Dig for Victory

By Charlotte Tate

Posters appeared around Quinton telling us to "Dig for Victory", to encourage people to produce as much food as possible themselves.

All over Quinton allotments sprang up wherever there was spare land. The 1960's bungalows in High Street were built upon the site of one row of allotments. My father had one of these pieces of land where vegetables and salad stuffs were cultivated. Like many Quintonians we had a big garden as well as an allotment. My father grew potatoes, cabbage, sprouts, leeks, peas, beans and celery. When the potatoes were harvested he would dig out a big, straw lined bury in which to store potatoes for the winter. One could never be certain, in those times, that food of any sort would be plentiful in the shops. My mother would preserve the beans in salt inside screw top jars. Apples were carefully wrapped in tissue paper and laid on a bed of straw in a cool dry place to keep as long as possible.

The next project was poultry. My father built a large hen house at the end of the garden, and purchased five hens and a cockerel. We enjoyed watching the fowl take dust baths and listening to them cluck quietly to one another as they walked about. Sometimes a hen would go broody and sit her eggs. After nineteen or twenty days we could hear the little chickens cheeping, then a little later they would be brave enough to peep out at us from beneath the hens warm, feathery, wings.
The females were kept for their eggs and the males were separated out and reared for the table; very precious additions to our wartime rations.
My mother pickled the spare eggs in isinglass. The cockerels were sold at Christmas time. But children were not allowed to see that side of the business.

We purchased special meal for the fowl, mixed with a type of grit, from a shop opposite the Danilo. The grit was to ensure that the eggshells were strong; otherwise the hens might break the eggs. These two items were mixed with boiled vegetable peelings and table scraps then fed to the fowl. They also scratched around in the garden for worms, slugs, grubs and insects. Some people bred rabbits for the table, and would cure their pelts to make rugs, waistcoats and slippers.

Nothing could be wasted at all. We were taught that waste was wicked. Worn adult jumpers and cardigans were unravelled and knitted up again into smaller garments, for children, such as jumpers, scarves, gloves and socks. Wool that was left over from this process was knitted into patchwork blankets, golliwogs, teddy bears or little dolls. Old cotton stockings, there were no nylon stockings then, were washed dried and cut into little strips to be used as stuffing for the knitted toys.
When gloves, socks or stockings had holes in them, the holes were darned, or better still, stitches were picked up along the edge of the hole and the gap was knitted over and secured.

Adult clothes, beyond repair, were cut along the seams and clothes for the children were made from the best pieces. Left overs and off cuts from these clothes were cut into uniform strips, about six inches long and made into rugs. The strips were sorted into colours and using a rug hook, one would "podge" the strips, in patterns, into a washed and ironed sack. Many people had these podged rugs in their kitchens or beside their fires.

Country children were paid to gather rose hips from the hedgerows. They were made into rose hip syrup for the babies to drink. This was a good source of vitamin C. Before the war, it was recommended that oranges be given to babies and children for their high vitamin C content, but supplies of oranges were scarce at this time as our Merchant Navy ships were in constant danger of attack from enemy ships in the Atlantic. I remember somebody running to our house to tell my mother that the oranges had arrived in the shop where we were registered. We arrived at the shop and joined the long queue that had formed on the pavement. Mr. and Mrs. Groves, who owned the shop, shared out the precious fruit as best they could, according to the size of the family.

My country cousins would go wool gathering. They would roam the hedgerows and fields picking the strands of sheep wool that had been caught on thorns or barbed wire. This wool would be washed, dried and used to stuff cushions, pillows or even beds. Though they were rather lumpy!

One washing day the curtains from my parents' bedroom were laundered and hung out to dry in a strong wind. To my mother's horror the curtains blew away in the gale and were never found. She managed to obtain some broad rolls of body bandage. This she dyed and then cut the bandage into the relevant lengths. She sewed them and then hung them to the windows, and there they had to stay until curtain material became available again when the war was over.

She would sigh when the sheets and towels wore thin. She would cut them in half, lengthways, turn the sides to the middle and sew them together, then she would hem the cut edges. This process made the sheets and towels last longer.

Eds comment Charlotte sent me a wonderful article of her experiences about life in Quinton during the war. The above is a small snippet, more will appear in later Oracles and the new book due next year. Thank you Charlotte.

QLHS - Charlotte Tate 2003

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