The BBC (produced with The Open University) have got another great programme on at the moment, Wartime Farm, and we’re now halfway through the 8 episodes.
In a nutshell, historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn turn the clock back to run Manor Farm in Hampshire exactly as it would have been during the Second World War. They face one of the biggest challenges ever seen in the history of the British countryside - what Churchill called ‘the frontline of freedom’. Alongside of this we learn about what was happening in the war effort through the years.
The story so far…
The first episode found them modernising the farmhouse, having to abide by strict new rules and air raid precautions to contend with. They started by reclaiming land to grow new crops; Peter worked with a blacksmith to design a special 'mole plough' to help drain the waterlogged clay fields; and Ruth and Alex had to conquer a troublesome tractor - and ploughed all night to get the wheat crop sown in time.
They've explained that during World War II farmers were tasked with the huge job of doubling food production, but their detailed knowledge of the landscape also made them ideal recruits for one of the war’s most secret organisations – the ‘Auxiliary Units’, a British resistance force trained to use guerrilla tactics against German invasion – and as with all the secret work during the war, couldn’t even tell their loved ones if they were enlisted (who knows, perhaps my grandparents did this?).
Since then they’ve formed a pig club with neighbours (pooling their scraps to feed a pig which they’ll eventually share the meat from), had to house evacuees and their children (which included Ruth making feather eiderdowns by sewing cloth feather “packets” and then attaching them together), gathered rose hips to make a syrup for the vitamin c due to fruit being so scarce, had a wartime dance, and a wartime Christmas (including "murkey") and many others, even making roof tiles.
Last week they faced a WWII-style government inspection, which could have seen the farm taken off them, though luckily with some changes, including starting to breed rabbits, growing flax, and producing more milk, they were classified as a ‘B’ farm.
This Thursday, they will learn about how farmers coped with material shotages in 1942 as attacks by German U-boats on British ships dramatically reduced imports to the UK. I can’t wait to see more.
The reason I love this series is twofold: firstly I love learning more about the wartime and the “make do and mend” that they all had to cope with;
but mostly I love it because my Poppa (grandfather) was a farm worker who when he tried to enlist was told that they needed him more working in the fields!
He and my Grandma would have lived just like they’re recreating in this series (although they had 3 children during wartime so it would’ve been even harder I should think making their rations go further). It’s not only giving me a wonderful insight into what their lives would’ve been like, but it’s also made me feel so proud of them and what was a true contribution to the war, and growing up I don’t think I really understood this side of things before. This programme is making me realise how important they were in the war effort, and what a struggle things really were for them!
If you're in the UK you can get a free booklet too
I can't recommend this programme enough for a glimpse of the struggle and amazing job those on farms did during the war. They’ve even published a book, available via Amazon. x