Seventy years ago today the German Luftwaffe bombed London in what was to be the beginning of months of continuous bombing - 'The Blitz'. The suffering of the civilian population was immense, 43,000 Londoners died and the night skies were filled with the sound of German and British Air Force planes battling it out over the city. Other cities suffered a blitz too, most notably Coventry and Hull.
I’ve been talking to my Mum recently about her war memories. She was a nurse in a hospital in the centre of Hull, which was the second most-bombed city of the war after London, suffering 366 consecutive nights of bombing. Between her shifts Mum slept with dozens of other nurses on straw mattresses on the floor of a converted ballroom, Mum's bed was under the revolving ball. She says she was more terrified of that dropping on her than of being killed by a bomb!
Her most vivid memory is of seeing the Thousand Bomber Raids going overhead to attack Germany. The noise was deafening and the sky was black with planes flying in strict formation almost wingtip to wingtip. Aircraft with engine problems headed back under the outgoing planes at a very low altitude.
Sometime in 1940 my Dad got embarcation leave (they didn’t know each other then) and arrived at Hull Paragon Station just at the start of an air raid. The noise and disruption was everywhere, he had no where to go, didn’t fancy going into a shelter, so he set off with his kit bag to walk the 12 miles home. People were heading out of the city into the fields where they often slept the night - it was quieter and safer there. Children in Hull schools were allowed to sleep during the day because they had often spent the night in the open.
Walking through burning streets Dad was picked up by a bus loaded with people heading out of the city, the conductor stopped the bus because he recognised him. He got home to Hornsea in the early hours of the morning and could still hear the bombing going on back where he had come from.
It’s difficult to imagine the hardships that my parents’ generation went through, although Mum coming from a farm was better off for food than most, because my grandparents were virtually self sufficient. I picked up this copy of Marguerite Patten’s book ‘We’ll Eat Again’ very recently. It’s a treasure house of war time hints and tips.
The thing that struck me most when reading it, was how restricted was the range as well as the quantity of what people ate. Rations varied according to season but here’s a typical ration list from Marguerite.
For an Adult per week
Bacon or ham - 4oz (100g)
Meat to the value of 1s 6d (about 6p)
Butter 2oz (50g)
Cheese 2oz (but vegetarians got 8oz)
Cooking fat - dripping/lard etc 2-4oz
Milk 3 pints plus 1 packet of dried
Preserves 1lb every 2 months (that’s about 1/4 of an ounce per day!)
Eggs 1 fresh per week, plus 1 packet of dried every 4 weeks
Sweets 12oz every 4 weeks.
In addition you had points that you could spend on dried fruit, tinned meat or fish or pulses, 16 points per month bought 8oz lentils. Flour was ‘National Flour’ - which was unrefined and a bit grey and even Marguerite says was ‘a challenge’.
I feel a bit iffy about making something to commemorate a war in which so many people, on both sides, suffered so much, so this is out of massive admiration and respect for all those who had to ‘make do’ in horrible circumstances. Courtesy of Marguerite Patten, of course.
Savoury Semolina Souffle (for 4)
3/4 pint of milk or milk and water
1 small onion grated (or one smallish leek, finely chopped and including as much green as you can)
I dessertspoon chopped parsley
2 oz grated cheese
2 eggs (or reconstituted dried eggs)
2- 3 sliced tomatoes.
S & P
Bring the milk and water to the boil and add the semolina, whisking as you go, add the onion/leek and cook for 10 minutes over a low heat, stirring frequently - it's very thick at this point, but don't worry. Now add the parsley, cheese and eggs and season very well, keep stirring until all is mixed in. Put the tomatoes at the bottom of a greased pie dish and cover with the mixture. Bake for 30 minutes in a moderately hot oven (180c). Serve as soon as cooked.
I saved a tiny knob of cheese from the 2oz and in true wartime spirit mixed it with a few breadcrumbs and sprinkled it on top before baking. Similarly I had no white onions but I did have a few leeks so I substituted one leek for the onion/parsley. I have to say it was delicious - savoury, light but filling and ample for four. We had for Saturday lunch, a meal when I often indulge my other half and make nursery food like corned beef hash and so on..
'Potatoes new, potatoes old
Potatoes in a salad - cold
Potatoes baked or mashed or fried
Potatoes whole, potatoes pied
Enjoy them all including chips
Remembering spuds don’t come in ships!'
Song of Potato Pete - a war time jingle