The effort people in Britain made during the war was called the Home Front. Whilst soldiers were fighting in Europe on the Western Front or in the Far East on the Eastern Front, the war was being won at home as well, so it was called the Home Front. Families were asked to do as much as they could at home to save food, money, scrap metal, clothes and anything else so that most of these things could go towards the army, navy and RAF. Those left behind in Britain were also asked to join organisations to protect people at home and free up men in the military to go and fight.
During the war food was scarce and was rationed. Everyone was given a ration book and was allowed only a certain amount of meat and dairy products per week. These foods were rationed:
Cooking fat 2oz
Milk 3 pints
1 fresh egg
Equivalent of 3 dried eggs
Everyone had to register with a shop and get all their rations there. Ration books would have coupons for each food group and the coupons would be taken out or crossed out by the shopkeeper if they were used. The coupons weren’t enough on their own to buy food, they just made sure that you couldn’t buy more than your share. Soap and clothes were also rationed. Even foods that weren’t rationed were still sometimes hard to get hold of.
Dig for victory
People were encouraged to dig up their gardens and get allotments to grow their own food and help with rationing. As Buckinghamshire was so rural, the people were already growing things and keeping animals and were nearly self-sufficient. However, people still did their bit. Inez Wright, who lived in High Wycombe, remembers that their garden was used for growing vegetables and fruit, keeping chickens and rabbits (Inez Wright: WW2 People's War).
Farmers were also told to plough more of their fields. They had left a large margin around their fields before the war but were now asked to plough right up to the field boundary. Land that had been used as pasture for animals now had to be ploughed to grow cereals and vegetables. Tony Harman was farming Grove Farm, Ashley Green, and was ordered to plough up 66 acres of Shepherd Farm, which he had rented as grazing land. He was told to plant crops, like potatoes and sugar beet that had not been planted in the Chilterns before as it was thought the soil was not good enough. As transporting potatoes would become more difficult during the war farmers all over the country were encouraged to grow them and supply their local market. Importing cane sugar from abroad would also be difficult, so farmers grew sugar beet. Flints were unearthed along with the beets and damaged the processing machinery. He was also asked to grow flax so the Navy could make ropes; flax had come from Belgium and France before the war (Harman 1986, 169, 175-6).
Morris Roberts was a sheep farmer and felt the pinch when, because of ploughing up pasture and meadows, there was very little hay for his sheep. He was very happy, then, to become friends with an officer at Wing airfield who offered him all the hay from the grassed areas of the airfield. A field next to the kennels on the Ascott Estate gardens in Wing was ploughed up to grow cabbages. One of the gardeners, Wally Willis, called it ‘Hitler’s patch’, a term that is still used today. The food grown on the Ascott Estate was often sent to those working at Wing airfield (Warth 2001, 14).
Frank Coleman remembers Lillingstone Dayrell men deciding to keep pigs to help with food shortages but much of the food that was sent with them was damaged, having been blown up at the docks. Everyone in the village boiled small potatoes and peelings to help feed the pigs (Frank Coleman: WW2 People's War).
James Saunders was evacuated with other children to Monks Risborough and stayed at Monkton Cottage. He remembers that he and the other children had responsibilities for the fruit and vegetables. He had to look after the mustard, cress and lettuce and his friend Roy Hamilton looked after beetroot, radishes and cucumbers. The house also had an orchard so they were never short of fruit (James Saunders: WW2 People's War).
Young unmarried women often joined the Women’s Land Army to work on the expanding farms or in forestry. Lots more land was ploughed up to plant crops during the Second World War. The Women’s Land Army in Buckinghamshire kept an album documenting their experiences. This is part of a poem one Land Girl wrote:
I’m Prudence, the girl with the plough,
I work on a farm down in Bucks.
I love all the hens and the lambs and the cow,
And I think that the ducks are just ducks ~
I wouldn’t deceive, I’ve the failings of Eve,
I like an occasional spree:
Yet I struggle and toil for love of the soil,
But, fall for a farmer? Not me! (BRO 1987, 2)
Tony Harman had ten land girls come to help on his farm in Ashley Green. Many were not used to farm work but two of them, from Shepherd’s Bush, became quite used to it and stayed on for several years (Harman 1986, 177). Ralph Langley had the job of driving land girls, based in Aylesbury, to various farms:
“They were some fine girls, it was a shame the way they were treated because they weren’t treated well, you know…” (BRO 1987, 41).
At a reunion of Land Girls held at Mentmore Towers in 1987 Pat Osbourne, J Higgins, E and B Warner remembered their experiences. They liked Aylesbury, “a lovely little country town” and would go to dances at Hazell’s Club, where Marks and Spencer is now, and at the Social Club in Halton. They stayed in a hostel in Buckingham Street. The real military services didn’t like the land army. One Christmas the land girls helped to decorate Aylesbury Church Hall and then told the party was “All for the Forces, not including the Land Army!” and they all trooped out (Pat Osbourne, J Higgins, E & B Warner: WW2 People's War).
Mrs Eddi Edworthy worked at the swimming pool in Aylesbury during the war (since demolished). They were used as showers for locally stationed troops and prisoners-of-war (POWs). She had to cut up the soap into smaller bits to make it last longer:
“The soap was dried and very hard to cut – the POWs used to cut it up for us. There were about twelve showers for the troops and POWs and slipper baths for the officers. We did about five hundred troops and the same of POWs each week.” (BRO 1987, 39).
Dorothy Cousins worked in Gomme’s factory in Leigh Street, High Wycombe, which had been a furniture factory but was now making parts for aircraft. Dorothy made radio parts. Because many men had joined the army, navy and RAF to go to war, many of the factories were staffed with women. This meant that mainly women were making parts for aeroplanes (Dorothy Cousins: WW2 People's War).
Joyce Harvey lived in Marlow. She worked in munitions making pistols and smoke floats. She remembers taking the bus to and from work. It was scary at night-time because no lights were allowed and she had to stand on the bus steps guiding the bus driver so he didn’t go off the road (Joyce Harvey: WW2 People's War).
Other women joined the military, like the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) or the Auxiliary Territorial Services (ATS). They weren’t allowed to fight but did many important jobs. Some of those stationed at Haddenham airfield had the job of delivering planes that had been repaired to airfields across the country so they could be used in bombing raids. Marie Shelley was also in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and worked at Little Horwood RAF base, mainly doing the cooking for the RAF officers, while her sister was a clerk (Marie Shelley: WW2 People's War). The WAAF was also often responsible for inflating, floating and bringing down the barrage balloons that protected airfields and other sites from dive-bombers.
There were no streetlights on at night during the Second World War, and everyone had to make sure that no lights were showing through the windows of their homes. Heavy black curtains were sold, which completely blocked any light from inside. Cars had to have covers over their headlights when driving at night; a tiny amount of light to show the driver where he was going was allowed to escape through a slit. This was called blackout. It was to make it harder for the Germans to bomb important places during the night. Joan Webdale served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) at Wing and described driving on the airfield:
“It was a nightmare…until better lighting was finally installed, as the lights on our vehicles were very poor due to blackout restrictions.” (Warth 2001, 4).
Trees at Black Park ordnance depot were painted with white stripes to avoid cars crashing into them or going into the lake at night.
Chequers was thought to be a target, because Churchill spent much of his time there during the war. This country house had a long drive that, during the night, would point straight to the target. At first, it was painted over with black paint, but this came off with cars and trucks driving along it. Eventually it was decided to turf over the drive to try to hide the house. It worked, as the house itself was never hit.
All signposts were removed, as well. This was to make it harder for any German troops who had parachuted in to invade Britain. They would not be able to find their way around the countryside.
One of the main differences between the Second and the First World War was that civilians were targets as well as soldiers. This became known as total war. German planes bombed civilian targets such as London and Coventry during the Blitz and later fired V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets (missiles) across the channel.
Buckinghamshire was not the main target. The areas that were bombed were closest to London. During the Blitz bombing on London in 1940 1,700 bombs and 4,200 incendiaries (used to start fires) were mistakenly dropped on Buckinghamshire. 200 houses were destroyed or damaged, 33 people killed and 77 injured.
A V2 rocket that had overshot London damaged Castle Field Primary School in High Wycombe. Dennis Hatt remembers being a child of 6 or 7 and hearing the engine on the V2 rocket cut out during playtime. This meant that it was about to explode. He told his friend to get down just before the headmaster rushed out blowing a whistle and shouted for everyone to get down. The rocket exploded and all the windows in the school shattered over all the children. They had to stay where they were until airmen from the local airbase came to clear up the glass (Dennis Hatt: WW2 People's War).
Air-raid shelters were built across the county but, thankfully, the Germans didn’t bomb Buckinghamshire very much.
The Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital had eight purpose-built air-raid shelters when it was constructed in 1940. Each air-raid shelter was sandwiched between two wards and could incorporate all the patients from both, including up to 20 completely bed-ridden patients.
Businesses often built their own air-raid shelters. William Birch’s furniture factory on Leigh Street in High Wycombe had air-raid shelters built for the workers. They are now in the gardens of houses on Kitchener Road.
Airfields tended to have air-raid shelters as they were under threat of bombing by German planes. RAF Halton had four Anderson type air-raid shelters. These were corrugated iron constructions set slightly underground. The tops of the shelters would be just above ground and then covered with soil and turf to protect them from nearby explosions.
Sometimes other structures were used as air-raid shelters. An eighteenth century icehouse in the grounds of Wycombe Abbey School was turned into an air-raid shelter. Icehouses were built slightly underground, mainly of brick or stone, and were used for generating and storing ice in a cool environment. This one was an artificial cave quarried into the hill. The front had a medieval style arch entrance, which was probably bricked up for its use as an air-raid shelter. There would probably have been another entrance made from the top.
John Smithson went to Priory Road Primary School in High Wycombe during the Second World War. He remembers the school field being dug up to provide air-raid shelters. They practised an air-raid drill after hearing the school bell being rung continuously. His job was to make sure a water bottle always had fresh water each morning so that the children would have water if they had to go to the air-raid shelters. After the war the shelters were filled in (John Smithson: WW2 People's War).
There was one decoy shelter at Grendon Underwood. Not much is known about it, but decoy airfields were often constructed so that German bombers would attack them rather than the real airfields. Night-time airfields would have lines of electric lights as if picking out a runway and one or two men would operate a movable light that looked like a plane moving about on the ground. The lights would be turned out when it was thought that enemy aircraft were in the area. This is what would happen at real airfields. The men would then rush into the shelter and wait for the bombs to be dropped. Very few decoy men died, thankfully, as the shelters were so good. These sites were very successful and drew half of all German bombing intended for the airfields they were protecting. The decoy at Grendon Underwood was probably protecting Westcott airfield or RAF Bicester.
- Do you think Prudence likes working on a farm? What does she mean when she says “I’ve the failings of Eve”? She makes it clear in the last line that she doesn’t want to fall in love with a farmer and settle down in the country. Why do you think she says that?
- Why do you think the other military services didn’t like the Land Army?
- Women did a lot of work during the war but weren’t allowed to fight. Do you think that was fair?
- Is there a building you know of that would make a good air-raid shelter?
Go back to find out more about Buckinghamshire in the Wars.