9. CAN I SERVE YOU NOW SIR?... Food in Wartime Farnborough - Part 1
Wartime memories of Farnborough Kent children


by John Riches. 2004.

Before the Second World War amazingly half the population of Great Britain suffered from some form of malnutrition. Boils, sores, rickets and other disorders caused by a poor diet were commonplace. One of my earliest memories is of my Grandfather – a farm worker all his life – sitting in front of the fire at his home 36 High Street, piercing the lid of a tin of condensed milk to pour some of the oversweet gooey liquid in his tea. Tinned milk was far cheaper for poor families than the real thing that was produced in the milking parlour of Chapman’s Farm within 30 yards of where he sat. My Mum had read reports that fresh milk was much better for growing children than the canned variety and came to an arrangement with the cowman “Ginger” that we should have a daily jug of fresh milk passed straight from the milking parlour over the hedge into the garden of 3 Prospect Place (Now 12 Pleasant View Place). It was only the scares about people becoming infected with tuberculosis from milk and our government’s insistence that it should be pasteurised, that ended that happy practice.

The Ration Book of William T Curd  1870-1963. The stamps of Matthews the butcher and Wray's Stores show the names of the local retailers where Mr Curd obtained his meat, fats, cheese, bacon and sugar.  He received an allocation of meat for his chickens in lieu of an egg ration - hence the blank.  Photo provided by Mr Arthur Curd.

Surprisingly, as the war progressed, the diet of ordinary Farnborough people improved considerably. We all had ration books in those days giving us a weekly entitlement of 8 ounces of sugar, 2 ounces of butter, 6 ounces of margarine, 2 ounces of tea and meat to the value of one shilling, plus two pennyworth of corned beef. Unlike today when you can draw money out at the pub, buy petrol at the grocers or groceries at the garage, those were the days, before supermarkets had been invented, when there were lots of small specialist shops in Farnborough. My Mum bought most of our grocery rations from Mr Cecil Follett who owned the small shop at the bottom of Pleasant View. I was often sent to see Old Pottlebelly as he was nicknamed irreverently by his wife, to get the week’s supply of butter. As the shop had no electricity and thus no refrigerator, Mr Follett would go down into his cool cellar to bring up a half-pound slab of butter. Its pack was marked with lines dividing it into four, two-ounce sections. He would solemnly cut off six ounces from the pack, weigh it and then place a small piece of greaseproof paper over the open end. Some of our neighbours bought their groceries at Wrays Stores by Farnborough Green that is now an Estate Agent. There, the butter still came in large pats and Mr Wray, my friend Paul’s Dad, would ceremonially slice a piece of butter from the slab, weigh it and then shape it with wooden pats. Then with a final flourish he would make a patterned impression on the pack with a wooden seal, before wrapping the butter carefully in greaseproof paper. There were no plastic bags in those days. Other neighbours went all the way to Palmerston Road for their groceries claiming the shop there was better.
  We bought our meat from Mr Wallis the butcher whose shop was close to the present day post office. Mum would often send me down the village to get some best end of neck of mutton to make a stew. Old Mr Wallis was fascinating to watch. He was truly ambidextrous and would lift down a carcass of a sheep from the hooks that lined the tiled walls of the shop, cut down to the bone with a knife held in his right hand and then chop through the bone with a cleaver held in his left.

He wrapped the meat in newspaper and then yelled the price to Gladys the cashier who sat in a wooden kiosk taking the money and answering the candlestick style telephone with the refrain, “Farnborough 4, Wallis Butchers.”  His sons Bill and Fred ably helped Mr Wallis at times. Some neighbours went to Matthews Butchers closer to Farnborough Green – a shop that closed only comparatively recently.

Each month we had 16 food points to spend as we wished. This system invented by the Germans meant that you could go into any shop in the village to buy baked beans, tinned fruit, spam, or anything else that you fancied. They were all marked with their cost in both points and shillings and pence. Mothers hoarded food for a rainy day and when the war in Europe eventually ended in 1945, tinned fruits and jellies mysteriously appeared on the tables at the street parties that celebrated VE Day in Pleasant View and throughout the village.

The delicious smell of baking bread wafted from Mr Moule’s New Bakery by the 1st Farnborough Scout hut and from Wicken’s bakery in the Square adjoining the car park of ye Olde George and Dragon. More discerning people claimed that Batchelors bakery at Locks Bottom produced better loaves but we never bothered to find out if that was true. Although bread was never rationed during the war, lots of people lamented the demise of white bread and the substitution of brown.

The sweet and tobacconist shop kept by Scotsman Mr Tasker opposite The Woodman had closed shortly after the outbreak of war. But there were other places for we children to spend our personal points and obtain a very small monthly sweet ration. The decision was tortuous. Should we, on our way to school up Starts Hill, visit what we called The End Shop close to Farnborough Green kept by sisters Maud and Ivy Waller? We always tried to buy our sweets when Maud was serving, as she was always cheerful and ready to chat. We tried to avoid Ivy who appeared glum and found difficulty making small-talk with young children. Or should we wait until after school and go “down the village” to Mr Frederick Wiffen’s sweetshop and tobacconist – a shop that has thankfully lasted until this very day? Fred Wiffen was somewhat intimidating! Children would quietly open the door to his shop to be greeted with a brusque “What da ya want?” There was a huge array of large glass bottles arrayed in shelves behind his counter. Some contained sweets from which you had to make your choice. He would carefully lift down your requested acid drops or mint humbugs, scoop some out with a special little trowel and place them in a polished weighing machine.  Then when he had accurately weighed up two ounces he would slide the sweets into a conical white paper bag and then twist the top with a well-practiced flourish and thrust them into your hand.

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