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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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by swallow

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Peter Faggetter and Peggy Faggetter
Location of story: 
Chaldon, Surrey, Isle of Wight & Devon
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
16 June 2004

Canadian soldiers were billetted in some requisitioned houses in our country village during 1940, and not only were they regarded as local defence troops - due to our regiments having gone to France - they were useful guarding eyes during the Battle of Britain and 'blitz' periods too. More importantly to my skinny little frame was that their lavish cook-house was a mere hundred yards away: here my sister and I would often get a nourishing man-sized feed for they were all good natured and generous chaps. (Thanks).
But regardless of how much I ate, meat was very reluctant to grow on my bones. Right from the earliest days I remained the weedy 'chip' of the four in our family. Unlike my sister and brothers, I looked half starved. This I'm sure influenced the likeable cook with the singing voice for on sighting Peg he instantly broke into his 'Peggy O'Neal was the girl he could steal, etc.', then fill our mess tins to overflowing with luscious rice pudding. Here was the all time 'master' of the paddy grains. First he would fast boil the dixie of rice as if working-up a steam locomotive, then added bags and bags of sugar, tins and tins of thick creamy milk, super custard powder and the fattest and biggest sultanas imaginable. A recipe for a double pot belly and no mistake: even Winston Churchill would have demanded a second helping.

At the age of 14 years I was given into slavery as odd job boy in a high class hotel. The live in job with ten shillings pay proved that - while being under-sized in all dimensions - I was willing, polite, clean, adaptable and respectful. These traits prompted an upgrading ticket to that of boy waiter, and, after some daring cutting and juggling of man-sized trousers and white jacket I was bow tie presentable for the dining room tables. But only just, for, without a lie, most of my entire body (?) could fit into one leg of the black trousers. However, plied in all clownish respects, a useful trade was in the making.

The 'upper crust' hotel was full of mainly elderly ladies whose lavish life-styles ad been shouldered aside for the military to commandeer their houses,hence there was much grumbling and discontent. Some saw no reason for food rationing purely because of a war; and why butter and marmalade of all things. So with their taste buds conditioned to fine foods, much of what the kitchen could come up with was rejected on sight. This meant that I could always eat well enough; and it was common for me to eat five herrings or kippers at a breakfast sitting, plus helpings of scrambled egg made from American powdered eggs. And of course they couldn't eat working-class cod! 'Cod' in astonished tone; or Tripe! What's that??' Following my explanation a scream of shock then scattered the condiments. But the rationing was awful; minimal butter, cheese, sugar and jam - the list was endless, and there was little meat or bacon to dirty a plate not hosting an egg once a week. Fish wasn't rationed; but to them fish meant trout or salmon (never saw one). But one day believe it or not I dip tasted some caviar! Gorgeous... The proprietor was prone to try anything, (being Jewish and rich) but the worst of all was eating the white sour milk cheese that had hung in a cloth bag for a week then placed in a china dish till it was crawling with maggots. Spread on toast, he relished the wriggling mess. Then there was the hare!!, then a pheasant on the move....

Still undersized I volunteered for the army when reaching 171/2 years. Sportingly they accepted my 8 stone with pitiful looks but no quibble and January 1945 saw my bones clad in khaki for parade ground bashing. By joining early one would avoid being called up to work in the 'Bevan boys' coal mines - a very daunting prospect in dirty Welsh hills. Besides I was wanting my share of the Big Show and wherever that might take me. I'd certainly get paid and fed with better than civvy rations and hopefully see my way into the incomparable sky.

Into April and May in the Isle of Wight our training took us frequently onto Brighstone downs. It was here that we learned that War with Germany was over, for instead of normal tea and sandwich picnic on dusty grass, the lorry turned up with bread and butter and boxes of sardines! I've never seen so many tins of sardines in oil, and we could help ourselves to all we wanted. Well, with tinned food rationed for many years - and rarely seeing the tasty sardines - I ate three tins and put four in my pack for later. I'd known all along that food was being hoarded in great dumps around England, and now as if to prove me right we can have our fill. There had even been a food 'dump' in a wood of our Surrey village early in the WAR: it was suddenly there as it were; a secret, see. But we got to know about it, and while everybody was half-starved of goodies the great piles grew and grew. The country could hve survived on the hoarded food for several years if Germany ad completely cut the sea supplies.
But now with the Continent liberated, and starving, the food had to be shared and stretched; so the rationing would have to continue. The long suffering people had to make do with shortages.

A few months after the sardines hand out our company was on live firing exercises on Dartmoor. It was a bit cool due to autumn November but I was one of a few who remained within the hutted camp for, due to my hotel waiter past, I and a cook operated the Officers mini Mess. So while they all played with guns and bullets and grenades out in the cold we were having it cushy indoors with spoons and forks and cooking food. Lovely life. Towards the end of our short Devon excursion our officer in charge took a pair of lorries and explosives to blow the doors off a Royal Navy food depot/dump they had found while training. He had plenty of supporters that I do know, and the lorries came back stacked out with boxs of tinned food for a great share out. Strangely enough the load consisted solely of Australian tinned peaches, and tinned pilchards of unknown origin. But what the hell, it was time to unload the lorries and get tucked into the luscious peaches. I know I had five tins of fruit and several of the fish, the first for many years.
The next day we heard the police knew the culprits of the moorlands felony and would be coming to retrieve. Some hope! I was already fully stuffed and feeling pot-bellied peeky, and like the rest, I was digging some in till the blue peril be departed. It was agreed that we'd collectively accept involvement and that we were sorry, and hand in a remaining tin to prove it. (Not me)

Duly the policeman sitting in a hut questioned each of us in turn as he wrote down our names and number in a long growing list. 'And how many tins did you have, and how many still in your possession, he then asked. 'None - look!!' I said, lifting my shirt to show the peach pregnancy. Still smiling he wrote down something in what looked like four letters (Liar?), then dismissed me. Of course there was much laughter going on as you can imagine for we all knew that only our officers would get their knuckles rapped. Although perhaps a Courts Martial for the Major? Whatever, we never heard anything more of the business, and my sailors tucker resurfaced in due course to celebrate its deserved liberation from the Dartmoor prison.


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