to buy, feed and look after pigs.
Pigs were normally fed on scraps from homes, cafes, bakeries and anything edible that came to hand. Clubs were allowed to purchase legally small amounts of corn or feed to supplement this meagre diet. You will not believe the number of sacks of meal that ‘fell off the wagon’. Of course this was years before Combine Harvesters became common use and the corn was cut very inefficiently with rotary cutters and stacked in sheaths to dry out before carting them to the threshing drum. Literally hundredweights of ripe corn seeds spilled and were left on the fields to waste. Much to the delight of the wild bird population and the local livestock owners who were given permission to ‘glean’. My fearsome mother recruited gangs of holidaying schoolchildren as ‘gleaners’ and in about two weeks at the end of harvest our two barns and the allotment shed were filled with sacks of free grain.
Pigs and piglets are greedy animals and feeding has to be constant and never stops. Bins were placed at certain spots around the village for the reception of kitchen waste which was collected by the council’s lorry driver. The stuff was sorted and sold to poultry and pig keepers. We sometimes beat the council lorry and sorted out the good stuff. If you like, cutting out the middle man!
We acquired a two wheeled barrow and as we were surrounded by the Duke of Bedford’s forests and had carte blanche permission to collect firewood most of our fuel was logs long before wood burning stoves became fashionable. I can remember on a couple of occasions collecting literally hundredweights of acorns and sometime sweet chestnuts in that barrow to feed the pigs on. They loved them, shells and all, so we not only had well fed pigs we had happy pigs. As the war progressed we used to get pig swill delivered that was collected from sources in London. This food waste was called “Tottenham Pudding” which we assumed was its source, although something at the back of my mind has me remembering that it was sourced in Edmonton, wherever that is. No matter it was dreadful smelly stuff but the pigs loved it.
Our pigs, both the legal ones and the supplementary ones thrived on the diet provided by my mother. Each sow produced around ten piglets which were fattened for slaughter in around 12 to 16 weeks. There was a big day when Ma’s legal pigs were slaughters through the pig club. Half of the carcasses were sold (for a pittance as Ma said) to the Government, to help with rationing and the remainder was divided between Club members, as either pork or bacon. When the other member slaughtered their animal we also were given our share.
Perhaps a month later, perhaps ten or so of our illegal porkers that had also been fattened for slaughter, this time for a real red letter day when a certain butcher with the help of a long retired slaughter man and perhaps a couple of Italian prisoners of war, collected our harvest in a large lorry. I have no real recollection of the black-market distribution but on those occasions we had whole smoked hams hanging in our barn, legs of pork, sides of bacon, shoulders of pork, pork tenderloin, rib chops, loin chops and of course sausages and black pudding. We of course had no refrigerators in those days but our tame butcher and a back-up from our tame fishmonger did and they were very well rewarded to house our household meat supply.
Not just friends and neighbours received benefits from mother’s allotment, the butcher and fishmonger could only look after so much of our prime cuts and anything that we couldn’t smoke in the form of ham or bacon was distributed that day. I remember our local Bobby always had a roasting leg joint together with some kidneys and liver. Possibly to salve mother’s conscience our Vicar, the Roman Catholic Priest and the Methodist Minister were all beneficiaries and no-one knew of the other recipient; but that was the way of the black market trade. It wasn’t called that then, it was just being neighbourly.
Well that’s the tale of our pigs and poultry, as the war progressed mother acquired two nanny goats and a billy goat. But that’s another story and I’m keeping it in my locker for another day.
I think the funniest memory was of our evacuees, they were orthodox Jews (I used to get pocket money for chopping sticks and lighting their fire on Shabbat which is observed from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, oy vey!) but needs must when the devil drives and Momma Levitt decided that rules could be bent for the duration. They enjoyed pork every bit as we did, she told a white lie to her girls namely that it was chicken in case they let it slip to their father when he visited. But they discovered a real fondness for lovely roast crackling.
In this digital age I am sure that my Mother would have been a leading campaigner against rationing and the Ministry of Food in particular. There is no doubt that it was for propaganda purposes, making certain that the British public felt that they were doing their bit every much as the boys on the front. The Ministry of Food employed thousands of civilians, jobsworths every one. As it was, it was sheer luck that Mother wasn’t arrested for doing her bit for the war effort.
Every single part of the pig can be eaten except for the squeal and as Mother often said “There’s no waste where there’s pigs”. These days I would add, that it keeps Muslims away.