This week’s postcard depicts two men posing with a war memorial in the 1920s:From the inscription it is clear that this memorial was presented by the Normanton Liberal Club:The memorial depicts a British tommy in his uniform and webbing, at ease with his rifle:Some research has allowed me to identify this memorial as one that stands in the gardens of the Cartmel Grange Nursing Home in Grange over Sands and it is made of cast concrete. Presumably this material was chosen because it was a cheaper option that having a cast metal or a carved stone memorial. The memorial originally stood in front of the nursing home that had been built as a convalescent home for members of the Club and Institutes Union. Until recently however he stood in another part of the grounds in disrepair and filthy, with badly patched feet:Happily about ten years ago funds were found to allow the statue to be restored and returned to his original position near the nursing home:In 1919 the Royal Academy had organised an exhibition of war memorial designs to inspire local communities who wished to erect their own local memorials. They also issued a catalogue of standard designs that could be shown to architects and stone masons when producing memorials as there were no central funds for memorials, all local monuments being paid for by their local communities by public subscription of private donations. Depending on the wealth of a community memorials could range from a simple stone with a brass plaque to a full set of cast bronze statues surrounding a marble obelisk. Today these memorials remain at the heart of British communities and are still a focus for remembrance.
For a large part of the Second World War Great Britain paid host to the governments in exile of many of the occupied nations of Europe, along with the remnants of their armed forces. Free French, Polish, Czechoslovakian and Norwegian troops were just some of those stationed and training in Great Britain before the invasion of Europe in 1944 when they joined the fight to liberate their home countries. Their British hosts did what they could to make these European guests feel welcome and between training many of these men mixed with locals, attended dances or were invited to other social events. To honour their guests, it was not uncommon to play both the British national anthem and the national anthem of the nation these European troops came from. Whilst most pianists of the 1940s could reasonably be expected to know the music for God Save the King, it was highly unlikely that they would know how to play the anthem for Poland or Czechoslovakia for instance. Sheet music companies were quick to recognise this need and tonight we have an example of a piece of sheet music with the anthems of Britain’s European allies:The cover depicts some of the flags of these allies and we can see that the music covers Greece, France, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium with the music of God Save the King included for completeness. This type of publication was not new, similar sheet music had been published in the first World War as can be seen here.
Inside the sheet music are both the tune and the words for each of the anthems, such as this one for Greece:Note how the words of the anthem have been translated into English to allow the people of Great Britain to join in the singing of the words- international co-operation and friendship only went so far apparently and it was not felt that the British would be able to sing in another language! Interestingly the playing of the allies national anthems was not limited to Great Britain. In the 1942-1943 season the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra ran a series of weekly concerts paying tribute to a different allied nation. Each concert was started off by the playing of that country’s national anthem and it seems the season of concerts was highly successful.
In the run up to World War Two British companies were quick to take advantage of the growing worry about air raids and produced a wide variety of goods that householders could buy to help protect themselves, their loved ones and their property in the event of bombing. This page from the Daily Mail in early 1939 shows some of the products advertised to the general public as being needed if the bombers came:Many of these products would be of limited use when bombs finally came, but first aid kits were a sensible purchase and although advertised as for ‘ARP’ use, they were also functional for more general accidents round the home. One such first aid kit was the ‘First Aid outfit number 4, which came in a stout cardboard box:A large label was pasted to the front with details of the boxes title, manufacturer etc.:Inside was a variety of first aid supplies:And the underside of the lid had some basic first aid instructions. These have been tailored slightly for ARP use by including advise on treating gas casualties:I am unsure if all the contents of this box are original, or how complete it is, but I suspect it is at least representative of what the outfit originally contained. Amongst other items, the box contains cotton wool, crepe and triangular bandages, a box of Elastoplast brand adhesive plasters, pins, a tin of Vaseline, an eye bath and a thermometer:There is also a small vial of insect repellent which I suspect is not original to the box, but is period so was probably added by the original purchaser.
A wide variety of first aid kits were sold to households in this period, at varying prices and with different contents. Some were far smaller than this set, with just a few bandages and slings, others were far more comprehensive and contained many more items. They were usually sold based on the size of household they were purportedly designed for, but often the retail price was a more pressing factor and a poor family with many children, if they could afford a first aid kit, would have purchased the cheaper sets regardless of the fact that they were marketed as being for a smaller number of people.
Tonight we have another piece of sheet music form the Second World War to look at, this one though has one of the nicest covers I have seen on a piece of music with a wonderful illustration of planes flying over a fleet of battleships:‘Wings Over the Navy’ was a song written for an American propaganda movie about naval flyers called ‘Wings of the navy’ this film was released before the US entered the war and the song became instantly very popular in the UK, its words very much reflecting the mood of a nation at war. What is interesting however is that the words themselves were subtly rewritten for a British audience to reflect the Royal Navy rather than the US Navy. Comparing the words in a section of the piece line by line shows the changes made to the lyrics:
If you ever come to town
And Uncle Sammy offers you a job
Pick out the aviation
When you put your moniker down
Wings over the Navy, wings over the sea,
We’re top o’ the service,
The Navy’s cavalry
High over the oceans
Flying wide and free
The soldiers, sailors
And marines are demons
At eating pork and beans.
Or posing in the magazines.
But we’re the Navy’s eyes.
A sailor is a guy they call a tar
A tars a guy who sails the seas afar
But listen all you country boys, if you ever come to town
And if you want some pips up or a star
Pick out the aviation when you put your moniker down
Wings over the Navy
Wings over the Sea
We’re top of the service
The navy’s cavalry
High over the ocean
Flying wide and free
The soldiers, sailors and marines are demons at pinching all the scenes
Or posing in the magazines
But we’re the navy’s eyes
The Admirals fireflies
We’re sky high riding aeronautical guys
The film the song comes from is today regarded as a middle of the road piece for its era, with some excellent footage of US Naval aviation of the period. Seton Margrave reviewed the film for the Daily Mail in March 1939 when it came out and his comments on the movie were generally favourable:
Now we go up in the air with “Wings of the Navy” at the Warner Theatre.
For the Air Force attached to the American Navy this is a magnificent propaganda and it is also good film drama.
Probably British producers will say again that if such a film were made of the British Fleet Air Arm nobody in the united States would have seen it. Again they will tell us about the apologetic way in which British films creep into the United States and the Anschluss by which American films are shown in Britain.
But the truth is the British film industry has not yet developed a national conscience.
Wings of the Navy is not a big picture, it offers George Brent and Olivia de Havilland perhaps the most harmless parts they have played to date.
The story is the very old one about a nice girl being engaged to one young man and at the same time being in love with his brother. Not that I dislike this story. On the contrary, I have a special grievance against British film producers for not having made it into, what I know, would be the only serious rival in popularity to ‘Smilin’ Through’ by filming Francis Brett Young’s “My Brother Jonathon”.
Wings of the Navy still leaves the way open.
The production is reasonable enough in all respects, but the best of it is the performance put up by the men of the American Naval Air Service.
American naval stations at Pensacola and San Diego have contributed brilliantly to the making of Wings Over the Navy and once again we have a tale of heroism on the part of American airmen without any corresponding film of British airmen in sight.
On 1st June 1942 the government announced that clothing was to be rationed. Men , women and children would get a set number of ration coupons a year that could be exchanged, with money, for different pieces of clothing. Fabric was desperately needed for the war effort so civilian clothing production had to be limited and most people received 66 coupons for a year. Those who already had extensive wardrobes were not too badly affected, but for many people this then created great difficulties in getting enough clothes to last them. A coat required 16 coupons, a jacket 13, trousers eight, a shirt five, shoes seven and underwear eight. This shortage became more acute in 1945 when the number of coupons issued dropped to 45 a year.
The clothing ration book had a red cover, rather than the buff of the food ration book and tonight we have the ration book for a child from 1944/45:The inside of the front cover explains how to use the book:The interior pages had coupons that were clipped out by the retailer, some are brown:Others orange:Further spaces for coupons were printed on both sides of the rear cover:Extra coupons were given for children and they needed less coupons for each garment as they used less fabric, both helpful considering how fast children could grow. The WVS also organised swapping systems to allow clothes that children had grown out of to be handed on to other younger children and replacement garments passed down from older boys and girls who had now grown out of them.
Monica Flook explains how clothing rationing impacted her:
All clothes (expect I think hats) were rationed by coupon, 26 coupons every six months. A fully-lined coat was 18 coupons, a half lined one 15. Stockings were 3 coupons a pair silk, 2 a pair lisle. Even underwear cost coupons. I can’t remember about shoes, whether coupons were required, or their very scarcity was a form of rationing. Large shoe shops like Dolcis and Saxone would open at 9.00 a.m., admit the first say 10 people in the queue, serve them, then shut up shop till the next day. Once I queued in the town centre 3 days running at 8.30 a.m. to get a pair of shoes to wear with my “going-away outfit” after my wedding.
There was one good thing about living in Leicester, it was famous of its manufacture of boots and shoes, and hosiery and knitwear. During the 6 years of war I was lucky enough to get 2 pairs of shoes “off ration” — and not quite on the Black Market. A family friend worked in a shoe factory, and once a pair of shoes in my size had a serious mark in the leather and she was able to buy them for me, as shops wouldn’t accept them. The other time was when another friend’s son, who was unfit for the Services, was learning the shoe trade and he had to make a pair by hand. He provided the leather soles, and uppers were from a blue linen skirt. I was discarding. I didn’t cultivate “friends” just because they were useful, but a third family friend often springs to mind. He was too old for military service, and had a small knitwear factory. He made rolls of “Lock knit”, mostly white but some coloured, and tightly woven 1 inch wide strips which were sewn round cardigans to accommodate the buttons and button holes, or round the necks of men’s pullovers. Occasionally a short piece would have a pulled thread, or it might get slightly soiled by machine oil. These pieces were seized upon by his wife and her friends and her friend’s children and their friends. My sister and I, over time, amassed a few yards of white edging, and some red, some green knitted pieces. Sheer desperation helped us to make a kind of bikini each, hers red, mine green, to take on holiday — and the weather was warm enough in Devon to wear them!
During the Second World War Britain tried to produce as much food at home as it possible could, but in a small island with lots of mouths to feed it would never be possible to be completely self-sustaining. This meant that some food had to continue to be imported and with shipping space needed for munitions and essential war materials anything that could reduce the bulk of food as well as extending its shelf life was used. One of the most notorious of these space saving methods was drying and canning eggs and it is a tin of wartime dried egg we are looking at tonight:This tin was originally gold, with black lettering, but the gold has largely flaked off now. As can be seen from the front, this egg was canned in the USA and the tin holds the equivalent of 12 eggs:An adult was allowed one tin of dried eggs every eight weeks under rationing, costing 1s9d per tin and cooks had to come up with inventive ways to use the product. Instructions on how to prepare the egg are printed on the can and government leaflets also advised how best to use the product:One tablespoon of powder, mixed with two tablespoons of water was equivalent to one egg. The product was clearly at risk of being tainted by strong odours and flavours, so instructions advised storing away from anything with a strong smell:The scale of dried egg production in the US during World War Two was staggering, between 1942 and 1946 the average yearly production of dried egg was 209 million pounds! Despite this the British housewife never warmed to the product and the government spent a lot of time persuading people to use dried eggs. The Ministry of Food was busy encouraging house wives to use the new product and advised:
This dried egg is pure fresh egg with no additions, and nothing but the moisture taken away. It is pure egg, spray dried.
Eggs are a highly concentrated form of food. They contain first class body-building material. They also help us to resist colds and other infection because of their high protective properties.
Eggs are easily digested, and for this reason are especially good for children and invalids.
Dried eggs are just as good as fresh eggs and should be used in the same way. They are very useful for main dishes.Powdered egg could lead to some unusual stories, such as this one related by Win Watson:
There was food rationing of course, but we always had enough to eat, though there were very unpleasant things like dried eggs and dried milk. When I was harvesting once, we girls were taking it in turns to cook and one day we were going to have bacon and dried egg made up into a sort of omelette. The bacon was cooked first, but when the dried egg was put into the pan it began to behave in the most extraordinary fashion. It began to foam, rose up and came over the sides of the pan. It turned out the girl who had been cook thee day before was tidy and had put the soap powder into an empty dried egg tin!
Powdered egg has a shelf life of between 5 and 10 years, so these are well past their sell by date and I for one have no intention of opening them to sample what they taste like after 75 years!
If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you will have realised that I rather like World War One postcards, and they are a regular item on our Sunday night image slot. The number of postcards produced during World War One is quite staggering and they range from the very common to some really rare cards that were produced in tiny numbers. I am an incidental collector of these postcards, I pick them up if I come across them but I am not actively seeking them out. Despite this, reference books are always useful to have and so I was pleased to recently pick up a copy of ‘Til the Boys Come Home, The First World War through its Picture Postcards’ by Tonie and Valmai Holt.This book was first published back in 1977, but a revised edition was released in 2014 by Pen and Sword and it is this copy I have. The book is surprisingly weighty for its size and this is due to the high quality paper used in its printing, this being a necessity in a book with over 700 reproductions of postcards in full colour inside. The quality of reproduction is superb and the selection of images excellent with many rare and unusual cards included from all the belligerent nations of World War One. These images are accompanied by captions for each one and a traditional body text that approaches the Great War thematically. The authors look at topics such as the machines of war, humour, women and the home front and that great love of the era, sentiment. Splitting the book thematically makes a great deal of sense and one of the things that struck me was the similarities and differences between the various nations approach to topics. This is perhaps most apparent in humour with the British publishing self-deprecating humorous cards reflecting on the conditions in the front such as the illustrations by Bruce Bairnsfather and the adaptation of many seaside comic characters to the wartime situation (the large and overbearing wife, the hen pecked husband etc.). By contrast German humorous cards seemed to have a love of toilet humour, bare bottoms and chamber pots!For me however the main problem I had with this book is the dated nature of much of the supporting text. Originally written in the 1970s the book perpetuates the ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ and ‘Mud, blood and Poppycock’ portrayal of World War One. The historiography of the conflict has moved on since then and historians have been increasingly challenging this view of the war with research showing that actually junior officers led their men well and suffered disproportionate casualties as a result whilst Generals were far more innovative and open to new ideas (even if the execution of them was limited) than had been previously believed. If the book was a direct reprint of the original I could accept this far more readily, but the authors make a point of saying that the book has been revised and updated for the Twenty First century and I found some of the supporting text quite jarring.This criticism aside, the book is a wonderful coffee table book that is packed full of illustrations and background information and I have no hesitation in recommending it to collectors of wartime postcards or just those who are interested in how the war was portrayed through one of the most popular mediums of its day. I have certainly learnt a lot from this book and it is currently available from Naval and Military Press for just £4.99, instead of the cover price of £24.99 here.