The topic of food featured quite a bit in Norman’s memoir and I thought you might enjoy reading some extracts.
During World War One a trip to Kingston Market was Norman’s most vivid memory.
‘I remember my mother was pushing my sister in a pram once and a woman came up to us and said, ‘ the war’s broken out!’
Then one day my mother took me over to Kingston and said,’ Try this out. It’s flag butter.’
There were two flags crossed on it and of course it was margarine, because butter was very expensive in the war.
My father was a charge hand at the munitions factory during the First World War. All the factories like Auto Carriers were now doing war work. He’d work a fortnight on days and a fortnight on nights; a twenty four hour operation you see, to keep the war going.
I don’t remember much about World War 1 because I was only five, but on a Monday they still had a cattle market over there in Kingston. There were pounds where they put the sheep in the pens and I remember a butcher called Folletts because we used to have a saveloy in a roll for our dinner while we sat watching the sheep and hens.”
Then in the late 1920’s Norman dabbled in culinary arts whilst in Australia:
“When the Australians came back from the war they were allotted 640 acres and some managed it and some didn’t, but he (the farmer) did. He built himself a brick house and he bought his mate’s blocks too, because they didn’t get on with them, so he got two or three big blocks.
I was helping him out with the wheat and with the sheep and milking and then his wife used to go away to her people for a month for a holiday and he said,
‘Mate, you’re the chief cook now too.’
And so I’d do the cooking and they’d come in and I’d give them something. I did find out how to make Junket and they said,
‘Don’t you know how to make anything else besides Junket?’
‘No’ I said and laughed. ‘It’s so easy to do.’
I remember the fruit trees out there. There were apricots, nectarines and peaches and so we had a lot of fresh fruit. We also had corned beef and potatoes.”
Returning from Australia on the ship the Orama he continued to dine in relative luxury. Norman saved all his menu cards from the voyage home in 1931 and her’s one of them below:
Norman came home to help out but instead became another mouth for his mother to feed. With work almost impossible to find in the 1930’s she had to resort to drastic measures:
“Then my dad was in and out of work all through the 30’s. One week in this house we were all out of work and we had nothing coming in; only the dole which was fifteen and thruppence.
Mum said, ‘What am I going to feed you on. I’ve got nothing.’
Then she had a brain wave.
She said, ‘I know what I’ll do,’ and she made a suet pudding and cut it into four and we had that. That’s what we ate for a week.
That was when I came home from Australia; when we had the out of work time.”
Norman often said that people in this country today don’t really know what hardship really is and that after that point life just got better and better. There was another war of course.
Norman married his first wife Peggy in 1938 just before the outbreak of WW2. They opened their home up to lodgers, to make ends meet. Peggy was a resourceful person. Norman didn’t say how she came by extra rations but she was certainly a wily old lady even when I knew her later on in life. Here Norman talks of Peggy:
“We did better than most by having more people in the house. Pegg could fiddle around a bit and also she was a good one to get in with the shop keepers and so she used to get extra rations. She was good like that; very good with food. The only thing was that you could never get any eggs. We had this reconstituted egg from America instead. Horrible!
We had this one old bloke lodging and he said, ‘I’m not eating that.’
Pegg said, ‘If you don’t eat that you can go without.’
‘That’s all you’ll get at any place,’ I said. ‘That’s all we’ve got.’
Was Norman’s secret to longevity a good and healthy diet? What did he eat later in his life? I’ll keep that for another post.
Do you or your family have food memories of WW2? Have you struggled and succeeded with a special diet like Rachel, which has changed your life in some way? I’d love to hear from you.