Wartime Farm (2012) s01e01 Episode Script

Episode 1

In September 1939, Britain stood on the brink of the Second World War.
To avoid defeat, one battle would become more important than any other.
The battle to produce food.
Two-thirds of Britain's food was imported, and now it was under threat from a Nazi blockade.
To feed the nation an agricultural revolution of epic proportions was needed to at least double home-grown food production.
Churchill called the farms of Britain "the front line of freedom".
Now, historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn are turning the clock back.
We're about to embark on the greatest challenge ever faced by British agriculture - the Second World War.
Over the next year, they'll work Manor Farm in Hampshire as it would have been during the Second World War.
Onward, march! Come on.
Quick march.
Here the team will relive the struggle of wartime farmers to maximise food production The plough really had become a weapon of war.
cope with shortages - Whoa! - That is a bit of kit.
experience social revolution in the countryside and protect and defend the south coast from the threat of invasion.
Four men, evidence of explosives.
This is the untold story of the countryside at war.
Oh! If you can't find it, grind it, as they say.
In 1939, Britain's farmers prepared for war.
Now Alex, Ruth and Peter are on their way to their new farm in Hampshire.
A few miles in from the South Coast, near the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth, during the war, this was the front line against the Nazis.
Like troops, farmers too were being mobilised.
So important was their job to the nation's survival that farming would become a reserved occupation exempt from military conscription.
60% of our food was being imported.
It's just so easy for the Germans to cut off the supply.
A ring of U-boats surrounding the British Isles, effectively starving us to death.
Suddenly, all the overseas food on which Britain so depended was in jeopardy.
German U-boats and warships threatened to destroy convoys transporting supplies across the Atlantic.
To make things worse, farming in Britain had been in recession since the end of the First World War and now they'd have to double production.
This is probably one of the greatest challenges that British agriculture had ever faced.
Absolutely.
How to turn it round after 20 years of neglect, and a re-investment in the countryside.
But the main thing - we've got a new team member.
Isn't that right, Henry? All right in the back there, Henry? - He's going to make all the difference.
- He most certainly will.
- There you go.
- It's really pretty.
- What a farm.
- Beautiful, isn't it? This is Manor Farm, eight miles from Southampton, which they will work on for the coming year.
Handing over the keys is farm manager David Trenchard.
- Hello, David.
Alex.
- Alex.
- Ruth.
Hello.
- Pleasure.
- Fantastic farm you've got here.
That's right.
You wouldn't find a more typical Hampshire farm than this.
- Where's our first port of call? - We'll start in the yard and look at the stock.
Lead on.
Manor Farm was typical of the 1930s.
Cheap cereal crops imported from the United States and Canada meant British farmers could no longer compete, so instead of growing crops, they concentrated on livestock.
- Ah, the pigs.
- These are the pigs, yes.
We keep two breeds on the farm at the moment.
We keep saddlebacks and this is a middle white.
A good old pig for your sausages and everything else.
- They are a rare breed.
- Really? Good girl.
Good girl.
There you go.
Have that.
- Here's your girls.
- Here's our girls.
You can tell they're milkers.
Yeah.
Very good milkers.
We've got a Guernsey, a Jersey and an Ayrshire there.
Right.
This close to Southampton there's definitely going to be a market for milk.
Yeah.
This is our milking parlour.
- Wow.
- Hey! That's a modern milking machine.
Cups for the teats.
It's such a reduction in labour.
We have modernised.
This really is the 1939 state-of-the-art milking parlour.
You don't have to sit on that stool every morning, spending 20 minutes milking a cow now.
Before the war, Manor Farm also had beef cattle, sheep, workshops petrol-powered farm equipment and nearby, a wartime village hall.
Oh, look at these.
Dance Mania Foxtrot.
Wow.
Old gramophone records.
The One I Love - A Fox Trot.
We're definitely between the two wars here, aren't we? This must have been ringing, this place.
Such a popular thing to do during the war, dancing.
Judging by the state of this place it was an awesome party.
We've got this fantastic archaeological record here, haven't we, of life during the war.
Absolutely.
At the heart of the farm is a row of cottages.
Here, Alex, Peter and Ruth will experience wartime domestic life.
Ah, the kitchen.
- Let's have a look.
- Nice light.
- It's a local stove.
- It's tiny.
How am I supposed to manage with that? This coal cooking range dates from well before the First World War.
By the 1930s, they were being superseded by cleaner and more efficient cookers.
Look, I'll show you what I want.
I've been looking.
See? That's what I want.
- Gas is it? - No, it's an electric cooker.
There's gas cookers and electric cookers going in like crazy all across Britain.
It's clean, takes far less work, and the government is saying that with war coming we know we'll need coal for other things.
Electricity is much more efficient.
It's encouraging people to move over to electric cooking.
So, the lady gets a new cooker because it's all part of the war effort.
Yeah.
I'm really looking forward to bringing this place back to life, and seeing what it was like, living in rural Britain during the Second World War.
Wartime in many people's minds is all about guns and aeroplanes and tanks and young men in uniform.
But it's also a period in which the British countryside and British country people really came back into their own.
Timber! The farmers had to produce food and provide accommodation for a huge section of the population.
It was an enormously important part of the war effort.
I do think that sometimes it gets forgotten.
This is an opportunity to explore an untold history.
Here we've got a very different battle being fought.
A battle, really, for food.
That untold story is one I'm just thrilled to be exploring.
Even before war was declared the government anticipated that a German blockade would drastically reduce food imports so Britain would have to feed itself.
To do so, farmers would have to increase their harvests.
Over there we've got dockdale coppice The government set up War Agricultural Executive Committees in every county to drive through these changes.
Known as War Ags they had the power to tell farmers what fields to plough up.
So Alex and Peter are surveying the farm's 30 acres to see how it can be done.
- So this is Manor Farm here.
- Yep, that's the farm.
And we're bound by the River Hamble here, coming round in this horseshoe shape.
All of these fields round here would relate to Manor Farm.
Of course, the majority of this land was all being used for rearing livestock.
But using land for livestock production was not the most efficient way of feeding the nation.
It's a simple principle really.
Instead of growing all of this feed to feed animals to slaughter to then feed people, why don't you grow the feed and feed the people directly? It's a much more economic way of feeding.
You lose a lot of that calorific value from the original food by putting it through livestock before you feed people.
1939 war breaks out.
You had months to get around your farm, as we'll be doing, and looking at the fields and saying, "That - wheat.
That - beans.
That - barley.
" - That's what we're going to have to do.
- We are.
Over the six years of conflict, the War Ag instructed farmers to grow an extra 6.
5 million acres of crops.
A total area bigger than Wales.
Many farmers were ill-equipped for this monumental challenge as they didn't have the machinery or suitable land.
Welcome to the badlands.
If I were a potter I could make my fortune here.
It is beautiful, beautiful clay.
But at the moment this clay is a hindrance.
The water sits on it.
If we attempted to grow crops here, they'd be ruined.
We need to find some way of draining this sitting water and then we'll be able to grow a fantastic crop.
According to the map, it dips away towards a brook in the bottom of the field.
So I am worried about sitting water.
In this field they've decided to grow wheat used to produce bread.
I've got a leaflet here, Peter.
This is what the Ministry have furnished me with.
Mole drainage for heavy land.
What the War Ag is recommending is the use of a mole subsoiler.
Essentially, it's deep cultivation.
It's like a little torpedo that is dragged through the soil at a depth of what, Peter? Just over a foot.
A foot to a foot and a half.
It's got to be deeper than the ploughing.
Traditionally, farmers had drained fields with hand-dug ditches and clay pipes but using a mole subsoiler was much quicker and cheaper and used extensively during the war.
13, 14, 15 First they need to survey the field to find out which way it slopes.
It might look obvious to start with but I can see already that we've got a dip in there.
There's a danger that if we drained all the way down to this point, even if we drain through it, we'd still get a build up of water in this area.
As archaeologists, surveying is second nature to Alex and Peter.
Yep.
There.
Perfect.
Just work down a little bit.
- Here? - Yeah.
That's what? Five feet seven? About 5'6".
5'6".
There we go.
OK, Alex.
Shall we do another line? Knowing the lay of the land, they can work out where to use the mole subsoiler to make underground drainage channels.
Doubling food production put enormous demands on labour so women were drafted to work on the land.
This made it important to reduce housework by modernising the kitchen.
Ruth's called on expert in household technology Dr Karen Sayer.
Oh, you've caught me.
I'm still cleaning.
Come on in.
Sorry.
- That's fine.
- I'm absolutely filthy.
Lovely to see you.
Good to see you too.
I've found this fantastic picture in my book here about furniture and how to lay out the home.
And that, that's exactly what I had in mind.
We've got electric cookers, you've got your kitchenettes.
It's a modern, new kitchen, ready.
I'm going to have to disappoint you a little bit.
Oh.
The kitchenette is fine.
But the electric cooker is going to be a big problem.
- Do you have mains electricity? - No.
Not the mains.
The fact that we're not on the grid, was that common for farms? Absolutely.
The majority of farms were not on the grid.
In 1939, just one in ten rural houses had mains electricity.
But there was an alternative.
A portable, petrol-powered generator.
Philip Everson has brought one along.
- Goodness.
You got it going.
- Yes.
Hopefully now we can have some light.
That looks like you're about to restart Frankenstein.
It would probably do that as well.
First of all we should have lights.
- Oh, wow! - Wow! This is a 50-volt set.
It runs 50 volts and up to 1,000 watts.
It's what you'd call a cottage lighting plant.
You've run the engine during the day to charge a set of batteries up.
When they were fully charged, you'd put the lights on at night so you'd have light without listening to the engine.
You'd use the engine to charge the batteries.
That's a doable thing.
We could use it to light a workshop, we could light the house.
Absolutely, yep.
And were there a lot of these about? They made these engines from 1926 up until 1964.
The basic engines they made a quarter of a million of them.
They were one of the most successful small-power engines ever made in the UK.
They were almost impossible to kill.
You could work them and abuse them and they still came back for more.
The farmers loved them.
Before they can sow the wheat the team need a mole subsoiler to improve the drainage.
But low incomes during the agricultural depression meant farmers didn't have the money to buy equipment.
So, like farmers of the time, Peter must improvise by calling on the services of a blacksmith like Simon Summers.
This is essentially a bullet-shaped piece of iron that gets dragged through the ground.
It leaves in its wake a channel.
Basically like a pipe without any piping.
You want a solid bit of iron.
You want some strength there.
Serious strength.
This is quite an undertaking.
In 1939, scrap metal was going to the war effort for armaments production, resulting in shortages.
That looks like the base of a seed drill.
There's some good wheels on that.
The blacksmith, whose craft had long been in decline, now found himself once more in demand.
There's an adjustable linkage there.
That could go onto the tractor.
He had the skill to make do and mend, turning rusty metal into new machines.
The thing I'm most concerned about is the actual lump of metal that has to get dragged through the ground.
That's iron, that is.
That's wrought iron that shaft is, yeah.
- That's pretty thick.
- It's good-quality iron, this.
Henry, we're looking for iron, not potatoes.
In the forge, Simon begins the process of transforming the scrap iron axle into a brand-new mole.
That's it.
Now we're going to put it back in the fire.
The first job is to make a bullet-shaped nose on the mole so it can be pulled easily through the clay soil.
This is where the sledge comes in.
You're going to follow my pattern.
You tell me where to hit and I hit it.
OK.
We're just driving this in to cut a slot.
We've got to be very careful because it's so hot.
Simon has to keep cooling the tool, otherwise it'll get stuck in there and we'll forge the two together.
That's perfect.
Once the fields have been drained with Peter's mole subsoiler, they'll be returned to bare earth by ploughing.
But Alex has spotted another problem.
You can't plough a field when it's got a big, thick sward, a thick grass on the top of it.
It just doesn't work.
You've got to have it eaten down so it's almost like a carpet.
To do this, Alex is calling on the beef cattle, reared by Debbie Underwood.
So you've built up a real rapport with this herd.
This one we've had since she was two weeks old.
- Really? - I used to pick her up and carry her round.
- I don't do that any more.
- I can imagine.
She's like a lovely soppy Labrador.
This is Abigail.
Isn't she gorgeous? Come on, then.
But back then this herd would have faced an uncertain future.
You would have had farmers pretty much like Debbie here who had grown up with cattle all their life.
But with war looming and this desire to grow more cereals, the Ministry of Agriculture wasn't going to reward farmers who kept beef cattle.
Come on.
It will take the cattle about three weeks to graze this grass, ready for ploughing.
This is my new kitchenette.
I'm so pleased with this.
Ruth and Karen are furnishing the kitchen with labour-saving devices.
Isn't it lovely? A lovely enamelled surface.
- Easy to wipe down for your pastry preparation.
- Absolutely perfect.
All your food storage all cleanly tidied away.
It's great, isn't it? With the generator finally connected up, Ruth has electric light in the cottage.
Fantastic.
Ooh.
Hopefully she'll have better luck with the radio.
Whoops.
This is how you're going to get all the news of current affairs and what's happening, particularly as you go further into the war.
The newspapers had to be cut down incredibly.
Sometimes they're only four sides at a time.
So the best way of finding out exactly what's going on This really is your connection with the wider world.
Absolutely.
Electricity also meant new labour-saving gadgets.
Oh! Now we're talking.
The perfect appliance to make your life so much easier.
Traditionally, an iron was a piece of flat metal heated on a coal range.
Now they were replaced by ones you could simply plug in.
- So it's a bayonet like a bulb.
- A bayonet exactly like a bulb.
That's it.
Wow! How much faster is that? That's not only fast but that's so clean.
You don't have to worry about smuts getting on your laundry.
Small generators weren't capable of powering large appliances, though, like electric cookers.
But there was a modern, convenient replacement for the coal range.
Paraffin stoves.
They're supposed to be freestanding.
No plumbing in, no fixing to anything.
It's just a little stand-alone box.
This is the way forward.
This is modernity.
So it's just a series of flat paraffin lamps.
- This is nothing new, is it? - It's exactly like oil lamps.
People would have been very used to using this.
That helps with the idea of the adoption of the technology as well.
You can see that in the styling.
It's all painted black to look like a range, and yet it's made of really thin sheet metal.
And that's to make people feel very comfortable.
- I'm really looking forward to cooking on this.
- I bet you are.
It's going to be so different.
It's going to be so much easier presumably.
No smoke.
You're not having to shovel coal or anthracite.
Much less labour intensive.
OK, you get the sledge, Peter.
To drain the boggy land for cereal production Peter and blacksmith Simon Summers are making a mole subsoiler.
Whack it down, yeah? Got you.
So far they've made the head of the mole.
Next they must make a strong bracket to hold it in place below the ground.
Now we need to make another cut up here.
Move it along, probably about there.
But the best they can find is a rusty Victorian cartwheel rim.
It's really good iron.
It's such a waste if we don't reuse it.
Once we get up to a certain temperature the rust comes off.
It'll just be like bright new iron again.
The bracket's finished.
Now to attach it to the mole itself.
Right.
Here comes the hot rivet.
In it goes.
So, through.
It catches, mushrooms OK, flip.
You can see why blacksmiths went deaf.
And there we have it.
Entirely made from scrap iron we found in a hedgerow.
Old machinery that we've turned into a new machine.
Fantastic.
Peter is building a chassis to carry his mole subsoiler.
Hopefully this is going to aid keeping the mole in the ground.
And Dear lord Here we go.
Slide that in like that.
This project is a mix of quite intense stress.
Obviously it's got to be done to a certain time limit.
But also one of immense joy.
It's just so much fun to have a workshop, to have a forge, to be able to tinker around.
All good stuff.
Peter will need a machine to pull the mole subsoiler through the ground.
But in 1939 there were 20 horses to every tractor on Britain's farms.
If farmers were to double food production to meet the demands of war, they'd have to replace horsepower with mechanical power.
Unlike horses, tractors don't need to rest.
Pete Diggs, who has farmed in this area his whole life, is giving Alex and Ruth a lesson in driving the most popular wartime tractor- the Fordson.
Hello, Peter.
So this is her, is it? Is she going to do all the work for us? Well, we hope so.
You've got a nice sprung seat here.
There's no cushions but I can remember putting straw into a jute sack and tying that on.
- Yeah.
- It was much more comfortable on the bum.
I bet it was.
It's no easy job starting it.
Make sure you've got plenty of oil there.
OK.
During the war, tractor numbers on British farms would more than triple from 55,000 to over 175,000.
But the Fordson was notoriously difficult to start.
As Ruth's about to discover.
And then wind with the starting handle.
Shall we make Ruth crank this? Oh, you'll have muscles now.
I've got muscles.
Blinkin' heck.
Jeepers! Doubling crop production would need a huge increase in labour, so women were called upon to drive the tractors.
Oh! - Much easier to take a horse out of a stable.
- Yeah.
Probably quicker at my rate an' all.
Did you hear that? Ooh, nearly.
Nearly! Do you want me to? No.
That's the kind of wartime attitude we need, Ruth.
Congratulations, Ruth.
Oil and all.
You are going to stand well back, aren't you? Yes.
Absolutely, Ruth.
Wooh! Let's let her get on with it, Peter.
Yes! Pete was just seven when war broke out.
He witnessed the transition from horsepower to mechanical power.
That was Captain and that was Dick.
As you see, I started very very young.
I love this.
- That's you there on top of a big dray.
- That's it.
And I take it these aren't your boots here.
No, that is my father's.
I nicked them one day and was off down to the farm.
You wanted to be a farmer from a young age.
That's it.
Come on, darling, come on.
Come on, come on.
Ah! I've stalled her.
It's the gear changes.
- Were you attempting second? - I was trying second.
- You were attempting second gear? - Yeah.
I'd better go over there and see.
In the workshop, Peter's mole subsoiler is taking shape, but there aren't enough hours of daylight to get it finished in time.
Using the generator to light the workshop should help.
This is going to make such a difference because it's going to enable me to work throughout the evening.
If they don't get the fields drained and ploughed in the next few days, they won't get the wheat crops sown in time.
Finally.
There we go.
Oh, dear.
On the 3rd September 1939 at quarter past 11 in the morning, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made the announcement the nation had been bracing itself for.
This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government the final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock, and they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
Somebody who was my age in 1939 I'd have been in my mid-20s in the First War.
The sort of age, you know, you're losing husbands, losing brothers.
- Yeah.
- You have such a strong experience of it.
And then here it is all again.
So you're sat here, you're listening to Chamberlain say, you know, "I regret to tell you we're now at war again against the same people.
" You could lose your husband in the First War and your son in the Second.
I mean Even so, you'd be sat here looking out of the window scarcely able to believe it.
Beautiful summer's day like this.
Britain was now expecting to be bombed by the Nazis at any time.
Air-Raid Precaution Wardens were tasked with protecting the population.
Steve Taylor is an expert in wartime civil defence.
- One.
- One for you.
- Two.
- One for you.
The Government assumed that the Nazis would use poison gas on the population.
So a gas mask was issued to every man, woman and child in the country.
How do we know there's going to be an attack? Are we looking out ourselves for bombers? You will hear either an air-raid siren or a rattle.
I've got the gas rattle here.
I can show you.
So once you hear that, it's gas mask on immediately.
But as soon as there's an all-clear, there'll be an all-clear siren or my trusty ARP whistle will tell you it's all clear.
- Right, OK.
It was also feared Britain would suffer night-bombing.
A total blackout on the ground would make locating the target much more difficult for the enemy.
Steve's demonstrating how doors were blacked out using a light break.
OK, so it's late at night.
But there's a kerfuffle in the farmyard.
- Kerfuffle.
- The sound of a fox at the chickens.
- I go in here - In here.
make sure I've closed the curtain.
- Make sure you've closed it.
And then open the door.
And door open.
Can you see any light coming in round the edges? - Only through the moth holes.
- There we go.
To black out the windows, Alex and Peter are making removable frames.
One bespoke blackout frame.
- Not a single pinprick.
- Proper job, mate.
Right, fantastic.
Fantastic.
That is a great job.
Now all we need to do is to get that blackout curtain up, isn't it? All you need to do is get that blackout curtain up.
Right.
Others have mole ploughs.
Of course, you need to get that done.
With war, the threat of German U-boats cutting off imports became a reality.
It wasn't just staple foods like wheat that were under threat.
Imported fruits containing vitamin C were essential to the health of the nation, particularly children.
As a boy, Ruth's father Geoff Steely was sent into the countryside to forage for alternatives.
I remember you telling me about doing this, picking rosehips.
- How much did they pay you? - Tuppence a pound.
- Tuppence a pound.
- Tuppence a pound.
Which was quite good for pocket money days.
It really was.
If you did it on the wet days, of course they weighed more.
Which was quite good.
That was your compensation for being out in bad weather.
And with all the men away, it was left to the women and largely the boys to go round the hedges, find apples, pick these berries and so forth.
And why rosehips so much? Because there's not much food value in them.
Ah, but there's vitamin C.
So all the sources of vitamin C we've got used to, oranges and lemons, no longer come in.
And limes.
All that sort of Mediterranean-type stuff couldn't get through.
So we're scratching about trying to find native British equivalents.
Ruth's preserving the rosehips in syrup, so it can be taken throughout the winter.
The long, slow, gentle cooking has suited them quite well.
So now I just need to strain all that liquid off.
Look at the colour.
So what I'm getting out here, really Well, it's the vitamin C is what we're after.
And that fleshy bit around the seed.
It's just like making jam or jelly, really.
And once this has all drained out, I'll just have to make it into a syrup with sugar.
The sugar's there to preserve the fruit.
Then when I bottle it, it'll keep.
Just like dancing.
Finally, Peter's mole subsoiler is finished.
Let me get round there.
One more.
Da-da! And the team can drain the field in preparation for sowing the wheat.
Finally.
All those hours out in the shed.
Yep.
It's quite a contraption, isn't it? I have got the plan that Peter and I We surveyed the field.
We put in all the levels.
But I think the first thing to do is to just concentrate.
We're up here.
I'm just getting in these main drains.
Yeah.
Before Peter's contraption can prove itself, there's the perennial problem of getting the tractor to start.
Damn the Fordson.
Damn it.
Stand back! It's not going according to plan.
Ideally, the mole should be cutting a channel about a foot beneath the surface.
Right, shall I try standing on this? On there.
Yeah.
This is bizarre.
Why don't we dig a hole and put the mole in and start with it already in the ground rather than trying to let it go down? When war broke out, there were almost four million acres of land like this that needed draining.
OK, let's go.
The problem is, it's just pulled it the path of least resistance, which is up out of the ground.
It's clear the chassis built by Peter is too light to keep the mole in the ground.
In a corner of the farmyard, Alex has found a much heavier chassis to fit Peter's mole subsoiler to.
That sun's nearly down.
That's it.
Lovely.
That's wonderful.
But things are about to go from bad to worse.
The improvised bracket holding the mole has bent, because it isn't strong enough.
That's that, then, isn't it? Time is running out to get the crops sown.
So they'll have to abandon draining the field.
As Peter has discovered, improvising farm machinery is no easy task.
But for the wartime farmer, this could have been disastrous, and incurred the wrath of the War Ag.
If our fields flood, you know, the War Ag would look at us and they'd say, "We need to move them on.
" So we'd just better hope, against hopes, that we have an extremely dry summer.
A farmer's duties to the nation didn't end with attempting to double crop production.
Their knowledge of the landscape made them invaluable recruits to one of the war's most secret organisations.
The Auxiliary Units.
You names have been put forward as men who would like to do something more for the war effort.
- Is this something? - Absolutely.
Absolutely.
I mean, everything we can.
The Auxiliary Unit was a resistance force in waiting.
A last line of defence against Nazi invasion.
Steve Mason is an expert on the Auxiliary Units stationed here on the South Coast.
Do you think you could kill another man in cold blood? Tough.
This is the sort of question that was being put to people at the time? Farmers? Absolutely.
But it really comes down to your personal mettle.
So this is something beyond the Home Guard.
This is a sort of secret service, isn't it? Absolutely.
Just like the cells they're setting up in Europe at the same time, a resistance movement.
We've heard of Home Guard but why don't we hear of these guys? Because the people who joined this resistance movement had to sign the Official Secrets Act.
So I suppose if, during the war, if we were held back in a reserved occupation and we were of a certain age, then we'd be seen as kind of people who both knew the land, being farmers, - and also quite able-bodied.
- Absolutely.
So these are photographs of the men who actually were the Auxiliaries for this locality.
You were never to discuss this thing ever.
I've spoken to one surviving auxiliary who was 18 at the time.
- Right.
- So he's young enough still now to talk about it.
He only wants to discuss the people in that photograph who are dead.
With the Nazis poised to invade, the Auxiliary Unit were ready to go to ground and form a guerrilla network to destroy enemy infrastructure.
Their instruction manuals were cunningly disguised.
It's got a cover so if a German invading just picked it up, they would hopefully think that it was an out-of-date calendar and not look inside.
And this tells you how to handle explosives.
And again, more tricks of the trade.
How to blow up a petrol tank.
How to blow up railway lines.
Do you think, putting yourselves back there, would you really have signed up for this? - What do you think? - I think so.
If you're a reserved occupation like a farmer, for example, is there going to be a sense that you want to be out there on the front line? Although you're farming, there's a sense that you're going to want a bit of action.
- Itching to get involved? - Yeah.
I wonder whether that might have played a part in some people signing up.
A number of them do say that.
They actually just wanted to get their hands on some action, as corny as it sounds.
Unbeknown to the boys, like many farmers' wives, Ruth too has been conscripted into secret service.
Gardening has taken on a whole new significance for me.
Particularly this potting shed.
Because, whilst the boys think I'm working in the garden, and they're well out of the way in the fields, what I'm really doing in here is this.
Ruth's been recruited into the Special Duties Section.
Their mission, to handle communications between Auxiliary Units in the field and HQ.
This is my aerial.
About three and a half thousand people were involved.
Vicars, bar maids, farmers, farmers' wives and housewives.
And yet, almost nobody knows about it.
They really just kept that quiet.
There are instances in which a wife was doing this with the radio whilst the husband was out doing other auxiliary work and neither of them told each other until they were in their 80s or 90s.
Years and years and years later.
In some ways, it's comical.
But it's also really serious.
People were expecting to be invaded.
They were expecting that this sort of work put their lives in serious danger.
If you'd been caught with a radio when the Germans came, you were looking not just at execution but probably torture too.
Informant confirms successful patrol manoeuvre.
Four men, evidence of explosives.
Northwest of Arbo Wood.
Approximate time, 0015.
Location, Hamble.
G.
Despite their important top-secret military duties, the priority for farmers was doubling crop production to feed the nation.
Although the team were unable to mole-drain the boggy field, the task now is to plough as quickly as possible in preparation for sowing the wheat.
With the days drawing shorter, the War Agricultural Committee encouraged farmers to plough on into the night.
We've got to plough through the night.
This was something that was expected during the war.
Not something I think people did willingly, really, but unfortunately we've just got to do this because we're so behind.
Ploughing at night creates unique problems.
Right, so this is our lantern.
And it's just in the hedge.
And it's going to give something for Ruth to fix on on the horizon.
So that she can drive theoretically in a straight line.
I'm a bit worried, though, about using these lights with the blackout.
I reckon the lamps in the hedge probably could be hidden from the air, anyway.
And this one's already got a hood on it.
And this lamp will be moving.
- So I just aim at the light in the hedge? - Yep, that's the idea.
When you think about ploughing, you invariably think of the horseman out there with his horses gently ploughing away in the quiet, perhaps on a nice sunny spring morning.
But during the Second World War ploughing was a very different monster.
And the plough, really, had become a weapon of war.
It was the farmers' principal weapon of war.
Now, I'm not entirely sure we're getting this right.
But we're putting our all into it.
And Ruth's doing a fantastic job.
Hopefully by the end of the month we'll have the field done.
Next morning, Ruth is called into action by the Special Duties Section.
Her mission, to pass a message on to the Auxiliary Unit.
Hampshire, with its strategic ports of Southampton and Portsmouth, was a key target for invasion.
So more Auxiliary Units were stationed here than any county in Britain.
Military expert Gerald Sutcliffe is leading Alex and Peter's patrol.
What we're going to now is an OB, an Operational Base.
So we've got basically a little bunker.
We've already got some equipment, munitions and rations in.
Let's go and have a look at it now, shall we? All over the country, around the coast in particular, are groups like us.
We're going to be providing a nasty surprise to Herr Hitler.
Unlike the other countries which have had the unfortunate experience of his jackboots going over them, we're ready.
We're going to come up behind him and going to blow up his petrol dumps.
We're going to blow up his ammunition dumps.
We're going to sabotage his tanks.
We're going to shoot his officers.
Anybody that helps him.
The aim was to transform ordinary farmers with no military experience into guerrilla saboteurs.
Alex has picked up the message dropped by the Special Duties Section with details of a training exercise.
We've been left a note advising us that a German patrol of 10 men is expected.
At the moment my thoughts are, we'll ambush their patrol.
This is a typical exercise passed on by the mysterious Agent R.
Agent R I wonder who that could be.
That's the point.
You will never know.
And neither will I.
You'll never know the members of the intelligence section and they don't know you.
They just leave little messages for us.
And we pick them up and we never see them or they us.
Training by night, then working in the field by day, meant a wartime farmer could find himself working 17-hour days.
I want two members of the team to go up on the ridgeline while I go down and I arrange rig a couple of surprises.
Right? And one of you can cover me while that's going on.
Why do I have to go in front all the time, Peter? Alex and Peter keep watch from the ridgeline.
Following instructions set out in the Auxiliary Unit manual, Gerald sets a booby trap.
What I'm going to rig up is a grenade with a pin removed but sufficient pressure on top of it, so that when somebody kicks it it's going to release the lever and go bang.
OK.
And rejoin the others.
This being an exercise, there are no Germans.
And Jerry's grenade is simply a thunderflash.
Bang, bang, bang.
Stop! Well, good for a first attempt.
- You think so? - I think so.
They would have used all sorts of methods to simulate combat.
- OK.
- I did it that way because you weren't expecting it - to add that bit of tension and realism.
- Yeah.
So you were both conditioning us and testing us at the same time.
Yes.
Alex, Ruth and Peter have now been wartime farmers for two months.
For Ruth, the work in the fields has left little time for domestic duties.
So she's taken another step towards modernising the kitchen, by fitting lino.
Fantastic! You often hear about labour-saving things in the kitchen, and you sort of imagine it's all about gadgets.
Nah.
It's about things like this.
The things that make the big difference.
Instead of spending, you know, 45 minutes twice a day on the floor, like you might have to with a stone flag floor, I can run over with a mop and bucket in 10 minutes.
The paraffin stove is also helping to save time.
Unlike an old-fashioned coal range, it's up and running in seconds.
Ruth's using it to cook a quick meal from her 1930s cookbook.
Fried bacon with bananas.
It's such an odd recipe to find in a late '30s book.
It took me so by surprise.
Bacon's going to become a thing of scarcity.
By 1939 we were already bringing in quite a significant proportion of our bacon from Denmark.
And then the bananas go in the butter.
Bananas would soon disappear completely from the shops as the Government requisitioned banana boats to import materials essential to the war effort.
From the declaration of war in September 1939 until May 1940, no bombers appeared overhead and the gas attacks didn't materialise.
It became known as the Phony War.
But by June 1940, after the British had been driven into the sea at Dunkirk, the mood was darkening.
France fell to the Nazis.
And as the new Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned, Britain was next in line.
confidence and growing strength in the air.
We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be: We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields, and in the streets.
We shall fight in the hills.
We shall never surrender I think it's interesting, isn't it? That speech is so iconic.
It must have been terrifying for people to think, you know, there could possibly have been fighting on the beaches and in the fields.
And somewhere like Hampshire, where we are, I gather would be sort of on the front line.
Well, it is the whole problem of looking back at the war.
We know that we won.
People at the time did not know that.
So I suppose the farmers at the time, they'd have really been, hopefully, buoyed up to get a success in that harvest.
It would have loaded a lot of pressure on their shoulders.
You know, it would have really hammered home just how important it would have been to have brought that crop in and to have brought a brilliant crop in as well.
And that's all about the connectedness, isn't it? Everybody's hearing that all together.
You feel like you've absolutely got to do it right.
To do justice to the effort that was put in from '39.
I certainly feel that.
I really feel a big responsibility to those people who went through this.
And who are still alive, you know.
- It's not something to be taken lightly, is it? - No.
We're messing with memories as well as history.
Well, indeed.
Indeed.
- Hello.
- You'd better put that curtain up, you know.
Be all right.
- Hello, Steve.
- Good evening.
- Hello.
- Hello, Ruth.
- A pleasant surprise.
- Come and join us.
How are you? Good to see you.
You're in luck.
Have a cake.
- Good grief.
- Have an ├ęclair.
I'm on my rounds.
I have to say, what a marvellous job you've done with your windows.
- Absolutely.
- I told you.
- But - Oh.
You're going to be in for a fine because you're showing a light under your door.
- Really? - You haven't put the curtain up.
So what are the consequences? The County Court will summons you.
Anything from three shillings to seven and six, I would think.
Of course, the other thing to mention is the excessive lights you're burning.
For a small room you've got three lights.
So that will incur another fine.
- Oh, good grief.
- Good Lord.
I was just enjoying having electricity.
It's that classic thing, where you're not physically doing the thing like filling your oil lamp.
With electricity, you don't think about the power source and how much you're using.
Well, I think we should enjoy these deserts while we can because I think from now on in things are only going to get tougher, aren't they? Much like this guy.
Do you want to put that light out? I'll put this one out.
And the radio.
Let's get this curtain up, then.
Keep it running, Ruth! The team's back on track with the task of increasing the farm's food production.
The wheat field is ploughed.
Next, it's harrowed to break up the earth.
Then sowed with the wheat seed.
If all goes well, in nine months' time they should have a good crop to harvest.
We have cracked on.
We really have cracked on.
A million acres, was it, they ploughed up extra? In '39.
By the spring of 1940, one point seven million acres.
- Extra.
- Extra.
On top of what they were already doing.
And a lot of farmers said it couldn't be done.
They shook their heads and said, "No, you can't do that.
" And then they turned around and did it.
Wartime farmers didn't know it yet but this was just the start.
They still had five years of war to endure.
And conditions were only going to get tougher as they struggled to feed the nation.

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