Shops and shortages: Some echoes from a former time of national crisis

by Ngaire Bushell, Producer, Imperial War Museums

I live aboard a boat built in the same year as the Imperial War Museum’s largest object; HMS Belfast. I offer this as an excuse as to why my conversations often meander into the subject of how the Second World War affected the lives of ordinary people. And so it was that in speaking with Southwark’s Harbour Master, Patrick Keating about current shortages and the stockpiling of items such as loo roll, that he suggested that I write something for this blog about rationing in the 1940s. I have decided to focus on a few lesser known aspects of how people coped with restrictions and shortages; and therefore loo roll seems a pretty good place to begin…

The story told by one Liverpool woman of a loo roll being offered as a prize during a whist competition, and the fact that the shortage of loo roll was debated in Parliament in 1944 suggests that then, as in the last few weeks, this vital article was an item rarely sighted on shopkeepers’ shelves. Paper in general was in short supply throughout the long years of the war, with orders to shops to reduce paper consumption to 30% of their pre-war usage, and employees in offices regaled by messages of ‘Don’t waste paper’. We often think that recycling is a modern invention but waste paper was pulped and then re-pulped throughout the war, although as it went through these cycles of usage it began to take on a khaki colour. Of course used paper could skip the pulping phase and be re-purposed directly for service in the lavatory; one former evacuee I know remembers being tasked with cutting up newspaper into squares for use as toilet paper. The bare shelves where once toilet paper was in abundance is a reality of our current situation, but even here there are wartime echoes. One lady in the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence devoted part of a letter home to her mother about her experience of actually finding loo roll in the shops:

May W. asked me to get some toilet paper if I could. I managed to get some thick stuff at a terrible price and commented on the price to the shopkeeper who agreed with me heartily and said it was an awful price, especially as it was only reconditioned.’

Meanwhile a woman in Croydon would let her neighbour know that the lesser-spotted rolls were on sale by calling out to her: ‘Boots have stationery in’.

Rationing IWM

Some rationed supplies and ration book, courtesy of Imperial War Museums

Keeping calm and making tea was, and remains a very good coping strategy, but with tea rationed at just 2oz per person per week, this had to be used sparingly at home and the government advised doing away with the habit of adding a ‘spoon for the pot’. Tea went on ration in July 1940, but sugar had been amongst the first items to be restricted when the national rationing scheme began in January of that year. For many the limit of 12oz per person per week was one way the war impacted on their lives every single day, and one 10 year old girl remembers her grandfather being firmly told off when he stole an extra teaspoon for his tea when he thought her mother’s back was turned.

For many a cup of tea is incomplete without an accompanying biscuit but many found their pre-war favourite for ‘dunk-ability’ was no longer available due to repurposing factories and labour, the pre-war 350 different types of biscuit were reduced to just 20! As today, with manufacturers switching production to make protective equipment and ventilators, in 1940 a series of laws were passed to ensure that raw materials, factory capacity and labour were diverted towards making munitions, and one of the seldom considered effect of this was the shortages of crockery and cutlery in the shops, which links back to our ‘tea-time theme’ because teaspoons became increasingly hard to come by as cutlery production was cut to just a quarter of the level it had been at in 1940.

Perhaps a good place to end would be the necessity, now as then, of good hand-washing, although fortunately we are not having to contend with soap rationing which was introduced to wartime Britain in February 1942 at an allowance of 3 oz per person, every 4 weeks. One housewife remembered how she stretched her family’s ration by placing the scraps into a tin with holes punched in the lid, and that this ‘when swished in a basin of hot water washed greasy plates, stockings or our hair’. If our current soap stocks on the marina ever run low I would prefer to follow her example than the advice offered in one women’s magazine, which in August 1942 printed an article that began: ‘It is very little known that any material, but particularly woollens, can be most successfully washed with glue dissolved in hot water.’ In these challenging times, and the need for children to be home schooled, this is one piece of 1940s advice I would urge you not to follow as a potential science experiment!

Join Ngaire aboard her little houseboat and learn some wartime recipes in Cakes Made From Carrots, one of the Adventures in History series from Imperial War Museums. 

 

VE Day gallery

by Patricia Dark, Archivist

daniels road victory party 1945
Daniels Road, Nunhead

By May 8, 1945, the UK had been at war for more than five and a half years. In that time, life had been turned upside down, in big and small ways.

London lost almost 30,000 of its residents and a third of its buildings to bombing during the Second World War; more than 50,000 other Londoners had been injured. Here in Southwark, nearly 2,000 people were killed, and thousands of homes destroyed. Almost every family in London would have members missing – perhaps killed, away on active service, or evacuated to a safer area, maybe years before.

Years of rationing made food time-consuming to get, sometimes scarce, and often monotonous. Everything from clothes to toys to furniture had to be mended rather than thrown away, made to make do as long as it possibly could.

But with the surrender of German forces, the threat of enemy attack lifted, and while, in the words of American president Harry S. Truman, it was “a victory only half won”, it meant that the end of the entire war was in sight.

London reacted by throwing a party. In central London, the crowd gathered at Trafalgar Square reached all the way up the Mall to Buckingham Palace – where King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared on the balcony — singing, dancing, and rejoicing until late into the night; Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret slipped into the throng to join the celebration.

In the residential streets of Southwark, the festivities were more low-key: flags and bunting – either carefully saved from before the war or creatively produced from anything to hand – decorated homes and streets; families or whole streets pooled rations to provide sweet treats for their youngest members, who’d lost so much of their childhoods to war.

As you might expect, such a party was an occasion to bring out the camera! We hold pictures from a number of street parties at Southwark Local History Library and Archive: some of them are below. If you recognise anyone in these pictures, would like to use any of these images, or have a photo you think we would be interested in, please get in touch with us at lhlibrary@southwark.gov.uk.

Kirby Estate Victory Party PB2341

This image, our reference PB2341, shows residents of the Kirby Estate in Bermondsey during the children’s street party they threw to celebrate the peace.

Ve day party Southwark Park Road Bermondsy

Southwark Park Road Bermondsey

Victory Party 1945 (C Block Plough Way estate) - Aunt and Uncle in window, Ted one of kids below

This is the victory party C Block of the Plough Way Estate in Rotherhithe threw.

Chadwick Road, Peckham

Chadwick Road, Peckham

WW2 victory party - Chesterfield Grove, East Dulwich (P21566)

Chesterfield Grove in East Dulwich also threw a street party for the children: this picture is our reference P21566.

P21732 VE Party Pyrotechnists Arms Nunhead

The Pyrotechnist’s Arms pub on Nunhead Green staged fundraising concerts throughout the war, so maybe it’s no surprise that they threw a party for VE Day!

P21543 VE Day Party Buchan Road Nunhead

This is our image reference P21543, showing a VE Day party thrown by residents of Buchan Road, Nunhead. This photo and others in our collection suggest that local photographers helped capture memories of these celebrations.

P21524 Victory Party Nutfield Road Dulwich

Many victory parties took the form of street parties: residents set up trestle tables and made treats to share. This party was in Nuffield Road, Dulwich: the photo is our reference P21524.

Gurney St VE Day party P20715 cropped

This VE Day street party was in Gurney Street, Walworth. Mrs. Baker is at the end of the table in the foreground;  Mrs. Willis is in the background at right. Gurney Street was later demolished as part of the development of the Heygate Estate.

P16265 Evacuees returning to Oliver Goldsmith School from Dorset Jun 1945

Evacuees returning to Oliver Goldsmith School from Dorset Jun 1945 (P16265)

The Home Front

The following images from Southwark Local History Library and Archive show aspects of life during the Second World War. Digging for victory, fundraising events and parties for evacuees all helped to boost Southwark’s morale.

P17264 Southwark Central students gardening with Chair of LCC

Southwark Central students gardening with Chair of London County Council (P17264)

P21581 Walworth Home Guard Braganza St 1942

Walworth Home Guard, Braganza Street, 1942 (P21581)

P21731 Concert Pyrotechnists Arms War Weapons Week 1943

Concert at the Pyrotechnists’ Arms, Nunhead in aid of  War Weapons Week, 1943 (P21731)

P22222 War Wings Week collection Rye Lane c1942

War Wings Week collection, Rye Lane, Peckham c.1942 (P22222)

PB2095 MBB Evacuees tea party Worthing Jan 1940

Tea party for evacuees from the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, Worthing, January 1940 (PB2095)

PB2096 Worthing and MBB mayors at evacuees tea party Jan 1940

Tea party for evacuees from the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, Worthing, January 1940 (PB2096)

WW2 - Concert at Pyrotechnists Arms, Nunhead Green in aid of RAF Benevolent Fund c1942 (P21730)

Concert at Pyrotechnists’ Arms, Nunhead in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund, c. 1942 (P21730)

 

 

The Pioneer Health Centre – Part 3

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

In parts 1 and 2 we learnt about the origin’s of the Peckham Health Centre. Here, we’ll look at some of the findings of this great experiment into public health and what became of the centre during and after the Second World War.

The research

Between 1935 and 1939, a survey was undertaken of 3,911 individual members of the Pioneer Health Centre (around 1200 families). 91% were found to have some kind of disorder, whether that was a decaying tooth or a cancer and only 9% of those were having treatment for those disorders.  A second report 4½ years later, comprising over 4000 individuals, again found that around 90% were found to have a disorder of some kind but only 30% were actually aware of it. The other 60% stated that they were well which meant that they were unaware of their disorder or coping with it. These findings were addressed by the Pioneer Health Centre:

 “…In the Pioneer Health Centre the situation was altered in two ways.  First, through periodic health overhaul, masked disorders were disclosed and made known to the individual who usually took steps to have them put rights.  Second, on discharge from medical treatment, he found himself in a social environment inviting activity of many sorts.  He tended them towards health.”

How poignant these words seem at a time when we are collectively remaining isolated from friends and loved ones, not taking part in outdoor social activities, the gym, parties, the cinema, clubs, restaurants, not hugging, not together – to maintain the health not just of the individual but humanity.

The war years

In 1939, like most large buildings in the country, the Pioneer Health Centre was turned over to help the war effort and used as a munitions factory, despite its laboratory and staff being offered to the government as a medical examination centre. Regardless, a building made of glass was too dangerous for the general public to meet.

During the war years the Centre adapted. The mothers and children of some of the member families were evacuated to the home farm at Oakley House in Bromley, seven miles south of Peckham. The evacuee families could be self-sufficient using the milk from its own herd of Jersey Cows and fresh vegetables grown on the farm. Later, however, in November 1942 this project also came to an end when the Admiralty requisitioned the farm as an orthopaedic rehabilitation centre.

By 1946 the centre’s former members were campaigning vigorously for its reopening. A team of volunteers gathered to clean and repair the site, which had been left in an almost derelict state. In the years following the war the centre was recognised for its value in the rebuilding of family and social life. Dr Pearse was sent by the War Office on a lecture tour to the Middle East and both doctors were invited to give talks at Yale and Harvard universities. The centre continued to receive visits from scientists, students and academics and in 1948 it received Queen Mary and Prime Minister Clement Attlee. A film commissioned by the Foreign Office, The Centre (1947), was distributed around the world.

The end of ‘The Centre’

The centre 25

The Centre flourished between 1935 and 1939, and between 1946 and its closure in 1950.  During April 1938, it is recorded that membership of the Centre comprised 600 families with an average daily use of around 770 people. At its peak there were 850 families registered.

The establishment of the NHS and lack of funding finally brought about the end of the ‘Peckham Experiment’ and the Pioneer Health Centre in 1950.

The centre was not designed to treat disorders. Its purpose was to understand the positive aspects of health. Suffice to say, that although it is some 94 years since the Pioneer Health Centre was envisaged, its work remains relevant; social conditions have changed, but our basic human needs and capabilities have not.  This is why Williamson’s and Pearse’s ethological studies into the health of families are still important today within the field of medical and social research.  Their experiment showed that the nature of a person’s health is satisfied if the essential needs of a person or their community are met. Children and adults can develop more healthily, happily, physically and mentally within the right physical and social environment and the Pioneer Health Centre enabled this positive health by having a healthy environment which influenced all the members of the centre and even helped relationships outside of it.

If there was one wish I could be given, it would be to go back in time for a year at the Centre in either period.  they were extremely happy years” (Charles).

“It was a great place for mixing people who met and socialised. The cross section was fantastic – dustmen to lawyers. People of natural interests used to gather together. We had clubs within the club” (Adge)

“My early and continuing personality development was enormously influenced for the good through my family membership of the Centre.” (John)

The Centre was later transferred to Southwark Council, who initially used it as a leisure and adult education centre and then sold it in the 1990s, after which it was converted into housing. The building remains among English Heritage’s grade II listed buildings. The Pioneer Health Foundation continues to promote the work of the Pioneer Health Centre.

During this difficult time when we are all being asked to stay home and give up some of our basic human needs, we do so in the hope that we can minimise danger to life for the greater good. As a community we are supporting each other whether that be through a friendly phone call, a delivery, working on the frontline or staying home, whatever the support is. At the beginning of Dr Pearse’s and Dr Williamson’s research, they found that isolation and loneliness contributed to the community’s lethargy where people were not living to their full capacity and many of us are feeling that now during this Coronavirus pandemic.  However, the emphasis on community is even more important now. We can still be connected, albeit differently, whilst maintaining that crucial physical distancing and in this way we may be able to both maintain health and preserve it.

The centre 26

Dr Innes Pearse and Dr Williamson with former members of the Pioneer Health Centre, early 1950s at Mill House, East Sussex

Research and photographs sourced from the collections at Southwark Local History Library and Archive and include:

Peckham: the first health centre by Scott Williamson, reprinted from ‘The Lancet’, 1946.

The Quality of Life: the Peckham approach to human ethology by Innes Hope Pearse, 1979.

Being Me And Also Us: lessons from the Peckham Experiment by Alison Stallibrass,  1989.

‘The Centre’, a film dramatisation about the work of the Pioneer Health Centre commissioned by the Central Office of Information has been made available online by the BFI.

The story of Basher Bates

by Archivist Patricia Dark

On 6 June – the 75th anniversary of D-Day, then-Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the site of the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer, overlooking Gold Beach. When it’s finished, it will join the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach and the Canadian Juno Beach Centre as places of remembrance and learning about the Normandy Campaign of World War II, codenamed Operation Overlord. The British Normandy Memorial will include the names of the 22,442 men and women of all nationalities who died serving under British command during Overlord. As the memorial’s website suggests, one of those names stands out: Corporal Sidney Bates. He is the only service member on the memorial to receive the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry.

In Southwark, though, we know him better as Basher. This is his story.

Sidney_Bates_VC_IWM_HU_2054

Sidney ‘Basher’ Bates

Sidney Bates was born on 14 June 1921, in Crown Street, Camberwell. He was the son of Gladys and Frederick Bates. Frederick worked as a rag-and-bone man, collecting materials like cloth, paper, bones, and metal for reuse and recycling. The family eventually included Sidney and his brothers Frederick, Alfred, and Albert and his sisters Gladys and Patricia; Sidney went to Camberwell Grove School, where he got the nickname “Basher” for his boxing skills. His family remember him as a quiet kid, unassuming but a merry prankster – and because of his quiet side, he usually got away with his pranks!

When he left school at 14, Basher went to work as a carpenter’s labourer. In June 1940, he joined the army, entering the 1st Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment. Just before he shipped out, the family got together at the Sultan pub. He admitted his fear of what lay ahead to his mum before he left.

The 1st Royal Norfolks landed on Red Queen beach – the right flank of Sword Beach, near the city of Caen – at 7:25 AM on D-Day. They then fought their way through Normandy, the Low Countries, and Germany: a sphere of action known officially as the North West Europe campaign. General Montgomery, who commanded the 21st Army Group in which they served, claimed the unit was second to none. Sidney was no different, being promoted twice in the weeks after D-Day. On 13 July 1944 – the day before Bastille Day – he was promoted to lance-corporal, and two weeks later to acting corporal.

After breaking out of the D-Day beachheads, British units were fighting in the Norman bocage – a landscape of mixed pasture and woodland, where fields and narrow country lanes are sunken into the spaces between narrow ridges topped with high hedgerows which act as windbreaks for the livestock in the fields. It’s picturesque, and easy to defend – but incredibly hard to fight through.

On 6 August 1944, the 1st Norfolks were relieving the 3rd Monmouthshire Regiment near the village of Sourdeval. These units were holding a strategically critical salient on the Perrier Ridge – they were attacked in force by the 10th SS Panzer Division. Sidney was commanding a section (a group of 10 soldiers) at the right side of the left-forward company; he tried to move the section to avoid taking further casualties.

However, the Germans pushed deeper into the section’s position; eventually, Sidney’s section came under attack by 50 to 60 Germans armed with machine guns and mortars and supported by panzers.

A close friend of Sidney’s and the unit’s Bren gunner, “Tojo” Tomlin (nicknamed for his resemblance to the recently-ousted Japanese prime minister) died in his arms, hit in the face by machine-gun fire. That’s when Basher acted. He picked up Tojo’s Bren gun, got up, and advanced into the hail of bullets and mortars, firing from the hip. He was struck by machine gun fire and fell to the ground.

He got up, and continued advancing and firing.

He was hit, again, and got up again.

The third time, Sidney was hit by mortar shrapnel. This time, he couldn’t get up. Instead, he wrapped himself around his gun, firing at the enemy for as long as his strength held out.

But that was long enough. The Germans – perhaps shaken by Sidney’s determination – retreated to the sound of Sidney’s gunfire, leaving the position in the hands of the British. For his comrades, and many historians, his single-handed charge was the turning point of the battle.

Stretcher-bearer Ernie Seaman brought Sidney – badly wounded in the legs, stomach, and throat – from the field where he fell to a farmhouse nearby, which was being used as a forward field hospital. He died there two days later.

On 2 November 1944, Sidney’s Victoria Cross citation was gazetted: his parents collected the award in spring of 1945. They and Patricia (their only child left at home) had been bombed out of their home in Councillor Street, but refused to leave Camberwell. A public appeal for the family raised enough money to buy Frederick a new cart and pony, so he could keep working. He named the pony “Basher”.

Sidney has many memorials: the most obvious is his gravesite, plot XX 14E in Bayeux War Cemetary; his epitaph says that “[h]is parents proudly remember him as a true Camberwell Boy and a loving Son”. There’s also a monument to him in the field where he fell and a memorial bench on Camberwell Green. His nephew Chris is a stonemason, and laid many of these.

The memorial bench on Camberwell Green. Copyright Bernhard Bauer

The memorial bench on Camberwell Green (courtesy of Bernhard Bauer)

Others are less obvious. His charge also featured on the front page of volume 157 of the comic The Victor, first published in 1967; it was reprinted twice before the comic folded in 1992. But perhaps the most poignant memorial to Sidney is a cottage in Norfolk named for him; it’s one of six built by the regiment’s memorial trust to house their retired – and honour their fallen – comrades.

Today, on the 75th anniversary of his charge to save his mates, we remember Sidney Bates VC proudly, and hope that you do too. The Sultan pub is gone now, but maybe lift a glass to Basher Bates, a true Camberwell boy, a loving son, and a good comrade, wherever you are.

You can learn more about the British Normandy Memorial or make a donation at the Normandy Memorial Trust website.

Bermondsey honours the village of Lidice: A story for Holocaust Memorial Day

By Patricia Dark, Archivist

On 27 May 1942, two SOE-trained soldiers, acting on the orders of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, attacked Reinhard Heydrich, the military dictator of Czechoslovakia. He died of his wounds a week later. Heydrich, the “Butcher of Prague”, ruled Czechoslovakia through the cruelty of summary execution and the terror of concentration camps. He was also one of the main architects of the Holocaust: he organised Kristallnacht, formed the Einsatzgruppen, carried out the Nacht und Nebel decree of forced disappearance, and chaired the Wannsee Conference that outlined the plans for genocide.

The reprisal for his assassination was swift, and brutal. The Gestapo suspected that residents of Lidice, a mining village about 15 miles from Prague, were hiding those responsible for the attack, because men from the village were serving with the Czechoslovak armed forces in the UK. Just after midnight on 10 June 1942, Nazi police surrounded Lidice and the villagers were rounded up. 173 men were taken to the Horák family farm and shot; another 19 who weren’t home were arrested and executed later.

Lidice’s 203 women and 105 children were taken to the village school, then the town of Kladno. 184 women were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. 88 children were sent to Łódź, where those considered “suitable for Germanisation” were separated, to be sent to orphanages and later placed with German families. The remaining 82 children were sent to Chełmo on 2 July 1942 and gassed on arrival. Even all of Lidice’s animals were killed.

The Nazis then tried to destroy all trace of the place called Lidice. They burned the village buildings and blew up the remains, dug up the local cemetery and destroyed the bodies. Forced labour crews then removed all trace of remains and rerouted the roads and a local stream. At the end of the war, 143 women returned home to Lidice, and after a 2 year search, so did 17 of the village’s children. They were the only survivors of the 503 villagers living there in June 1942.

The Nazis openly boasted about annihilating Lidice on Radio Berlin; the world responded with horror and defiance. A year after the massacre, in June 1943, the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey hosted a memorial concert for the village on the bombed-out site of Bermondsey Town Hall in Spa Road. A choir of Czechoslovak servicemen sang and Foreign Minister-in-exile Jan Masaryk spoke.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the people of Lidice, and all the other victims of genocidal persecution. And we remember those who helped create new homes for survivors. By remembering, we hope to create a better and more just world.

You can find out more about the Lidice Memorial organisation and the museum here.

Photographs of the Lidice memorial service from Southwark Local History Library and Archive

Memorial Service for Lidice at Spa Road bomb site on 10 June 1943. Crowd of people stand around a raised stage surrouned by flags and bunting against the backdrop of bomb damaged houses

Memorial Service for Lidice at Spa Road bomb site, Bermondsey on 10 June 1943

pb230x

Czechoslovak servicemen sing at Bermondsey’s Lidice memorial service

Czechoslovak servicemen in uniform from sing at Bermondsey Bomb site. Children sit watching from nearby roof.

Czechoslovak servicemen sing at Bermondsey’s Lidice memorial service as local children observe from nearby roof

pb2298

Jan Masaryk, Deputy Minister of Czechoslovakia makes a speech at Bermondsey’s Lidice memorial service