Home Front Trials & Two women whinging

This presentation was first designed for Colchester’s ‘Through the Ages’ event at St Botolph’s Priory – adjacent to the railway station of the same name which was the town’s main wartime evacuation point…

Undertaken with my much younger colleague, Sarah Gilkes, it draws much on the wartime memories and experiences of my mother and her grandmother respectively.

Each one of our (up to) six sessions is given as a short stand alone piece by two moaning women equipped with garden chairs, shopping baskets or other appropriate articles: as the day progresses so can the course of the Second World War.

To offer all six topics does need a long event day at a venue that is not too crowded! Visitors may otherwise feel hurried along to the next session without the chance to talk with us or to share their own real memories and experiences.

Each session may begin with a brief introduction in first person character before inviting the audience ‘in’ to a more conventional third person conversation. Discussion, with show and tell, continues between timed sessions – always allowing for our necessary set dressing and quick changes…

Alternatively, a whole day’s presentation can be given on just one of our Home Front themes whether tailored particularly to venue, time of year or age group of visitors.

Using facsimile documents and with both original and replica objects we explore the impact of world events on aspects of life on the Home Front – and look at changing attitudes and aspirations:

Summer 1939: The Phoney War & Evacuation

Two women Whinging

We use the lessons of the ‘practice run’ of 1938 to provide instructions – and even recruit suitable volunteers – to support the mass evacuation of 1 – 3 September 1939.

We’re happy to process accompanied under fives, school age parties and will ruthlessly scout out and persuade pregnant women to join the exodus…

Copy of Evac papers prepared1

As well as advising from replica information posters and leaflets we can supply parents or teachers with authentic packing lists, including assembly instructions, and then proceed to help to fill out identity labels.

We were fortunate to find photographs of one of the labels used for schoolchildren evacuated from St Botolph’s Station just next door to the Priory. Those shown here are exact enough copies to stir memories for older visitors…

Evacuation Papers

Dunkirk & After: The Blitz & Fur Coats for Fire Watchers

Air Raid Precuations

Air raid precautions are considered – with visitors welcome to read facsimiles of manuals for householders, first aid advice and instructions for after a raid.

Firewatching was made compulsory early in 1941 – and offered the only opportunity many women would ever have for wearing a fur coat (though fur side in!) when these were collected for use on freezing rooftop watches.

Fire Duty

Duties and tasks are described for all to pull together: Practical activities include the correct use of a broom to clear each section of a street of glass and debris (and prevent punctures to precious tyres) and learning to aim the jet from a stirrup pump effectively at the base of a fire.

Stirrup Pump

On the Ration: Home Cooking & A Guide to Points Shopping

Home Front

We explore the introduction of rationing for both food and clothing and explain the intricacies of points shopping off the ration. The weekly food allowance for an adult can be laid out on an alarmingly small tray; useful and nourishing recipes are discussed. A haybox for fuel free cooking is currently under construction…

Tips are also offered on pooling resources (and – for those of less tender sensibilities – hints on how to make the best of ‘unwanted’ coupons…)

Good eating

The Yanks Are Coming: Over Here – Tap pants and Yankee Bags

American goods

Arriving US troops were issued with a booklet that explained British ways, stray copies of which caused gentle amusement to their hosts – read our copy and see what you think! GIs also received charts explaining our non-decimal money so we have plenty of suitable coins for handling and impromptu sums.
American women were encouraged to send ‘Bundles for Britain’ which often included wildly fashionable clothes such as wide legged tap pants; American soldiers brought strange and exotic goods. The women who were keenest to accept both were often known as Yankee Bags…

Toward D-Day: It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow?

The long struggle toward D-Day required absolute commitment from the civilian population and almost every week brought a new campaign: War savings versus the Squander Bug; salvage drives that saw the dismantling of iron railings and collection of aluminium saucepans; shelves stripped of books to pulp for paper; make do and mend becoming an art.

Above all, everyone dug for victory to grow more food in Britain.

Communal effort also made many people question pre-war society and strictures…

Explore some of these schemes and campaigns with us.

Propaganda posters

Victory in Europe: Street Parties & Jobs for the Boys

Victory in Europe

Relief at the end of hostilities in Europe was tempered by concerns for future reconstruction and the shock of increased rationing.
Many women who had worked and fought fully in the war effort were horrified to be pushed out of their jobs to make way for returning men – or to find their children’s nursery schools had disappeared over a weekend… A really major whinge for both of us.
Here we break out the sherry and try to look as cheerful as possible!

Though sometimes…

Just One Woman – or beyond Make Do & Mend!

Identity card

When either Sarah or I work on our own this is a presentation that segues swiftly into a craft demonstration and/or other hands on activities: Depending on the theme or flavour of an event visitors may try their hand at suitable tasks to occupy the kiddies through long hours in the shelter – perhaps help make a heater from a flower pot; develop skills in bandage rolling or even learn to knit.

For the curious the contents of a wartime handbag can be explored, the more energetic can still enjoy training on the stirrup pump

Making bandages

Our solo Home Front presentations particularly explore aspects of the Wartime philosophy of adapting, adopting and simply ‘making do’ – perhaps in leading an experimental darning activity or by showing how to make a little girl’s dress from a picnic tablecloth… (Recent projects have included ‘An Austerity Christmas’ and springtime ‘Dig for Victory’ activity)

There are also many parallels with our own times: Wartime strictures prompt the question ‘Is Your Journey Necessary?’ to prefigure current concerns about carbon footprint; conservation of water returns as a topic for us; wartime exhortations to save kitchen waste for local council retrieval clearly echo our modern composting collections.

Homefront Games Workshop Activities (use the link to see more ideas on our Games page)
These can include many traditional toys and games from earlier periods but also incorporate the make do and mend/all pull together ethos of the wartime Homefront (or recessionary times!): A wind spiral can be cut to deter birds from allotment crops (works in the 21st century garden, too…), waste or brown paper decorations made, a WWII take on optical illusions explored, whirligigs made with old buttons or fiendish tangram puzzles created and solved. Wherever possible visitors can make a simple toy, or receive a template/ instructions to keep and take away.

The Camera Obscura – A Fundraiser:

Whether as a straightforward exhortation to follow Government advice, to purchase War Bonds or as an incentive to one of the many Wartime initiatives – Paper Salvage, Swill for Pigs, Dig for Victory, Sponsor a Spitfire or Furcoats for Firewatchers perhaps? – the Camera Obscura could do its bit!

A useful and popular fundraiser as part of your Home Front event…

If you would like to see more details of our multi-period optics presentation click on the highlighted link to see our full Eye Magic! show.

Camera Obscura