Chapter IV: Lead-up to WarEdit
In 1922 the British Broadcasting Company advertised for a General Manager... The Company was a collection of six manufacturers - the four biggest being: British Thomson-Houston, General Electric, Marconi and Metropolitan-Vickers. The Company had been running six transmitters since conception now they wished to expand. The capital, provided by these six main producers was sufficient for their original setting up plans and for an enlargement of the enterprise. The BBC was the only source of broadcasting having gone on the air as 2LO on the 14th November 1922. Reith was asked to manage all the company’s copyright and performing rights, the technical patents for wireless transmissions, create associations with artists, authors, playwrights, composers, music publishers, theatre managers and wireless manufacturers. It was a daunting prospect but one he felt he could manage. In 1926 Reith believed that during the General Strike the company should invite all sides to give their side of the dispute. He attempted to arrange a broadcast by the leader of the opposition but was vetoed by the government. He again tried to mediate by inviting The Archbishop of Canterbury. It was not allowed to happen. The BBC became a corporation in 1927. Reith’s policy was to consider all views and if possible to broadcast those views so that the citizens of Britain could debate the issues. He insisted on high broadcasting standards, honesty and debate of all common interests. Reith resigned his post in 1938 after putting into place a first class broadcasting organization, in time for the country's wartime plans. It was to prove to be an invaluable tool in the nations defence - directing government edicts on ways of production, conditions of work, instilling a national spirit and promoting good home economics to mothers with children and the elderly. Helping the nation in its shopping habits, by suggesting diets, a good food guide, and healthy living, by The Radio Doctor and Farming Today.
The shops in Harrow, North Harrow and Pinner represented most of the popular trading outlets of the time. Harrow had the largest department store in Sopers which was very similar to today’s super stores, and Burtons, the fifty shilling Tailors. North Harrow had Home and Colonial and Liptons, both grocers, which sold most provisions other than fruit and vegetables. There was United Dairies selling milk products and cakes, as did Express Diaries. Lists and Garners the bakeries. Coopers, the hardware store. Maynard’s, making and selling sweets from tall jars. Woolworths, the 3d and 6d stores The Cooperative Stores, with their pneumatic checking system, part of a large chain that operated a half yearly dividend [divi’] payout system, and W H Smiths, the stationers, awash with diaries and calendars. Pinner had Sainsbury’s which always suggested quality. Many of the items at the grocers were sold lose… that had to be weighed and bagged. Other popular brands were displayed prominently using brand colours and designs. These were most fashionable and the stores major sales items. At the cheese counter the blocks of cheese were cut up and weighed as was bacon and ham. The backs of the counters – against the rear wall, lined with shelves and cupboards - displaying their wares. The counter displayer with: marble slab, knife block, weighing machine, coffee grinder, wrapping paper and string. All these shops were most particular to have the very best shop fitters to furnish their counters and façades. Their house styles always the same, in whichever town they resided. Nothing was ever poorly made or shoddily equipped. They relied upon good service and politeness to ensure customers returned.
Mothers had no fear about leaving their prams outside. In fact the pavements would be littered with prams dotted about as their owners went from shop to shop. Each main thoroughfare had a red public telephone box where for tuppence a call could be made to any location. The telephone had a direct line to the operator who took each call placing the asked for number by her dial-up system. Each main road had a convenient blue police box that had a direct line into the police station. Normally the policemen on his beat would call into the station to make regular reports. There was a special telephone at the side for the public to make emergency calls to the station operator. Policemen could be seen at any time of the day or night on his beat checking all the doors and windows, the padlocks on the gates, standing in the shadows of a shop doorway ever vigilant being aware that the sergeant would be cycling past checking up on his whereabouts. The nearest Police Station was at Pinner – at the top of Pinner Road opposite the cinema. The transport section had taken over the old Board School premises in School Lane
Generally two mornings during the week were set aside for shopping – Tuesdays and Fridays, Wednesdays the shops were closed for half day opening. The Friday shop had to carry the housewife over the weekend. Very few husbands shopped for groceries, children’s underwear and toiletries. They condescended to look after providing for the children’s top clothes – in the main, school uniforms, purchased in Harrow. The women provided themselves with either a basket of shopping bag – perhaps two for there was a lot to get in if the family was large. Many are the times my mother came in from the shopping trip with her hands showing the signs of a heavy bag and freezing cold – to be warmed in front of the fire. Those mothers with a family with small children had the convenience of a pram which would double up to be used as a shopping trolley – in some instances it would be used to fetch bagged coal or wood from the ironmongers.
Towards the end of the 1920s the Government started to introduce new measures to support the country’s agriculture and farmer’s income. Guarantee prices bolstered up the production of sugar beet and wheat. Meat production was treated in the same manner. The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1928 promoted the standardisation of different grades of produce and its packaging. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food introduced the ‘National Mark’ a trade-mark to label British produced food - indicating a defined quality in egg production, beef, apples and pears. The Agricultural Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933 advised farmers to form co-operatives out of which came Marketing Boards for hops, potatoes, milk, bacon and pigs. The Import Duties Act 1932 placed an import charge on most foreign produced food stuffs. In 1936, the rent tithe charge for farmers was abolished. The following year saw a scheme introduced to subsidise the spreading of lime on agricultural land to replace some of the minerals lost through planting, wash off and erosion. Later the Ministry was given powers to regulate and open up dormant land – to regulate the cultivation and management of land, end tenancies, take possession of badly cultivated land and order the use of previously difficult land to plough and water meadows. This call for more land intensified when convoys were attacked by submarines in the first years of the war.
The nation's diet was fairly standard throughout the country... most families having a set plan for the whole week’s meals which makes for simple economic shopping. The Sunday roast would be eaten as a cold cut on Monday, minced with bread and onion on Tuesdays. Braised steak on Wednesdays, Liver and Bacon Thursdays and Fish on a Friday, Saturdays would be rabbit, lamb chops or mutton stew. Chicken was very rarely eaten even for those who kept them as we did. They were too valuable for laying. Puddings had the same routine treatment: Sunday’s apple pie, Monday apple turnover, Tuesday Apple sharlot, Wednesday Rhubarb tart, Thursday Rice pudding, perhaps with rhubarb, Friday bread and butter pudding, Saturday maybe blancmange and fruit. There is little doubt that the level of nutritional content to the average British diet was not high. The home produced vegetables were good produced with little or no chemical fertilizers. The locally grown fruit was also grown without an abundance of pesticides. The problem was in the cooking, the amount of highly processed sugar, and the amount of salt, mainly as a preservative. The amount of cigarette and pipe smoking was high and about to go even higher. Drinking sweet tea, sweetened bottled coffee and sweetened fruit juices complimented the smoking. The level of sweets eaten was also high, particularly for children. It was normal fare to consume very sweet puddings rather than eat fruit or yogurts. In most homes meals and times followed a pattern.
During the week breakfast was bread and butter and jam, perhaps a boiled egg, with tea. Coffee was never drunk, marmalade not eaten, and toast never served. At the weekends a fried breakfast of egg, bread, mushroom and bacon, maybe on the menu for Sunday. Saturday would be the same as weekdays - most men worked at least the morning shift. Dinner was an evening meal during the week, and midday at the weekends. In general this was a cooked meal consisting of a roast meat and two veg. variety, with a pudding, usually with a pastry base, with custard or milk. Bread would always be available cut as needed from the board. Tea was only served after the washing up completed. In the country puddings were sometimes served first to take away the pangs of hunger. Tea, at the weekends, was the most formal meal, with sandwiches, cakes and tea. The bread and cakes would be stood on a doily and the jam covered by a bead fringed net, the butter in its dish. The tea would be served during the meal the cups being passed around the table. Supper was at nine, and laid on the table… maybe a cheese sandwich with tea.
Monday’s, according to the rhyme, and indeed, in most homes was washing day, if not raining. Tuesday the washing was dried off, Wednesday it was ironed, Thursday aired and Saturday out away for Sunday – a day of leisure! The family’s washing was done in a round zinc tub on the gas stove – to be boiled. From there it was transplanted to the sink to be rinsed and from there to the garden to be mangled and hung on the line. Some of my father shirts, cuffs and collars, would be starched. On occasions a blue bag used to whiten the whites. This routine was carried out including dusting and sweeping, vacuuming and polishing. The majority of homes had this or a somewhat similar list to be carried out. It not only got things done but allowed friends and neighbours to call at an appropriate hour – to drop in for a cup of tea and a chat, at a reasonable hour when it was normal to have an hour to spare in the afternoon, before the children came in from school – about four.
Girls were seen to be future wives and mothers… This is not a cliché but a matter of fact. It is what they talked about, dreamt of doing, and fantasised about. That is not to say that they didn’t have a job after leaving school or that a number did not go onto higher education. If society viewed women as mothers and wives, in general, that was their goal. Girls, particularly the lower classes, did the things their mother’s had done before – it was a normal course of action. When married with a family… this controlled their freedom to alter their status… There was neither home care, kindergartens or part-time work. It was normal for a lone parent to reside with the married daughter when the children left home.
As society changed, as much to do with world wars as evolution, so did women’s relationship to their children. Those women, who wanted a different lifestyle, at least in their formative years… gradually, had the opportunity of doing so. What changed was their view of themselves… gradually they reached out to take on a range of jobs that would allow them to have independence, a chance to select for themselves their own life style - when they were to have children, when to have sexual relationships, either casual or long lasting. This came about in the fifties. There was greater regimentation. People tended to observe accepted modes of behaviour adopted from the previous generation. Household routines were commonly observed.
The lives of the inhabitants had a pattern dictated by convention and habit. Mothers pushed their babies in coach-built prams that had the ends hinged for the child to sit up… sun-shades an essential requirement. No woman ever wore trousers or shorts. Men always wore a hat or cap… these were lifted in greeting, removed when entering a building. Men and boys without headgear raised their hand to their forehead. Everyone stood to attention to sing the National Anthem - we children had to stand to attention indoors, when the anthem was played on the radio. If a funeral cortège passed in the street everyone stood still and again hats were raised. Similarly, on November 11th everything stopped for the two minute silence – when the gun went off… once again, hats removed.
No one ever kissed in public or held hands. Men walked on the kerbside when escorting women, opened all doors, offered their seat, proceeded women upstairs, and lead them down… Etiquette, manners, politeness, and respectful behaviour – were the hall marks of a well raised child. Children were only to speak when spoken to… if an answer required, then it had to be brief and to the point. The elderly were given preference when queuing, mothers and babies came second, men followed on… Table manners were taught and rigidly observed. Plates were offered around the table, tea cups passed about. Cutlery never crossed when the table laid. There was no talking whilst eating and mouths were kept shut whilst chewing. Elbows off the table, only wrists rested beside the plate. Soup eaten passing the spoon through the soup away from the body. Children sat up straight and were told not to slump…
Sundays were a day or rest. No shops, cinemas, or theatres opened. My father did not allow us to play cards or play outside in the street. My brother and I had to attend church in our ‘Sunday best’ clothes. Shoes had to be polished, including the insteps, whilst not worn, and long-socks, kept up with an elastic garter. To make the leather soles last longer metal ‘blakies’ or studs hammered in. Ties were an essential part of dress as were caps. Pockets were for your handkerchief and small change, not for warming or resting the hands.
No-one thought of walking under ladders. Any spilt salt needed a pinch thrown over the left shoulder to stop having bad luck. Number thirteen was never used and number three would bring success. Crossed cutlery would bring disaster, whilst having a black cat pass before one – good luck would follow. Ancient sayings, and even older natural cures, proliferated. Having a father born in London in 1889 - into a large Victorian family; a mother, who’s beginnings resided in a village in Somerset… meant we boys, were inundated with the mores and manners of two diverse social groups. This quite firm social behaviour only continued until late into the war, when they, and many other conventions, started to crumble. Society changed - in the hardship and emergency of wartime conditions, never to return to such ridged patterns. Unfortunately, the more relaxed, casual behaviour of the sixties completely undermined the more charming conventions and manners of previous generations – the observance of ‘social etiquette’, toward: the aged, women, children, handicapped, under-privileged, and very poor… disappeared. The future lay with Government inspired Social Welfare… which meant, relying on the state… the ‘nanny state’ took hold…!
The Committee for Imperial Defence agreed that a subcommittee should be instigated to look into the organization for a war: of civil and home defence, censorship, and war emergency legislation. This group was called the Air Raid Precautions subcommittee, eventually to be run by General Ismay. In 1933, local authorities were chosen as the agency to be responsible of local organization. The ARP was organized as a department of the Home Office under the control of Wing Commander E J Hodsall in 1935. The same year Germany re-established her air force. It was this action which drove the ARP to start issuing instructions to the local authorities, merchant shipping lines and fire services.
In September 1935 local authorities were invited to make plans for the building of shelters. These were made out of brick and roofed with reinforced concrete. We had one built at the bottom of the road only being used for the first few air raid warning gradually neglected and left damp, dark and very uninviting! Gradually, the possibility of war increased to the extent that in 1937 the ARP issued an appeal for volunteers. A year later the ARP Act came into force, compelling all local authorities to set up schemes to enrol: wardens, first aid and ambulance services, gas precautions: The Auxiliary Fire Services, including rescue, repair and demolition: there would be first aid posts, gas decontamination and casualty clearing stations. That year, in 1938, the service was put on standby and trenches dug in all London parks and sand bags filled to protect doorways.
The duties of the police were increased, unable to carry out all the tasks a band of Police Reserves took over some of their jobs. Later, in 1938, the Women’s Voluntary Services was formed to help the ARP. They did most of the tasks asked of the men including being responsible for children, providing food and medical support. Sir John Anderson started to distributed one and a half million shelters made out of six curved steel plates – as a roof, sealed at either end by further steel plates. It measured 6’ 6” by 4’ 6” – meant to accommodate six people. The shelters were supposed to be half buried. In the even they became filled with water or at best extremely damp. These shelters were free to the poor or cost seven pounds to the well paid. Morrison shelters were issued three years later and represented a heavy steel table with wired sides, to sleep two adults.
Our ARP man cycled around on his bike in his normal clothes with a black and white ARP armband. He was a part-time volunteer. When the ‘blackout’ restrictions came into being the Auxiliary Fire Service was too… it was the start to all the other emergency arrangements put into place. The early air raid warning siren droned its message - warning of an approaching enemy aircraft. The wardens were trained in all aspects of rescue work, first aid, bomb protection and supervised the use of road shelters. The Civil Defence services did not get their uniforms until 1941.
After Neville Chamberlain became prime minister in May 1937 the topic of the country’s newspaper’s was politics, international rather than home. The main point of discussion was about stopping Italy and Germany from expanding their economies by armament production and, seeking to enlarge their territories by force. The new prime minister elected to do this by giving in to their demands in a spirit of cooperation and reasonableness – to win them over by friendliness. Chamberlain acted desperately to stop the progression towards this aggressive behaviour. This period of ‘appeasement’ lasted over a year. Towards the end the inevitability of war became apparent and national defence took the place of the previous concessions. It was the Foreign Secretary Edward Halifax who realised the extent of German ambitions when Hitler occupied the final part of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. He did an about face pushing Chamberlain to offer a guarantee to the Polish Nation - that Britain would support them if threatened by an outside force. The Prime Minister lost all creditability when Norway fell to a German invasion… supported Halifax to succeed him as leader. Halifax realised that he did not have the full support of the Conservative Party. Churchill was asked by the King to form a coalition with Labour and Liberal participation.
War was declared on the 3rd September 1939. The following day The Committee for Imperial defence started England’s war machine. The defence team included: Major Leslie Hollis, Wing Commander William Elliot, Major Ian Jacob, and Lieutenant Lord Coleridge. This was late combined into a single War Cabinet Secretariat under Sir Edward Bridges and the military side under General Ismay. It was Ismay who took the Cabinets ideas to Churchill explaining the suggestions and decisions made. Britain entered the war supplying only forty per cent of the country’s needs. The Ministry of Food was formed on the 8th September under William Morrison as its head. In July 1940 the Local Defence Volunteers had their name changed to the Home Guard. This force stayed in existence until December 1944. During their operational service they manned guard posts, observation posts and coastline defences, whilst acting to combat parachutists and spies… some were trained to act as guerrilla units behind enemy lines. The air-raid sirens were sounded for the first time to alert people to their sound. The local Air Raid Protection Officer cycled round on his bile blowing his whistle shouting out that when we heard the sirens we should ‘take cover’.
In London the evacuations started. Queues formed outside main line stations for children to be lead off to their appointed trains. Sand bags were being hurriedly filled and placed at door entrances and directions posted telling people where their nearest air raid shelter sited. Volunteers were asked for to fill the vacancies for jobs on the Home Front – as Air Raid Wardens, ambulances and fire service. Women too were not excluded manning fire fighting posts, enrolled as bus conductors and ambulance drivers. My parents did not consider it necessary for us boys to be evacuated. Whether or not they would have joined the scheme if we had lived closer into the heart of London I do not know. It was never mentioned even after the largest raids during The Blitz. We stayed up late to observe London during the fires that blazed in the East End and Docklands.
The Government’s slogan ‘Dig for Victory’ emblazoned posters and hoardings. The charismatic Minister of Food Lord Woolton instigated this call to the nation which became a great success. He promoted various schemes to improve plant growth printing books and leaflets detailing the importance of compost heaps and plant care. This was done using cartoon pictures of two characters Doctor Carrot and Potato Pete. Carrots were considered necessary ‘to help see in the dark’, promoted by a fighter pilot describing how he managed to shoot down a German plane in the dark. On the radio there was much talk about happening ‘on the home-front’ keeping the population alive to the need for self help. Woolton’s slogans and posters were first used in September 1939, extolling everyone to consider every plot of ground - to grow fruit and vegetables - to be self sufficient. The majority of our neighbours did so in various degrees. My father dug out some plots in the lawn built a large chicken run stocked with laying boxes and kept a rabbit. Some neighbours produced their own vegetables, others kept chickens and ducks, and some chose to keep both. There was a scheme to breed more pigs. A special pig food collection scheme was put into place for shopkeepers and the general public to contribute to. Local parks and recreation grounds were ploughed up for wheat production as was spare railway land, and roadside verges. Britain was to be made self sufficient.
All these schemes were put into place - certainly at the start of the war, with Government leaflets and booklets giving instructions on all aspects of planting, one was entitled Allotments and Garden Guide published in 1943. The production of kitchen gardens and allotments was so successful that natural fertilizers and manure ran out. A National Growmore fertilizer, made out of balanced chemicals was made available by George Monro & Sons. Gradually, these petered out, as the war progressed - as it became obvious that the war was being won. Eighty per cent of all allotments were to be found in urban areas. The Ministry of Agriculture promoted a scheme for the unemployed in conjunction with the Society of Friends, the National Allotments Committees, and a number of Benevolent Societies. Dig for Victory was a huge success begun without any idea that it would have such a long lasting effect upon the community. Imports of food dropped by fifty per cent, and the acreage of land ploughed increased by eighty per cent. Once the habit was formed and the people caught on to its worthwhileness it became something to be proud of - became a talking point with ones neighbours.
The effort to become less reliant on imports ran with the national effort to ‘Make do and Mend’. This was to stop people wastefully buying new things, many of them being imports. Schools and local social groups collected scrap metal and ran jumble sales to collect money to help buy an aeroplane. Other groups knitted socks or gloves for the military. Merchant ships were commissioned to transport war materials, troops, and the few items that the country was incapable of producing for itself. Before the war Britain imported fifty-five million tons of food mostly from America and Canada.
As children we carefully collected bottles to take back to the shop for the payment of a halfpenny. Newspapers and magazines carefully hoarded, and old iron, aluminium pots and pans ended up on the scrap heap. The rag and bone man circled the streets with his horse and cart as did the scrap metal collector. Iron railings were offered up and the pig cart arrived to take away kitchen scraps for the council pigs. Household baths could only be filled to four inches, rags sewn together to make rugs. Wool wound on sticks then cut to size - knotted on hessian - to make wool rugs. Bricks placed at the back of the fire to save room for the scarce coal… and mothers always knitting for the family or for the army. Jig saws entertained the family on long winter night, whilst listening to ITMA and Tommy Handley, or ‘Have a Go’ with Wilfred Pickles.
All men wore a jacket, and during their working day a suit – which included a waistcoat… The suits were either black with pin-striped trousers, or dark blue. Shoes were always black Oxfords – with a toe cap. It was considered undignified to wear brown shoes or brogues - suede, positively frowned on. Socks were dark held up by suspenders. Shirts white- or white with a faint stripe. Detached collars, just being ousted by attached collars, although cuffs were double length using a sleeve band. A striped tie - usually with a military or club connection completed his formal wear… all the above, set off by a furled umbrella, leather gloves and brief-case. A bowler hat was essential for senior staff, a trilby more popular, and a cap for manual workers. On a fine day a Macintosh – perhaps a trench coat might be carried instead of an umbrella. Although my father carried a silver knobbed walking stick - a rarity most sported a round handled stick or just used an umbrella.
For casual wear, tweed jacket and grey trousers, an approved combination. No jumpers were worn but cardigans either worn over a waist coat or on their own. Short sleeved shirts, shorts, sandals, beach shoes and an open necked shirt, rarely seen. Women, who worked in London, during the thirties, were mainly office workers – generally secretaries or filing clerks. Banks, libraries, shops and nursing staff, made up a large quota… factory workers lived closer into London. As with men there was a set dress code which consisted of a long dress – to within fourteen inches of the floor, which was of floral, striped or poker dot design, with a belt, choker or silk scarf around the neck, plus patent leather bag and umbrella… court shoes, the universally accepted style favoured by most women. Stockings, suspender belt, and corset, continued to be worn for the next twenty years. A raincoat, with broad pointed collar, and turned-up cuffs, in a pastel colour, favoured by most.
A poster, showing a parrot on a perch, in bright yellow and red feathers, declared ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’. This poster was displayed in all areas where numbers of people gathered – bus stations, train platforms, Doctor’s surgeries and buses. The object was to remind people to be aware that spies used everyday conversations to build up a picture of the nation’s spirit – will to withstand pain and hardship. They could also pick up where bodies of troops were - what detachments made up the troop concentrations. Lord Woolton considered it essential that the community was reminded why they were being asked to submit to hardships – that every person should back up the nations will to survive - keep steady behind the government.
It did not take the Government long before food had to be rationed. Clothing, coal, and petrol soon added to the list. Game birds, rabbits, hares, horse meat and chickens were not rationed. Ration Book was issued in September 1939 in readiness for the start date of January, the following year. Nearly fifty per cent of the population were in the age band fifteen to forty-five. The rationing ‘points’ system was put into place to regularise distribution. Pregnant women, young children, and those on a diet had their special needs met. There were no objections to rationing as everyone thought it equitable. As for any ‘black market’, it was talked about but we were never involved and I am sure my mum would not have known where to go to get it! Householders had to declare where they were going to shop when they filled in the ration book.
Healthy eating was not mentioned at home, it wasn’t thought about, or planned for. We ate exactly what we had always eaten– the diet we were used to – that did not require great changes to be made or thinking about to plan for. Any deficiencies like the lack of sugar was made up by saccharine, lack of fresh milk – by adopting powdered, the same as eggs and potatoes. The dried eggs were tried but only used in cooking. The dried potatoes were simply awful and never eaten. Mum was a wonder at ‘making do’ making meals look appetising even if they were lacking in quality. Rabbit and fish were eaten more times than before the war; mince was liberally bulked out with bread, onion and carrot. Spam was fried or made into toad-in-the-hole. Milk puddings, apple pie, blackberries from the country hedge, rhubarb, bread and butter puddings, suet puddings and dried fruit with junket. Only very occasionally mum borrowed sugar from next door.
When we heard our Prime Minister declaring war we believed the guns would start firing straight away and bombs soon dropped... This wasn’t to be. Despite the country’s guarantee to Poland the government had no plans in place to conduct a war. This was known as The Phoney War and lasted for nine months. It is just as well for we were ill prepared and nine months would give us some chance to catch up and show our metal. My father was The Kensington Regiments longest serving non commissioned officer and its Regimental Sergeant Major. He was immediately commissioned - promoted to the rank of major in the 17th London Division, detailed off to start planning for the defence of north London to combat the supposed German invasion.
London County Council organised a Meals Service which started in September 1940 and from this evolved into the British Restaurants, designed for emergency eating, especially for those ‘bombed out’. By mid 1941, there were two hundred working, one of them built at the bottom of the road, on Station Road. It was that September, 1940, that Germany began fifty-eight consecutive nights of bombing – this was The Blitz… the first time that we saw, felt and appreciated the seriousness of the situation. Schooldays were enlivened by having lessons in the shelters, watching the front line in the desert waver backwards and forwards, watching dog-fights, hearing the sirens go, and collecting shrapnel.