Churchill, Boris and the BBC put Women On the Front Line

I’m convinced we’re living through a period of history that will change humanity forever. A worldwide change in how we operate. We all now hope for the good – but it took a pandemic to do it and frankly we should be ashamed.

The recent stock-piling charade which stripped UK shops of a wide variety of goods including pasta, rice, toilet rolls, tinned tomatoes and hand sanitisers at the start of the virus pandemic, left many staring in disbelief at empty shelves and then at social media shots of unused fresh food bought in a panic – and then dumped.

This not only shocked those who witnessed it, but also the supermarket businesses and supply chains who service them.

“Very un-British I’d say” was the comment from a former neighbour of our family who now, aged 98, finds self-isolation nothing new in her home near Leeds. Maisie still gets by with help from her friends and neighbours who have been popping in for years with food, medicine and the odd bottle of gin. “Wouldn’t have ‘appened in the war. We ‘ad respect.”

When WW2 was declared on the 3rd of September 1939, the British people went into what became five years of lockdown and a fear that ripped loved ones from each other and killed millions. And we worry we can’t get through a few months?

Food rationing was introduced in January 1940 and quickly became the norm for our island nation whose supply convoys and merchant shipping were hunted to destruction by packs of German U-boats.

Most at home spent the war never seeing a banana or an orange. Ration books were how you got what food there was. The valuable small slips were torn out and handed to the shopkeeper in exchange for what you were allowed. People queued patiently and got what they were due. This included one egg per person per week. 

It was nine years after the war ended before the Ministry of Food finally announced the little beige books were to be discontinued. I still have my Father’s for the final year of 1953/4.

Churchill knew he couldn’t engender morale on an empty stomach. So the BBC were tasked to come up with a programme to educate Britain’s women on how they could feed their families on reduced budgets and be inventive when meat, cheese, eggs, tea and many tinned goods were scarce or non-existent.

Annabel & Grace’s wisdom and cheery words are delivered by a plethora of media and are prime example of how things have changed. In WW2 it was different.

On 13th June 1940 Auntie began The Kitchen Front on The Home Service presented by the popular announcer Freddie Grisewood. It was aimed at the ordinary housewife and featured recipes, hints and tips on making ends meet.

Freddie was the “man in the kitchen” which back then meant he knew nothing about cookery. Even his wife disapproved of her husband undertaking “such a feminine task” as hosting a cooking programme. I can’t believe I’m typing this.

GERT AND DAISY

Two of the stars of the 1940’s radio show were Gert and Daisy played by Elsie and Doris Waters. For fact fans they were the sisters of Horace Waters who later changed his name to Jack Warner and became Constable George Dixon of Dixon Of Dock Green (“Evening All”).

Initially the Ministry of Food disapproved but were quickly outvoted as these two were 1940’s comedy gold. Along with Grandma Buggins they got the message across to wartime Britain that women on the Home Front meant business.

Five million tuned in to over a thousand of these five minute programmes on a regular basis. The BBC was amazed as their previous record for reaching the working class housewife was rubbish.

Listeners were introduced to the delights of dried milk and egg powder, Woolton Pie (which was just potatoes and veg with a crust on top), salting precious cod to preserve it – and a new miracle. US tinned baked beans.

Making things last was paramount. Waste was a sin.

It’s remarkable all these years later, I still think about preparing Bubble and Squeak for Monday’s tea from Sunday’s leftovers as that was what Mum did – like her Mother taught her. 

“Waste not, want not” was the phrase as she placed leftover meat, mash, cabbage and sprouts into a bowl. Nothing was lost. Even fat from the joint was carefully sealed in a container ready for use the next day.

Come Monday tea, she’d make the mixture up, shape them into patties, fry them in the meat fat and if I ate the vegetables that went with it, she’d serve them with a fried egg on top.

Not great for the waistline but when you’re 11 you don’t care. There’s lots of internet recipes out there for B&S and it remains an easy to make staple now just as it was then. Mum particularly liked it because she could have tea done and sorted in time to watch Crossroads at half past six.  

Lots of comparisons are being drawn between the dark days of 1939-45 and today. A wartime spirit – but respect and dignity for others is so important, as they had then.

The actual figures are not out yet but I predict radio listening will have gone through the roof. Ken Bruce’s R2 Popmaster Quiz at 10.30 on a weekday morning has the nation gripped.

On a local level community stations are finding locked-down listeners are flooding them with calls to help each other with positive chat and advice. What’s the first thing I do when I walk into my kitchen?

Boris Johnson recently revealed he loves Herge’s Adventures of Tintin. I love Tintin. In your downtime his 2014 biography The Churchill Factor should be on your list.

As our PM has now beaten the “invisible mugger” and returned to duty, this book reminded me humour never fails to lift spirits in whatever dark hour you may find yourself in. The British are good at that.

When researching his book, Churchill’s grand-daughter Celia Sandys confirmed to Boris this quote is correct.

The great man was on a lecture tour of America and was served a buffet of cold chicken.

“May I have some breast” he enquired.

His hostess looked down her nose.

“In this country we ask for white meat or dark”.

The next day Churchill sent her an orchid and attached to it was a message.

“I would be obliged if you would pin this on your white meat”.

Fight for your Country. Stay at home. We will beat this.

MORE POSTS FROM NORTHERN MALE CAN BE READ HERE

2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Louloulapomme

    Sadly, two world wars didn’t change humanity at all and in many cases made it greedier. I don’t think a pandemic will change the way humanity looks at the world, east/west differences and continuing attempts at efforts to dominate one another, silently with technology or through war.

  2. Northern Male
    Northern Male

    You may be right Lou. Only time will tell. Nations will always squabble, disagree and try to land-grab but on a local level we have the chance to set them an example by being friendlier to each other. Having a common enemy tends to help of course – except at an international level. I don’t want to see the West wagging its collective finger at the Chinese. That is an unhelpful and some might even say a rather dangerous thing to do.

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