WORLD WAR 2 Part Three

"We didn't know there was a war on! We'd take it as a bit of fun, we were that far away. Nearest bombing was at Barrow, there was just the odd plane which you nivver saw unless you got on't fellside and could see the searchlight beam. You didn't know it was there, you just read about had enough food, you had your own sheep, as far as farmers were concerned you could kill a sheep, you'd kill an auld hen, you had your could even make your own butter if you'd a mind, if you were that hard up."

There's no doubt at all that people in Westmorland saw very much less hardship during the last war than those who lived in big towns, where buying food meant queueing down the street for hours; towns and villages escaped bombing and the fear of air raids altogether and people slept soundly in their beds instead of camping in air raid shelters or on underground station platforms. Certainly, food and clothing was rationed; but with so many small, fairly self-sufficient farms at hand, it was usually possible to get what was wanted:

"We were really self-sufficient in food. During the war people like us, I think, were better off than people in towns because you were your own butcher, you'd your own eggs and things like that. Admittedly, you'd to sacrifice your coupons, your bacon coupons and your butter coupons, but you were better off, I think. The only thing was that people would come in, the local policeman would come... 'Can I have a pound of butter?' - yes, oh yes, we made sure he got some!"

Lakeland hotels, with safety from the bombers and food in abundance were particularly popular in wartime:

"Oh, but they came! Of course people flocked to come and stay. The Armenians people came and stopped for two years: they once went back and there was a terrible air raid in Manchester! There were lots of people; that was when I did a broadcast on 'Running a Hotel in Wartime'. When we were left with just one maid, we said, Oh, we'll manage, we'll not be beaten. There was a sink in the diningroom fortunately, in the small diningroom at the Old Hotel (Dungeon Ghyll), so we used to wash up there and everybody used to join in and wipe...

"You see we had our own sheep, we had our own pigs and your own butter, your own milk."

The thought of buying anything was out of the question:

"The jam and things like that were very inferior; and the meat ration you got from the butcher, well it was so minute, you couldn't possibly have managed. We never measured ounces and things - we used to have people queuing for teas, right across the front. We used to make the teas last as long as we could, but we had to stop and make dinner!"

However, people living in the area who didn't farm, and didn't know many local people were less lucky, and were rationed like everybody else. This lady worked as a marine biologist on Windermere, exploiting freshwater fish as wartime foodstuffs, such as canning perch, which became commonly known as perchine. Working at Wray Castle, she was subject to strict institutional food rationing:

"As far as I can remember, it was things like two ounces of butter a week. We each had our rations of sugar and butter in the dishes in the diningroom with our names on so that nobody else pinched them. The meat, of course, went into the kitchen and the housekeeper devised ways of making it go as far as possible. I forget what the meat ration was then, but it was only four or six ounces a week, I think, so that a lot of the meals, there was very little meat. My memory of food was that it was extremely stodgy - it was eeked out by masses of things like lentils and potatoes ad nauseam and the result was we all got very stout!"

There were so many rules and regulations attached to rationing and food production, that finding ways to break the rules and beat the system were all part of the challenge of living with the War. Pig keeping was popular because swill to feed them was plentiful; but the number of pigs slaughtered was strictly licensed,, in order to try and control black market pork, for which there was a huge demand:

"You had to fill in forms and say how many pigs you had and they were inspected and the day in Grasmere that the Inspector came round, he started with the pigs at the top of Easedale Farm up there, and unfortunately that farmer had killed a pig, so he was one short, so he was due to be fined. But he managed to get his pigs down to other farmers and when the Inspector went round to other pig keepers, they all had the right number. And if you were in Grasmere that particular day, there were these pigs being driven round from one place to another to make the numbers up! And you could usually get a little bacon if you knew anybody and they knew you wouldn't report them. It was the custom to keep your coffin under the bed and most people wouldn't dream of looking in a coffin... and this was where they kept the sides of bacon!"

Sometimes a farmer would get a licence to kill one pig - but two were actually killed, with the help of an official blind eye:

"What usually happened was that one got a licence to kill one, but invariably two would be killed on the same day. Now I always remember my father telling the story of arranging to kill this pig, and there were two going to be killed, and he consulted with the village bobby and asked him which day next week he was going to have off and would be free of duty; on hearing that it would be Tuesday, my father asked the bobby if would mind going out on that particular day, and if he would call round to our house on the Thursday morning of afternoon, there would be a small parcel for him to take home. Whether one regards that as a form of blackmail I don't know, but it was quite obvious what was going to take place, and this is what did happen and it all happened in a very friendly way and although I suppose it was quite wrong, its the sort of thing that did happen in the countryside. One accepted it as such without any feeling of guilt or anything of that nature."

Some people would never touch black market goods, and for them, living within the ration wasn't easy. But it was even harder for husbands serving in the forces, where food was plentiful, coming home on leave to discover for the first time the realities of life in civvy street. One man retired from the Army in 1943, and it was a hard lesson for him to assimilate:

"When my husband came out of the Army in the beginning of 1943 he was absolutely disgusted with the ration. There's always a certain amount of adjustment when you've been apart for three years, so I decided the only thing to do was to give him his rations, I weighed out his sugar and his butter etc, and I said, 'Now look, that's yours for a week. You've also got your margerine, but my margerine is going to bake something.'

'Oh', he said, 'This is no good, I've got to have more than this.'

'Well,', I said, I haven't any more than this up to now, I've managed with the two of us (that's my daughter), we've managed our ration, and I've never asked for anything over and above, and I'm not going to now. So you'll just have to make the best of it!.' So it was a bit difficult at first but he gradually saw sense, though he was absolutely horrified really."