Category Archives: Home Front

MoF Emergency Feeding Spoon

In the immediate post war world there was a real worry that there could be a nuclear or conventional air strike on Britain’s cities that was far in excess of anything suffered in World War Two. To counter this threat, Civil Defence remained at the forefront of post war thought and the lessons of the Blitz were transferred to the new Cold War. One thing that had become very apparent was the difficulties in feeding displaced people and emergency services in the aftermath of a raid.

Specialist mobile kitchens manned by the WVS had played a vital role in the aftermath of mass raids and it made sense to assume that emergency feeding would be essential in the new post war world if the worst to happen. Rather than be left to chance as it had to some extent during the war, emergency feeding was given far more priority by those in charge and perhaps understandably it came under the aegis of the Ministry of Food.

What they did was set up regional stores of emergency food, along with bowls and spoons so simple hot meals could be quickly given to the public. Thankfully these were never called upon and in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall huge quantities of these bowls and spoons have been cleared out and sold on the surplus market. Tonight we have one of those simple spoons, made of a light blue plastic:imageThe spoon has a simple reinforcing rib along the back:imageAnd the pre-1952 logo for the Ministry of Food on the top of the handle:imageDuring World War Two the government had held 6.5 million tons of food for emergency feeding, but the 1950s this had dropped considerably and in 1960 582500 tons were in stores consisting of :

Corned beef (in 12oz and 6lb tins)              75000 tons

Flour (in 140 lb sacks)                                 196000 tons

Sugar (raw)                                                   252500 tons

Raw materials for processing                    36000 tons

(mainly oils and fats)

A number of different variations of these spoons exist, with some having a broader handle at the top and others made in white plastic. They are very easy to find and a nice addition to a Cold War Civil Defence collection.


Civil Nursing Reserve Lapel Badge

One of the easiest home front enamelled lapel badges to find is that for the Civil Nursing Reserve:imageThis organisation was formed in 1939 by the government to help boost the numbers of trained medical staff available in a potential war. Originally it was envisaged they would work in hospitals and first aid posts and assist district nurses with any evacuation procedures. This role was quickly expanded to include nursing at medical aid posts in air raid shelters and rest centres.

In order to meet this requirement, three levels of staff were recruited:

  • Trained nurses
  • Partially trained assistant nurses who were already earning their living from nursing
  • Nursing auxiliaries who were civilian volunteers given two weeks of training.

The scheme was very helpful for hard pressed hospitals in wartime- by 1943 it was supplying hospitals with 3,200 nurses, 2,800 assistant nurses and 12,800 auxiliaries. So successful was the scheme that it was extended and remained in use into the post war period to deal with an acute shortage of nurses.

The badge was issued from June 1940 to be worn on the left side of the indoor uniform, and this was extended to the outdoor uniform in November 1940 where it was worn as a cap badge, as seen on this recruitment leaflet:imageMarjorie Ruddick joined the Civil Nursing Reserve aged 23:

I was 23 when required to register for active service, and was given several choices: the armed forces, the Land Army, munitions, and the Civil Nursing Reserve; after much thought I chose the last. An interview at the County Headquarters followed, and then on to an emergency hospital in Weymouth, where I spent two reasonably happy years. Happy, apart from being bombed out at the nurses’ home and hospital, losing all my possessions. We were housed in lodgings until they could get another house for us.

Yes, things were difficult, things like clothing coupons to get clothes together, but parents helped a lot you know. We coped, everyone had to in those war years, we all got together and got on with it — we didn’t think too much about it really.

A few of the girls that I worked with were Red Cross nurses, and some had been trained in St Johns, so they were very useful, but others like myself, and we were quite a bunch, were completely untrained, and we just had two lectures when we arrived at the hospital…two weeks’ lectures when we arrived at the hospital and then we were thrust on to the wards, and that was an eye opener I can tell you.

We must have been an awful headache for our matron, who was very strict, very different to the matrons of today, and we just had a trained sister in charge.

It was quite a big hospital, an emergency hospital, commandeered from…I’m not sure what it was before, but after the War it became a maternity hospital. But the premises were good, and we were well looked after really, considering that, you know, we were on war rations, and we had a chef and special waiting girls to serve us, and our food was very good really. We had 2ozs of butter, 2 ozs of meat (which of course the hospital took from our ration books, and yes, it wasn’t too bad really.

And the soldiers that we had, it was mainly army personnel, just one or two naval came in but not many. The soldiers had come from all over, and it wasn’t only wounded soldiers, it was…, I mean when you are dealing with hundreds of thousands of men, you get all sorts of complaints, operations, yes. I helped in the operating theatre for one stint, about four months at a time, and you had seven days’ leave, and came back and were put on to a different ward. The theatre was ever so (traumatic) — it was a completely different way of life at first, but as I say we coped, we just got on and did what we were told.

NARPAC Leaflet

Most of the time when we look at the work of charities in wartime on this blog, the story is one of heroic and hardworking volunteers providing an essential service under trying circumstances. Tonight’s story is rather different and shows the infighting and administrative chaos that could arise from well-meaning people having differing priorities and aims without strong leadership to move them in the same direction.

Britain had a large number of charities supporting animals, many dating back to the late Victorian era. Some of these are still with us today such as the RSPCA and the PDSA, others such as ‘Our Dumb Friends League’ are now forgotten to history. At the start of the Second World War it was recognised that there was a real danger to domestic and farm animals in wartime and something had to be done to provide help to owners. The Nation Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was formed to provide an umbrella organisation to coordinate the activities of these different charities. Tonight we have a leaflet from their formation, the front cover of which gives a list of the main charities involved:SKM_C284e17103009590 - CopyThe organisation saw two main aims for itself during wartime, which it set out in this leaflet. Firstly it was to provide shelters and veterinary care to animals caught up in air raids. Secondly it sought to create a central register of pets to allow lost animals after a raid to be identified and returned to their owners (Click on the image for a larger version):SKM_C284e17103009591In order to achieve this aim the committee needed funds and the back page of the leaflet gave readers instructions on how this could be achieved:SKM_C284e17103009590Unfortunately, despite its lofty ambitions the charity never achieved its potential. Firstly there was a lot of competition between its constituent charities. Most relied on wealthy benefactors for the funding to sustain themselves, whilst others preferred small scale fundraising such as jumble sales. With ever greater pressures in wartime each charity and its board was competing with the other organisations in NARPAC for the same diminishing pot of money. This lead to infighting and accusations of charities encroaching into the fundraising spheres of one another and consequent bad feeling.

Added to this was that many people did not have the time to devote to the organisation, as ARP duties, fire watching, work and volunteer organisations such as the WVS used up much of people’s time. In 1939 NARPAC had 47,000 Animal Guards, by October 1940 this had fallen to 16,000- the official record admitted that the drop was due to ‘boredom and local quarrels’. At a higher level there was deep rivalry between the RSPCA and the PDSA and ODFL- the RSPCA seeing the latter as extremists due to their views on fox-hunting. Into this toxic mix was added the problem that there were not enough funds to cover the costs of the animal registration fees and that most owners were more concerned with the day to day problems of finding food for pets with wartime rationing.

It is unsurprising then that NARPAC never lived up to its potential and is today a footnote to the story of wartime civil defence, with small pieces of ephemera such as this leaflet one of the few reminders of the role it might have played.image

Help the Soldiers! Ticket

Throughout the Great War fundraising went on across the country to raise money for charitable causes, including the armed forces. These events were often arranged by local stately homes under the patronage of a local member of the gentry. A small fee was charged for entry and a variety of entertainments, food and stalls were provided to entertain the public and raise money. Tonight we have a ticket from one of those fundraising events in September 1915: SKM_C284e17102416010 - CopyStanden Hall is just south of Clitheroe in Lancashire and was in the Great War, and indeed still is, the seat of the Aspinall family. Standen Hall is a large ‘H’ shaped Palladian style country house, updated in 1757: Standen Hall Clitheroe 1Many of the ‘great and good opened their houses up as a location for charitable fundraisers, as in the case of Colonel and Mrs Cornwallis of Ruthin Castel, as reported in the Daily Mail in September 1915:

Colonel and Mrs Cornwallis are lending the grounds of Ruthin Castle today for a fete which they have organised for the French, Italian and Polish relief funds.

Fetes and fundraisers often had an historic theme, emphasising patriotism and ‘Britishness’ in a time of war. An Elizabethan theme was chosen for a Red Cross Fete held in 1916:

The scene in the hall and gardens of the Middle Temple on July 13 and 14, when a fete is to be held for the Red Cross and Order of St John, will carry one back to the days of Queen Elizabeth, as the decorations and dresses of the waitresses at tea and the programme sellers will be carried out in the designs of that period.

Scenes from “Twelfth night” and also from “Much Ado about Nothing” in which Sir George Alexander and Miss Ellen Terry will appear are to be given. Lady Diana Manners, Miss Elizabeth Asquith and Miss Lloyd George will be amongst the many programme sellers; and Mrs Patrick Campbell will preside over the flower stall. The Temple Choir will sing old English glees and songs.

The Lord Chief Justice is the president of the fete and Sir Samuel Evans the Vice President of the fete.

Both of these newspaper articles show the importance placed on having a man of influence, or his wife, involved with fundraising. The press made a point of naming these influential people and it was seen as a good way of promoting events- the important personage adding legitimacy to the event. Equally for those being invited to take on this function it was an important part of how they and their peers saw their place in society. Aristocratic women of the era did not have traditional employment and thus had the spare time to organise worthy events and help run them, gaining social standing and prestige amongst their peers for their good works.

The charitable sector had a crucial role to play in the Great War, providing funds for many of the projects and equipment needed by soldiers, animals and refugees that the government was unable or unwilling to provide. Although other causes did benefit from fundraising, it seems that the public’s imagination was most animated by charities that focused on servicemen, animals in wartime and those displaced by the war such as the Belgian refugees. There seems to have been a large batch of these particular tickets found recently as they are for sale on eBay for a few pounds each.


Civil Defence Armband

In 1941 the various aspects of Britain’s air raid precautions, rescue and civil support services dealing with the aftermath of air raids were brought together into a single entity known as ‘Civil Defence’. This umbrella organisation introduced new unified insignia including a simple arm band that could be worn over civilian clothes by those without an official uniform:imageThis arm band is made of blue cotton with the organisation’s logo printed in yellow:imageAmong those who were issued the arm bands were messenger boys such as Roy Jamieson:

In those days we had no equipment other than our Civil Defence armbands. There were two steel helmets at the Report Centre which we had to share. A messenger was not allowed to go out unless he was wearing a “tin hat”; consequently if a message had to be taken out the Messenger had to wait until another Messenger came in before he could go out to deliver the message.

In this view of the King and Queen talking to Civil Defence personnel, you can see one of these armbands being worn by the warden immediately behind the queen:SKM_C45817100408340

AFS Canvas Bucket

Previously we have looked at an example of a canvas bucket that was part of an officer’s traveling camp kit. These are of course not the only examples of canvas buckets in service during the Second World War and tonight we are looking at another example, with some different constructional details to the previous example. This bucket is made from a pale green canvas again:imageUnlike the other bucket though, the handle for this bucket is made from a thick piece of cotton webbing, rather than a piece of rope:imageNote how the handle has been doubled up and stitched for strength over the centre part. Inside the bucket is a faintly stamped marking, indicating that it was made in 1939 by Speedings Ltd of Sunderland:imageThis factory was founded in Sunderland in 1827 and is still in business today, making it one of the oldest companies in Sunderland. They have produced sails, canvas products and flags and today make protective equipment for the emergency services.

To return to the bucket, there is another marking on the inside that is very faint and I have struggled to pick up on the camera, that is a GR and crown mark. Searching around I am fairly confident in saying that this design of canvas bucket was issued to the Auxiliary Fire Service in the early years of the war. I have seen other identical buckets with black stencilled markings on the outside that indicate they were used by the AFS and this seems a likely user of my example. Canvas buckets were very useful for carrying on small AFS fire tenders; large numbers could be carried without taking up much space and bucket chains could be set up using volunteers passing them between each other to help put out small fires.

The utility of bucket chains can be seen in this story from Michael Campbell of Leeds:

One night I was awoken by my parents. We had been bombed and two incendiaries had gone through the roof. Father was in the loft with a stirrup pump and a bucket chain had been formed with people passing buckets of water up the stairs. Water was being poured into the stirrup pump bucket too fast and was missing it, then father put his foot into the bucket —“ Pour it down my b—- leg”, he said. As mother carried me past the hatch, down the stairs and by the bucket chain into the garden to the Anderson Shelter, I could see flames in the loft.

I doubt the buckets here were canvas ones, more likely anything the household could get hold of, but the fire was put out and it shows how useful this simple operation could be.

Entente Cordiale Pin Badge

To modern eyes commemorative souvenirs for diplomatic alliances seem a little odd. However in the First World War there was a steady stream of commemorative items for the alliance between the British and the French, the Entente Cordial. Previously we have looked at a small piece of commemorative china here for the triple entente, and tonight we have a small enamelled pin badge for the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France:imageThis badge not only reflects the partnership between the two countries, as witnessed by the flags, but would also have been popular amongst buyers as a symbol of personal friendship between two people, as the phrase had entered the general population as a popular term for friendship.

Relations between Britain and France had been fractious for many centuries, but with the signing of the Entente Cordiale in 1904 the British went through a phase of Francophilia with popular revues, exhibitions and talks celebrating the link between the two countries.

The Daily Mail published a prescient editorial on the Entente on April 17th 1914:

The British People and the Entente

The French public is right in attaching special significance to the official visit of the King and Queen to Paris next week. It is not merely the return of President Poincaré’s visit to London last year; it is also a direct and emphatic affirmation of the permanence of the Entente. Ten years have passed since the Anglo-French Agreement was concluded, and seven years since the understanding was completed by the Anglo-Russian Agreement. Ministries have changed; new questions have arisen; yet the Entente Cordiale and the Triple Entente remain the solid and abiding guarantee of European peace. Again and again in the immediate past the strength of the tie which unites Great Britain and France has been tested. It has never been found wanting, and three times at least- in 1905, 1908 and 1911- it has prevented the outbreak of European War.

Yet the remarkable letter which eminent French historian M. Lavisse has published in The Times suggests that educated Frenchmen are not altogether happy as to the attitude of the British people. M. Lavisse thinks that he perceives in this country “a dispersion, a pulverisation of public opinion… a sort of apathy, a disinclination to dwell upon unpleasant ideas, to foresee grave events, to entertain anxiety,” and believes that this attitude is weakening British policy on the Continent. Now it is no doubt true that for the moment British opinion is intensely preoccupied with internal questions. But that is a condition which would instantly vanish were any great emergency to arise, and we believe that the energy and unanimity of our people would be just as great tomorrow, in an hour of danger as of old. It would be a very real mistake to interpret our preoccupation, or dispersion of opinion’ as a sign of decadence. Neither morally nor physically is the present generation of Britons inferior to its ancestors…