A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing my new short story CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A CRUMPET make its debut. I’m particularly pleased with this story about a proper young Boston librarian who makes a tour with a septuagenarian group across England and in the process meets her unique ‘someone’. The story is close to my heart for many reasons, not the least of which is that I spent my honeymoon in the United Kingdom almost thirty years ago. I’ve made a few trips back ‘across the pond’ as they say, and never been disappointed. In the course of putting this story together, since I am primarily grounded in the vintage years of the twentieth century, I kept dipping into first hand accounts of lives lived against the nightmare of World War II. My admiration grew with every story and every personal encounter. Along the way, I picked up a small book entitled MAKE DO AND MEND, a reproduction of the official Second World War instruction leaflets issued by the Board of Trade. The subtitle, Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations, pretty well tells the story. Take a look at what the staunch ladies of the British Isles were doing for the fifteen years rationing was in effect.
1. Cooking — Never light your oven to cook a single dish. With a little planning you can easily prepare an entire meal while the oven is hot, as well as a pudding or tart that can be eaten cold the next day. Turn out burners directly the food is done–it will keep hot in the oven for some time.
2. Bathtub economy– Limit yourself to one hot bath a week. Use a bowl and sponge on other days. Never have the water in the bath more than 5 ins. deep.
3. Your household linen has got to last! Storage–If you have some linen which is not in use, store it away–but not in a hot cupboard and not if it is starched. Wash, mend and air before putting it away. Refold at intervals to prevent wear at the creases. Only store clean linen. When sheets get very thin, turn sides to the middle by cutting them lengthways down the centre, and either oversewing the outside selvedges together or joining them with a run-and-fell seam. Trim away the torn parts of what are now the sides of the sheet. Turn in the edges and hem them. Towels–thin places and small holes can be reinforced by machine darning or by hand darning with soft mending cotton. Large holes should be patched with the sound parts of other old towelling –never use new material. Patches on towels should be tacked in position without the edge of the patch being turned in. These edges should be stitched on to the towel with herringbone or cross-stitch.
4. Knickers ( women’s panties) renewed– One good pair from two old pair–here’s how to manage it. Usually it is the gusset that’s worn–so cut a new gusset from the good side of the second pair. Shape the new gusset, which should then be stitched into place. The raw edges should be cut down and blanket stitched closely on the wrong side to make this as strong as possible.
5. To keep pace with a growing girl– Last year’s yoked frock can be enlarged by unpicking the skirt from the yoke, dropping it to waist level and inserting a contrasting band to make the lower part of the bodice. Use bands of the same colour to enlarge the sleeves. The frock will still be too tight across the chest so insert a contrasting band from the waistline to the neckline.
6. Expecting a baby — A suggested layette
4-5 gowns (material) to be used by day and night, 22-24 inches long, taking up to one and a half yards of 36 inch material each
4 vests (undershirts) woven or knitted
3 matinee jackets (diaper shirts) 2 oz. wool each
3 pairs bootees – 2 oz. wool
2 medium-sized shawls – about 8 oz. wool each
Muslin napkins ( diapers) never buy more napkins than you really need, remember fair shares!
7. Adapting your ordinary clothes for maternity wear – Try to avoid spending coupons on special maternity clothes. Almost all your existing clothes can be altered easily so that you can wear them comfortably until the baby is born, and you can wear them again afterwards. For instance, why not put in an attractive matching or contrasting gathered or pleated panel in the front of the dress?
The leaflets gave advice on everything from mending torn buttonholes and making slippers from cardboard and rags to saving fuel and mending chair seats. I’ll bet today’s recycling supporters could even learn a few things from the economies of the period.
What about your family? Do you remember World War II or have family members who do? Share a story with us, leave a comment, and I’ll be choosing someone to receive an epub of CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A CRUMPET at the end of the day. Love to hear from you. And now that I think about it, all that interesting research suggests another story. Looks like I’m in an England frame of mind.