Food for Thought – Kent through World War Two

Spring of 2020 will be remembered, by many of us, as a time when the World slowed down, and everyday life, all the things we normally take for granted are suddenly viewed in a completely different way.  Among many other things, our thoughts may well have turned to managing our food. Fewer visits to the shops, some shortages, and, that something within us which makes us step up to the mark and ‘make do and mend’  Maybe a little like our mothers and grandmothers before us, we turn to our store cupboards, old recipe books and our imagination, and from what I see from my friends and colleagues’ offerings, we are doing a grand job.

One of my guided tours follows some of the events which took place in World War Two.  Kent was certainly no stranger to being at the forefront of defense of this nation, when, in June 1940, after the Evacuation of Dunkirk,  Dover became the new frontline. France was occupied by German forces and Calais was just 21 miles away across the English Channel. During these times, Dover, with every reason, was described as Hellfire Corner.  Sir Winston Churchill, our wartime Prime Minister, told us ‘The Battle for France is over – The Battle of Britain is about to begin’  Never had he said a truer word, for in the late summer and autumn of 1940, The Battle of Britain was fought in the skies above the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. 

As we explore and discuss those times, we have, on more than one occasion been fortunate enough to see a Spitfire fly past with that tip of the wings in salute, which stirs emotions in those of us watching from below.

Talking to older residents here, I have heard how they, as children, might have paused to watch the aircraft overhead, before heading home to tea, and that tea would have most certainly been the result of the rationing which started on 8th January 1940 when bacon, butter and sugar were rationed followed by many everyday foods.

I wonder whether Woolton Pie ever appeared on a menu here ?  A vegetarian dish comprising garden vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, turnips and so on, topped with a pastry crust, or dollops of mashed potatoes.

My father flew Lancaster Bomber Planes, and was eventually shot down and taken as a prisoner of war, in fact in Stalag Luft 3, which has become known for its escape plots. Whilst there he kept a Wartime Log with many notes and memories. He must have been feeling very hungry as he wrote often of food, saving recipes from other POWs.   Hard for me to imagine just how hungry he was to find the following two recipes worth noting:

Kriegie Flapjack           

Dreaming of fishing and a pint of beer – from Dad’s Wartime Log

Soak Canadian Red Cross biscuits in milk or hot water until soft.  Drain off water.  Deep fry (if possible) Eat this way as an entree or can be served as a dessert if spread with jam, honey, or syrup

Goon Welsh Rarebit
Make as normal, that is to melt the cheese with marge, add salt, pepper and milk.  Simmer til mixed and creamy. Serve on Goon bread.  Bread should be toasted with plenty of marge allowed to soak in.  Bread may be fried.  If one should be unfortunate enough to use Goon cheese and English marge together, the mixture should be covered with pepper, and cooked in the open, and served and eaten in a strong cross wind !

Back on the homefront, I rather think that country folk were more fortunate with the food supplies.  In cities, parks and gardens were turned over to food production, and allotments allocated to those without gardens, as far as possible, and slogans like ‘Dig for Victory reminded us that if we grew our own food we would be doing our part for the war effort.  In the countryside, farmers were helped by the Land Girls, those women conscripted to work on the land during these war years. Here in Kent, The Garden of England, people would have been relying on a good harvest of apples, pears and plums, and without such luxuries as bananas and oranges, the cherries would have been a welcome sight in the early summer.

There are many wonderful itineraries which, in a guided, tour we can imagine what life might have been like here in Kent in those days.  We can perhaps visit the wonderful Jackdaw Inn, used as a setting for the famous Battle of Britain film, The Jackdaw showcases a variety of Spitfire memorabilia, as well as offering an extensive menu (without our having to worry about the rationing)  A particular favourite of mine is the Cat and Custard Pot, in a small country village once frequented by the pilots and other personnel who were stationed at the nearby Hawking Battle of Britain Airfield.

Looking forward to exploring the sights and sounds of those days of the ’40s and visiting some of the museums, memorials, festivals and events including the Secret Wartime Tunnels under Dover Castle.  We might not see any bluebirds but we will keep our fingers crossed for blue skies, and I promise … no Goon cheese.

Notes: Wartime RAF language perhaps but Kriegie refers to POW and Goon to the German Guards.

Woolton Pie image:  autumnroseuk – Woolton pie, CC BY 2.0,

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