Robert Putt, who attended Woodbridge High School 80 years ago, is collaborating with the school’s History Department to document his memories of the area. In the third of a series of articles, Robert talks about his memories of rationing
My parents and grandparents both lost their homes in Poplar to bombs and were rehoused in South Woodford. By September 1940, my sister Grace and I had been evacuated from London on two occasions. We now found ourselves living in our fifth house and attending our fifth school in just over a year.
During the war, two hours were added to the day in the spring and removed at the end of October. This was intended to help the farming community, who were under severe pressure to produce more, due to the U-boat blockade the German navy had immediately set up around Britain’s coasts at the outbreak of war.
People were encouraged by the government to dig up lawns and other unused areas of their gardens, and leaflets were sent to every household with instructions on vegetable planting and growth.
Men who had retired from active employment were asked to return to their profession. The school’s teaching staff had been decimated by the demands of war, similar to NHS staff now being called out of retirement. Young men were needed in the armed forces and the Royal Army Educational Corps were the foundation of the country’s intelligence units.
We could handle the war; we had been living with it for almost as long as we could remember. We played in bomb craters that were studded all over the forest, from the Waterworks in the south to the Connaught Water in the north.
In spite of the war, we were safe; bombs were the only danger, and while we boys were oblivious to the reasons for this, the help given to farmers and the self-management of back gardens made the difference between hunger and satisfaction. This national effort continued throughout the war and for some time afterwards, until the generations that survived the conflict had passed on.
Due to the wartime rationing system, nobody went without because everything, from food to furniture, was purchased from coupons taken from our ration books. Rich or poor, it didn’t matter; we were all entitled to the same. By 1945, there were very few overweight people and most of the population were vibrantly healthy.
The coronavirus outbreak may cause some changes in the way we over-shop, treat waste and cause damage to the environment. In 1940, people had access to all our rivers and fields, places to enjoy and exercise in. Most of these areas are now used to over-feed us and pollute the atmosphere.
In 1952, when rationing ended, my grandfather said: “Mark my words, we will be rationed by price now.” Absolutely true, and in less than a year, all the social divides that had existed before the war came back. A lesson for today, perhaps.