Wartime Farm (2012) s01e04 Episode Script

Episode 4

The great British countryside.
The setting for one of the most pivotal battles of the Second World War.
Churchill called it the "frontline of freedom".
It was a battle fought by the farmers of Britain.
Timber! With the Nazis attacking British shipping, and attempting to cut off food imports, it fell to the farmers to save the country from starvation.
They were tasked with doubling the amount of food grown in Britain's fields.
If they failed, the nation could be starved into surrender.
Now, historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn are turning back the clock, working Manor Farm in Hampshire as it would have been in the Second World War.
Not a glamorous business, this reserved occupation of farming.
Whoo! Coming up, the team face the conditions of 1941, when continental Europe had been virtually engulfed by the Nazis.
Britain stood isolated against Germany, with no prospect of victory in sight.
The demands on the nation's farmers had never been so urgent.
If something goes wrong with this machine, you can do more damage than by hand-milking.
The third year of the war saw Government intervention stepped up.
And farmers felt the burden of constant surveillance.
Kind of like the iron fist in the velvet glove.
From here on in, there's no tolerance for failure on the Wartime Farm.
Ruth's foraging for wood.
With fuel in short supply, this was a crucial job in the early months of the year.
Actually, finding woodland out like this during the war, full of dead wood, would be rather a windfall.
Nowadays nobody touches all this fallen stick.
They haven't got any use for it.
But during the war, everybody was desperately trying to heat their homes any way they could.
With coal rationed and all other fuels under ration as well, any extra little bit of stick you could gather made a huge difference.
Even when they're finished burning, they're still a really useful resource.
The ash that's left after it's burnt contains a really large concentration of potassium, which makes a fantastic fertiliser.
So as soon as I've finished burning the wood, I shall be collecting all the ash from underneath the pot and spreading it on the garden.
Free fertiliser.
Right, that's that bundled.
There we go.
What a beautiful day.
For wartime farmers, day-to-day life wasn't just about their own survival.
The nation's ability to feed itself rested on their shoulders.
And in 1941, the pressure of officialdom was suddenly increased.
Just before the outbreak of war, the Government had passed an emergency law taking control of every aspect of farming.
To administer it, every county had a War Agricultural Executive Committee.
Known as the War Ag, they would dictate the way the land was farmed.
Now, with Britain isolated and the nation's food supply in more peril than ever, the gloves came off.
Look lively, Ruth.
Historian Brian Short has studied the War Ags and the powers they had.
- The man from the Ministry's here.
- Hi.
Good to see you.
- Hello.
- Good to see you.
- Have you come to keep an eye on us? - I have.
In the battle to feed Britain, it was crucial to know exactly how much food was being produced.
So in 1941, the Government launched the National Farm Survey, the most thorough survey of British farming ever undertaken.
And it had a sting in the tail.
One of the contentious questions of all was, how good was your farming? OK? And this graded you as an A, B or C farmer.
And if you're grade C, watch out.
C- rated farmers could face the ultimate sanction by order of the War Ag.
They might well come in, take over part of the farm.
- Without agreement? They could force it? - Oh, absolutely.
No agreement necessary.
Or they could actually ask the farmer to leave his farm altogether.
They could take over the farmhouse as well.
And the farmer just didn't have a leg to stand on.
I mean, he was there for the purposes of winning the war.
Something like 2,700 farmers are going to be turned off their farms during this war.
And something like 10,000 farms are going to be affected by bits of their farms being taken over by the War Ags.
To avoid this fate, it was crucial for farmers to impress the War Ag inspector.
We have a field ploughed and we're just desperate to put another crop in.
- Is there anything you'd suggest? - Yes.
Well, one of the things that I think would be really good that is needed a great deal is flax during this war.
- So that's for textile production.
- It's for textiles, yes.
Flex was grown for its fibres, which were used to make fabric, such as parachute webbing.
But Britain's farmers had little experience of growing it.
Before the war, flax had been imported, often from Russia.
With these supplies cut off, British farmers were expected to make up the shortfall.
You'd be doing the nation a real favour by putting flax in this area.
So if we were to grow flax, we might get a little bit closer to that precious A grade.
Yes, you would please the Ministry.
We should show you the rest of the farm.
That would be a very good idea indeed.
Well, it's just down "a" lane.
We'll give you "a" cup of tea.
No, no tea, please.
I'm above corruption.
- OK.
- Henry, come on.
When it came to the farmyard, the War Ag's No.
1 priority was milk production.
For a population fed on rations, milk was a vital source of fat, protein, calcium and vitamin C.
It was known as nature's most complete food.
Manor Farm's dairy herd are expecting calves in a few weeks.
Once they're born, the cows will start producing milk.
Come and have a look.
- After you.
- Thank you.
So it's only a small milking parlour.
But we have got a milking machine.
Very good.
So with our cows about to calve, you'd be looking for us to get the maximum amount of milk out of their mothers.
Yes, absolutely.
It's very, very important.
The War Ags like to portray themselves as the farmer's friend, but it's kind of like the iron fist in the velvet glove.
It might be a nice suit but he's a hard man.
Right, we'd better crack on, then.
Brian will return in a few weeks to allocate the team an A, B or C grade.
Before then, they must get the milking parlour up and running, and sow the flax.
Alex wants to harness up-to-date technology to get the crop into the field.
So far the team have been using a Fordson, the most popular tractor of the war.
But Fordsons are notoriously hard to start.
There were other machines being developed in the '40s.
Alex has come to meet Rolly Phillips, an expert in early tractors, who's got hold of an alternative.
- Morning, Alex.
- How are you? How are you today? OK? Yes, very well.
And looking forward to seeing what the Field-Marshall can do.
Far easier to start the Field-Marshall than the Fordson that you love so much.
But your shoulder doesn't.
The Field-Marshall was more economical to run and more powerful than some earlier tractors.
But best of all, there was a short cut to starting it.
The other way they used to start the Marshalls was a shot-gun cartridge.
Right, OK.
Show me, then.
Show me how this works.
So I can get rid of this handle, then.
- Put the handle back where you got it from.
- I could actually throw this in the river.
I wouldn't be too happy.
If you do throw it in the river.
There's no shot in the cartridge but there is black powder to cause an explosion that will start the engine.
- Ah, I see.
- And tap it off.
- There's your firing pin, there.
- There.
- But we're not going to use that yet.
- OK.
And here we need to put a wick.
So the wick is very similar to blotting paper.
You need to roll it up Because blotting paper doesn't burn very rapidly, it just smoulders.
Right, OK.
So this is effectively providing the ignition for the fuel.
- Yeah.
- Whilst this is providing the momentum.
The push of the actual piston down.
As you can see, it's not burning very fast.
So that goes into the hole at the front.
And now all you've got to do now is with the hammer hit the firing pin.
- All down to you.
- All down to me.
So this is basically this is my ignition key.
- Correct, yes.
- OK.
Here we go, then.
Have you got another cartridge we can use? You said this starts first time.
- It does, but this time it doesn't.
- OK.
Right, OK.
Here we go.
- Easy.
- Marvellous.
That's brilliant.
It's going to save me my shoulder.
It definitely will.
- Well, let's take it for a spin.
- Let's go for a spin.
The new tractor should make sowing the flax much more straightforward.
But meeting the War Ag's other requirement, milk production, is proving more of a challenge.
So this is Sarah, is it? Yeah, this is the one who's been giving us the problems.
Peter and stockwoman Debbie Underwood are keeping a close eye on the cows.
If you look at the end of that teat, can you see she's missing the bottom half of it? - Yeah.
- What we think has happened is one of the other cows have trodden on the teat and have literally just cut through the end of it, which is extremely painful.
You can see, it's not very nice at all.
We've got a problem with the other teat as well.
- It's black.
- The tip of it has gone black.
So she's got an infection.
Despite the best modern medical care, Sarah's injury will not heal.
The only option is to keep her comfortable and wait for her calf to be born.
Obviously, she's going to have to be culled because we can't use her for milking any more.
- Yeah.
But I suppose it's a fact of life.
- It is.
If you've got livestock, you've got dead stock.
- It's a very true saying, that one.
Very true.
- Yeah.
- But a nice big baby in there somewhere.
- Mm.
With the nation in desperate need of milk, losing a good dairy cow would have been a disaster for any wartime farmer.
The team's remaining cows will now have to provide enough milk to meet the War Ag's expectations.
Come on.
Come here.
Come on.
But their level of production will be dependent on the quality and quantity of food they eat.
This should be interesting, Peter.
I'm looking forward to seeing what's happened here.
Well, it is a complete experiment, isn't it? Feed for dairy cows was in very short supply.
Before the war, they ate imported feed and also grazed on fields.
But with imports cut off and fields ploughed up to grow crops for humans, farmers had to find alternatives.
The Government urged them to make silage.
And a few months ago, Alex and Peter did just that.
The moment's come to see if their efforts have paid off.
Peter and I are both very, very nervous about this because we've never made silage before.
And in fact, actually, during the war, many farmers had never even entertained the idea of making silage.
Silage is a method of preserving green crops at their most nutritious, a bit like pickling.
It's usually made with grass but wartime farmers had to be imaginative.
It's very interesting because this isn't your traditional silage.
- This isn't just straight grass, is it? - No, no.
This is a real cocktail of nettles, grasses.
In a wartime situation, if this hadn't have worked, and we'd have put all of our eggs in one basket, so to speak, it could spell disaster for a farm that's trying to rear a dairy herd, bring a dairy herd on.
The boys made the container, or silo, from scraps of metal found on the farm.
- Alex, someone, during construction - Yep.
and it may well have been me - Yeah.
has actually put that nut facing in.
- Oh, no.
We've managed to have locked ourselves out of our own silo here.
Hopefully the silage will hold If the silage can just hold the nut tight enough on the other side This doesn't bode well, Peter, really, does it? - Ooh, it's coming.
- Oh, it is.
Well done, Peter.
There was plenty of information to help farmers spot silage problems early.
Look, see, this is the test here, Peter.
It's called "Silage, How to Make and Feed it".
OK? On the back of this we've got a fault correction table.
And I'm not saying we've got a fault yet.
But it says here "Evil-smelling silage throughout.
" Now, do you know what an evil smell is? I'm all too familiar with an evil smell, Alex.
Give it a sniff.
Tell me if you think it's evil.
I would not say that was evil.
I would say that smells of grass.
I think it's good.
We'll see.
I mean, if the cows tuck into it with great relish, then we'll know actually it's not done so badly.
- You've got the tools? - I've got the tools.
You've got the barrow? Grub's up, girls.
Oh, what is this? What is that? Go on, have a Experimental silage.
- She's interested.
- She is.
- This bodes well.
Right, let's get it in the trough.
- Ooh.
There we go.
Look at that, Peter.
Look at that.
Wonder silage.
There it goes.
You can't have it all, you two.
There's more than two cows here.
There's plenty to go around.
That's it, Peter.
You get it in there.
That's a no-nonsense bit of troughing, that, isn't it? Look at that.
Save some room for later, darling.
I think we could very proudly go back to the War Ag and say, you know, we did our job.
We tried silage.
- And we've made it work.
- Yeah.
Go spread the word.
Farmers hoping to impress the War Ag made sure they kept up with the latest Government advice.
A popular way of doing so was to watch Government films.
I think, dig in, yeah.
Grab some sandwiches.
And one such production is showing at the village hall.
Mobile cinemas were sent up and down the country screening films that showcased how farming was helping the fight.
Spring Offensive was made in 1940 by the Ministry of Information.
The English countryside.
Its most important crop, English countrymen.
Now, what will war mean to the countryman? What will war mean for the land? Historian John Martin specialises in farming on the home front.
The Ministry of Information was set up right at the beginning of the war to inform people? To instruct people, to stress the success of the wartime food production campaign and also, really, to raise people's morale.
He not only farms well.
He pulls his weight in all sorts of ways.
Well, Mother, here's the new visitor.
The main character in Spring Offensive is a member of the War Ag.
Well done.
What can you give me? Say, 20 acres.
Yes, 20.
And five or six in another field which I might be able to break up later on.
That's an easy start.
It gives them a human face.
You'll get the Government grant.
64 pounds.
I'll give you 64 quid to mind your own business and clear off.
The plot stressed the importance of cooperating with the War Ag and the consequences of defying them.
But there's one that beats me.
That's hopeless.
And that is Grove Farm.
Good use of music.
The only way is to take the farm over.
More than 2,000 films were produced under the guidance of the Ministry of Information during the war.
There we have it.
Harvest in.
It's telling us that they turned that farm around.
The crucial element in a film like this is actually it's all about the mindset and keeping everyone positive and keeping everyone moving in the same direction.
And in that sense it achieved the objective, ensuring that everyone's committed to the war effort.
It's certainly done that for me.
It's certainly raised my morale.
But at the same time it's stressed to me that I've got to get out there and get the kind of yields that these people are.
In September 1939, you asked the countryside to provide you with a safe refuge for your children and security against famine.
And both these things it has given you.
Now the countryside asks you to do something in return.
When peace comes, don't forget the land and its people again.
Well, hopefully we won't get a bad grade for our farm.
Yeah, well, we've seen how it's supposed to be done.
Back on the farm, the team must get ready for the upcoming War Ag inspection.
They have the Field-Marshall tractor lined up for sowing the flax.
And for milking, they'll also be using a new piece of kit.
- Here we go, Peter.
- OK.
- This is what runs the milking machine, is it? - Yes, it is, Peter.
It's another engine.
- I can see a crank handle.
- Yep.
And it's got your name on it, Peter.
It's a fairly simple piece of kit, this.
What we do is we create a vacuum that runs up through a rubber pump pipe up the back and then goes in to the milking parlour here.
OK? And then across the top.
And off of that pipe you can then tap in however many milking machines you may need.
The demands of wartime production increased the use of milking machines.
Before the conflict, only one in five farmers were using them.
But the wartime shortage of manpower meant labour-saving devices were essential.
And by 1945 over half of Britain's cows were being milked by machine.
The farm's cows still haven't calved, so the machine can't be used yet.
But there's some sad news about Sarah, the cow who was ill.
We always knew that Sarah was going to have to be put down but you were hoping to get a calf from her, weren't you? Yes, that's right.
Even though we knew her injury was what you would call terminal, what we were hoping for was that at least we could rescue the calf.
Tragically, we came in one morning and found that the calf had been stillborn, which is, you know which is very sad.
She was a very good milker, wasn't she? Well, last year she was averaging about 50 pints of milk a day.
- Wow.
- And she was only a little girl.
So that was a lot of milk for her.
That really was.
But there still is a herd.
We still have cows on the farm.
Yeah, our other cows are looking really good.
So hopefully within a very short time we should have at least a few calves on the ground and we'll be able to start milking again.
The War Ag would look unfavourably on any farmer who lost their livestock like this.
And farmers who consistently failed to meet Government expectations could face the ultimate penalty.
As local farmer John Curtis witnessed.
John, I've been reading some of the newspapers here from the 1940s and there's a case of a farmer here in Hampshire shot in an 18-hour farm siege.
He was our neighbour during the war.
A chap called George Ray Walden.
Yes, commonly known as Ray.
- And did you know him personally? - Yes, although I was quite young at the time.
- My father used to do his harvesting for him.
- Right.
- I was a little bit afraid of Ray.
- Yeah.
Because he was very formidable, really.
As I understand it from these articles, what happened is Ray Walden was required to plough up roughly half of his farm.
That is correct.
As part of the war effort to grow more wheat.
But he refused to do so.
Some of the land he couldn't have ploughed up anyway - because it was too wet and damp.
- Right.
But they still said he had to plough it up.
But then that was the War Ag at the time.
The War Ag tried to evict Ray Walden but he holed himself up in his farmhouse with a shotgun and fired at police, wounding two.
Things spiralled out of control and it ended up with an 18-hour siege of his house.
And he ended up getting shot by a police officer.
And then of course eventually he was taken to hospital.
And it was there that he died.
And this must have then sent shock waves through the farming community.
Oh, it did.
It was in all the press, you know.
And the farmers' union papers, in the magazines that came out.
The story was there.
Mostly they were condemning it.
Because it shouldn't ever have happened.
- You think it shouldn't have happened.
- I don't think it should at all.
I mean, when I read this story, it does fill me with sadness.
But at the same time there's part of me that thinks, there was a kind of greater good here.
Really, if we were going to avoid starvation on these islands, we had to do this.
We had to sort of plough up Well, yes, but it still needn't have gone that far.
Really, it's been very interesting and it's made me think a lot more about the War Ag and what they were doing.
Throughout 1941, imports declined, making everyday items increasingly scarce.
One shortage in particular caused problems for housewives.
Soap became scarce because pretty much the major ingredient of soap is fat.
Any sort of fat but particularly the edible fats.
And Britain, with all the business going on with U-boats out in the Atlantic, was really, really short of edible fats.
So any soap you could save meant there was more fat for people to eat.
The fat shortage became so severe that in 1942 soap would be rationed.
But even a year earlier it was hard to come by.
There were some thrifty ways to make it go further.
This is a tip I got from a newspaper of the 1940s and basically you use a flannel and then all the bits of soap that are getting too small to be useful, all the sort of little chippy bits or the little tiny soft slivers left at the end of a bar, you bung them all into your flannel.
And you just squeeze it up and pop it in some hot water.
And basically the soap melts enough to all sort of gel together and become a sort of multi-coloured, made-out-of-mini-bits solid bar.
Even in that two seconds there, if I give it a good squeeze you'll see it's reformed.
There we are.
It's all sort of moulded into one lump.
And that's so much easier to use than all the little bits and bobs.
In the garden, those in the know could find another way to deal with the soap shortage.
This is soapwort.
You can sort of see there's a nice pretty pink flower on it.
And just like the name implies, soapwort it's useful as soap.
It's a sort of soap substitute, really.
The strongest part, the saponin, is in the root but you can get it in the leaf and the stem as well.
Eking out your soap ration with soapwort, however, was probably not very mainstream.
Really restricted to eccentrics like me who happen to know the older ways of doing things.
The next stage is processing the plant.
So I've washed and cut up all my soapwort.
Nice hot water.
Start bruising it.
What I'm trying to do is release the juices in the soapwort.
In particular, the one called saponin.
That's the thing that does the cleaning.
Oh, yeah, look.
It's starting to go a little bit bubbly.
It's supposed to be one of the gentlest of all the cleaning agents.
Indeed, conservators use it when they're dealing with really ancient textiles.
Where soap would be too harsh, they use a solution of soapwort or saponin to gently soften and lift dirt and grease out of things like ancient tapestries and so forth.
So if it's good enough for that, it's good enough for my hair.
This is the greenest shampoo I think I've ever made.
It smells very sappy.
Quite a nice fresh smell, actually.
I mean, it doesn't lather up like modern shampoos do.
But it mostly feels just cool and cleanish, I suppose.
I don't know.
Right, I think I'm ready to rinse it all off.
Peter also has a scheme to make the most of meagre scraps and impress the War Ag at the same time.
Though feed for livestock was in short supply, there was one animal that thrived in conditions of scarcity.
Rabbits were an excellent, quick-growing source of meat.
And rabbit-farming was officially encouraged.
Peter plans to start a small concern, with the help of animal behaviourist Anne McBride.
Rabbits are extremely good converters of food.
They are the best of the mammals that we keep to produce meat.
They've evolved to live on low-quality, dried foodstuffs.
They evolved in the Southern Spanish peninsular.
If you think about going to Spain in the summer, it's dry, course, it's very low-quality food.
And that's what the rabbits are designed to survive on.
So in terms of food in, meat out, they're extremely good rapid converters.
Selecting rabbits for breeding is a delicate process that begins with sexing.
- These are our rabbits.
- Fantastic.
The first thing we need to know is which are the boys and which the girls.
OK, there we go.
Let's get you up.
Good girl.
Oh, no, this is a boy.
He's got a very nice pair of testicles here.
Very large.
So we have here a very nice young man.
You only need one boy but you do need more than one girl.
Quite wriggly.
Ah, another boy.
A little boy.
Well, rabbit No.
Hopefully this isn't a boy.
- Hey, not a testicle in sight.
- No.
There are two more female rabbits to choose from.
Now, of the two, just based on size, I would go for this one anyway.
If you're going to breed large with large, you're more likely to get larger offspring and a bigger litter.
And as the ultimate aim of this is to provide as much meat as possible, then you're going for that, - not for looks or pretty features - Indeed.
- At the cottage, Ruth's got a visitor.
- Ruth! - Karen! Nice to see you.
- Good to see you.
Laundry day today.
You haven't come to help do the laundry? I've got a surprise for you.
Come with me.
Hang on.
Hang on, hang on.
Historian Karen Sayer studies 1940s household technology and has brought Ruth a revolutionary gadget.
Oh, I'm so excited about this.
A washing machine! Finally a washing machine.
Just like in the advert.
With huge numbers of women working full-time for the war effort, labour-saving devices at home were invaluable.
Washing machines were hard to come by.
With many factories converted to make munitions.
But Karen's found a pre-war machine for Ruth to use.
- It's still not a powered washing machine, is it? - No.
- It's woman power.
- It is actually - I can see her turning the handle.
- It's manual labour.
Where you're fortunate is in connection with the heating of the water.
This machine was designed to heat water using gas power.
I think the gas inlet is down there.
You could get electrically heated machines as well.
But it is all about the heating of the water.
Because it's saving so much work.
But the farm doesn't have a gas connection.
So the water must be heated separately and then brought to the machine.
Here we go.
Pop it in.
Don't need very much.
- My blouse.
- OK.
Some shirts.
My apron.
Look at the state of that.
I got in such a mess.
Let's see if this washing machine's tough enough to handle it.
Well, we could give it a whirl.
See if it really works.
So, moment of truth, I think.
Don't you? Right, go.
I read that advert.
It said three minutes to do your weekly wash.
Yes, as if! I mean, it doesn't take me three minutes to do my weekly wash now.
Although washing machines were first marketed in the late 18th Century, it would be the 1960s before they became common in British homes.
The next development on from this would have been the twin tub, which would have been a powered agitator.
But that wasn't to happen.
For a long time.
We must have done our three minutes by now, surely? - Let's have a look.
- Let's have a look.
- So, pull it up.
- Pull it up.
- Well, it smells good and laundrysome.
- It does.
Smells very wholesome.
Is that your apron? - That's looking a lot better.
- It is, isn't it? - You see? - Yeah, that's shifted it.
There we go.
Squeezy, squeezy, squeezy.
I like this bit.
I love washing machines.
I think of them as an implement of women's lib.
Well, I think you're right.
Where are you planning to put it? Down here? Peter and Anne are ready to start breeding their rabbits.
I suppose the first thing we need them to do is actually - Do the business.
- Yes.
The sun's come out for you.
The buck is put in first so that he can establish the run as his territory.
I think he's rather enjoying himself at the moment.
If they don't mate at this attempt, does that mean that it's never going to happen? No, it could mean that she's just not ready yet because they do have a cycle.
He might spray her with urine, which in rabbit language means he fancies her.
Don't try it at home.
And we'll just see how they get on.
- Now, there you go.
- That was pretty fast.
That was pretty quick for that.
Clearly we've got her at the right time.
- They're certainly living up to the stereotype.
- They are.
And that's it over and done with.
The whole thing is quite fast.
Then we've got some nice grooming behaviour.
Oh, yeah.
- Him showing - Some affection.
Some affection.
Looks really hopeful.
For baby rabbits.
Not to put a dampener on it, but how long until those babies are ready to be butchered? Really, at the weight you want them, I guess.
You know, three to four months you can have an animal that's a goodly size.
Peter hopes his frugal new enterprise will please the War Ag inspector.
But his main concern will be how well the team have done with the flax they've been ordered to grow to produce textiles for the war effort.
Alex is getting ready to sow the field.
But he's worried about pest control.
Any resulting loss of crops would invite the displeasure of the War Ag.
Pigeons and the rooks and the crows go to do something about them.
And I know they don't particularly savour flax seed but, at the same time, what I don't want to find is we get the little shoot coming out and it's like a beacon to crows and rooks.
They'll see that shoot and know that at the bottom of that shoot is a nice sweet little seed.
And I don't want to lose any of this flax crop.
I want to keep the Ministry for Agriculture as happy as I can.
So I'm going to find some kind of way of scaring the birds out of this field.
And I'm not going to go for the old-fashioned scarecrow this time.
At the start of the war one million tonnes of food were being lost to pests every year.
Eliminating the problem was seen as a patriotic duty if Britain was going to feed itself.
It's almost like a war on pests as much as a war on anything else.
We're so desperate for every last little bit coming out of the fields.
- Yeah.
- You can't afford to let half of it be taken.
You know, if we're going to go for that A category then we should at least be seen to be doing something, I think, about the bird problem.
Alex has taken inspiration from a 1940s product.
You see, in this little advertisement "Bang!" And what looks like a firecracker going up the centre.
So it goes bang, pushes the corrugated iron up and it flaps about.
And that's what happens.
Rabbits flee in terror.
- Noisy enough? - This? Come on.
- It's not bad, is it? - We want it to go from there, don't we? Alex has ordered in explosives identical to the wartime ones.
So that's gunpowder, isn't it, wrapped up in paper stuck into a bit of string.
Now, we've just got to hope that there's enough power in each one of these - To blow it open? - To blow it open, yeah.
- Head for the spade, Ruth.
- Oh, yeah.
The bird scarer will be tested in a nearby field.
The thing is, is it going to be deep enough? So, moment of truth, Ruth.
Well, I reckon a charge One of those whole things has got to last a day.
Yeah, so it's going to be quite some time, I should think, before we get Ooh.
It was a good bang.
It didn't flap, though.
It scarcely moved.
- The fuse is lit.
- It is.
Presumably it'll work its way up and bang again.
It would be nice if they did flap around more, but it scared me.
The Second World War saw farmers all over Britain battling to reduce pests.
The bird scarer should help the team make a good impression on the War Ag.
In June 1941, the course of the war was transformed when Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
But the resulting conflict on the Russian front was bad news for British farmers.
The Government diverted shipping to send munitions to the Soviet Union, leaving even fewer vessels available to bring food to Britain.
The War Ags now ordered farmers to redouble their efforts to increase the nation's home-grown food production.
Milk remained a vital part of this campaign.
The farm's cows have at last had their calves and the team can begin milking.
The wartime need to get maximum yield and keep the herd healthy greatly increased the role of vets on farms.
Veterinarian Abigail Woods has come to advise Alex and Peter.
Come on, cows.
Come on.
In the 1930s, farmers had no money.
They would only call vets as an absolute last resort.
You know, if something was on its last legs and about to die.
Now, 1940s, vets are on farms essentially to deal with the sorts of diseases that weren't thought a big deal of before.
Because they didn't kill cows.
So diseases like mastitis.
They're not dramatic diseases but they have a major impact on milk production.
- Right.
- And, you know, 1941, this nation needs all the milk it can possibly get.
Mastitis, an infection of the udder, is easily caused by using the milking machine incorrectly.
That's great.
Before we start milking proper, the next thing is just to get a little squirt of milk out of each teat.
- Out of each one? - Out of each one.
Just a little bit.
Don't get it all over the floor.
Make sure it goes into that mug.
So the reason we're doing this is that from the appearance of that milk you can pick up the early signs of mastitis.
So any nasty little clots or flecks in the milk or it smells a bit funny - That's fine.
- Smells OK.
That's absolutely fine.
So turn it on.
There we go.
So you can hear it's coming through.
So if you put your thumb on that, you should be able to feel the vacuum.
- That's just pulsating.
- That's right.
If you just put a straight vacuum on that and it didn't pulse, it would damage the teats.
- Right.
- The pulsing gives it a chance to recover.
Attaching the vacuum cups is a tricky task.
Put your thumb over the end first.
That's it.
No, it's not - That's it.
- Oh, there we go.
- There we go.
- Two.
It looks like you're winning the battle there but perhaps not the war.
- There we go.
- Brilliant.
- And will that just hold itself on? - That will, yeah.
- I don't have to stay here? - You can stand up.
About three or four minutes now.
But you've got to do everything just right because if something goes wrong with this machine, you can do more damage that way than by hand-milking.
Do you know how much it's sucking out, a ratio, a rate? It's quite quick, is it? Yeah, it's about 40 to 60 pulses a minute.
That is the frequency which a calf sucks.
- Right.
- It's also the frequency that a cow's heart beats.
So it's a sort of - OK.
- There's some logic behind that.
There's a bit of rhythm here, a natural rhythm.
- OK, so she looks like she's done.
- Right.
Farmers were under pressure to send the milk they produced into the rationing system, keeping only a small amount for themselves.
There we go.
Fresh out of the cow.
That's fairly full.
Most were prohibited from turning it into butter or cheese at home.
These foods were now produced in centralised factories, so the Government could keep a close eye on what was being made.
But if any milk went sour before it left the farm, farmers could get special dispensation to use it.
My milk's turned.
It's off.
But luckily not a disaster.
Cheese, after all, is just off milk.
That's all it is.
All you've got to do is separate the curds from the whey.
And all I'm going to do is strain it.
Agricultural workers really felt the need for cheese.
They'd always been big cheese eaters.
Taking a lump of bread and cheese out into the field is the easiest way of dealing with lunch miles away from the farmhouse.
A little bit more.
It's only going to need a sprinkle of salt and a dusting of chives and I've cottage cheese that we can have in sandwiches.
With the War Ag inspector due to revisit the farm soon, the boys must now get on with sowing the flax.
- The flax isn't getting any lighter.
- No, it's not.
Nearly there, though.
Certainly got the weather for it as well, haven't we? Alex and Peter have enlisted help from one of the few remaining flax farmers in Britain.
Simon Cooper.
So what I've done is I've brought along a bit of flax just to show you what we're hoping you're going to achieve.
- The end product.
- Yes.
So what's so special about it? Behind the bark you'll see the fibres.
The flax fibres, for making ropes, canvas, tenting, fire hoses.
Its got a whole load of uses.
We have brought you two bags of flax.
- You do have a seed drill.
- Yes.
- And we have a field we need to sow.
- Good.
Flax was such a rarely grown crop in pre-1940s Britain that virtually no machinery was set up to deal with it.
"Peas, oats, barley, wheat.
" - No flax.
- No flax.
We'll go there and see how it goes.
Try and lift it up.
There we are.
This seed drill needs to be calibrated, so the correct amount of seed will be sown in the soil.
You want to spin the wheel 10 times.
- 10 complete revolutions? - Yeah.
Nine and three quarters, 10.
That's almost perfectly on Just under eight ounces.
- Eight ounces.
- Yeah.
So it's probably a little bit high.
If we just go down a setting, we'll be pretty close with that.
We want to get this right.
We really want to get a good even crop.
So it competes with itself, makes itself grow tall and straight.
Hopefully keeps the weeds down.
Let's take the time, then, Peter, and get this right.
Remember, we're looking for that A rating.
After hanging for just an hour, the sour milk is transformed into cheese that's ready to eat.
There we go.
Mm, it's quite nice.
- Need a hand starting it? - Yes, please, Peter.
This is the ignition key.
- Well, you certainly won't lose that, will you? - No.
- You've started this before, haven't you? - Yes, yes.
- Experienced? - No.
So, naked flame, diesel, shotgun cartridge.
Let's get that tightened up.
OK, here we go.
Don't miss.
Just like that.
The acreage of flax grown in Britain increased from 1,000 acres to 60,000 over the course of the war.
Specially built factories across the country turned the crop into textiles that were vitally important for the war effort.
How long is this going to take? When do we harvest it? - Well, it's round about 100 days.
- Right.
From planting till harvest.
It's a very, very quick-growing crop.
Hi, chaps.
Sarnies! Hello.
- Oh, thank you very much.
- Cottage cheese of my own.
- What's this? - It's my cottage cheese.
You're a life-saver.
- Is it all right? - Mm.
Better than wasting it.
Are you going to get it done today, do you think? Yeah.
- We're going to get this in today.
- Good.
Right, save that for later.
Let's get this baby started up again.
Ready? To make sure they get all the fieldwork done, the farmers have enlisted some extra help.
Hello! Come on through! Local farmer Robert Sampson has brought his horses to harrow the ground, breaking up and levelling out the soil to embed the seeds.
No! I didn't ask anybody to move.
Come here.
Come here.
Those are good-looking beasts.
They're not shires.
What are they? These are British Percherons, a compact powerful horse capable of all farm-work and you could trot them to town if you wanted.
Come on, keep going.
I might be talking but I'm not talking to you.
Percherons originally came from France but began to appear on British farms in the early 20th Century.
Just after the First World War.
The British Army were looking for a heavy artillery horse that was capable of fast movement.
Of course, war was mechanised and they were never needed.
But they went on to the farms because the farms were where they came from.
And a sight like this with a tractor and horses working in the same field at the same time is a really typical sight of World War Two, isn't it? Yes, oh, definitely.
Despite the influx of tractors, working horses made a huge contribution to wartime farming.
Their numbers had declined in the 1930s but the Second World War revived them and by 1945, there were almost half a million working horses on British farms, twice the number of tractors.
- Nice to see the horses out working.
- It is.
I am an absolute bag of bones.
I'd give my hind teeth to be behind those two horses.
After a long day's work, the flax is safely in the ground.
Looking good.
Oh, my head! That's so noisy.
You all right there? Good Lord.
What a machine.
Well, I think we've all earned ourselves a beer.
My back! It's not the most ergonomically designed seat, is it? - Know the best thing about that tractor? - What? I can't hear you complaining.
My back! My back! There you go.
Right, we'll get these down us and then I'll get back to the yard and get that bird scarer.
And get it out here as soon as possible.
Because I don't want to lose any of this crop.
I want to keep the man from the Ministry happy.
- Yeah.
- He'll be pleased, I'm sure.
- Cheers.
- Cheers.
Thanks ever so much.
Here's to a flax crop.
The War Ag inspector is about to return to judge how well the team have carried out his instructions.
Just in time, the rabbits have started nesting, meaning their babies should be born soon.
And the farmers are keeping careful records of their milk yields to make sure they have all the information to hand.
With everything in place, they're ready for the long-anticipated return of War Ag expert Brian Short.
And that was the bird scarer.
Very effective.
Yeah, well, I'd like to think so.
Flax was one of the crops that you said would put us in the Ministry of Agriculture's good books.
- Yes, absolutely right.
- All the time I've got my eye on that grade A.
- Yes.
- Ever hopeful.
Meanwhile, the cows are coming to milk and we're getting about two gallons a day off each one.
Very good.
We have branched out into a rabbit concern.
We've started off with two.
But they are multiplying as we speak.
It's amazing how fast that process happens.
Well, that's good.
Any meat for the pot helps.
So, Brian, we now get to the burning issue of the grade, the category, - that you would like to assign to our farm.
- Yes.
Well, of course, it's not just this field.
One has to take account of the whole farming operation.
But I would have thought that given what you've done, you are working to at least 60% of productivity on a farm like this.
So that's a B, OK? Right.
There are some War Ags who actually used B pluses and B minuses.
I think you might be edging towards a B plus.
- Really? - Whoo! - B plus.
- I can live with that.
I think so.
Right, well, let's have a cup of tea before we get any wetter.
- Are you allowed a cup of tea afterwards? - After I've graded you.
You'd have got a biscuit with it as well if you'd given us an A.
The War Ag's central role in British agriculture continued throughout the Second World War, becoming more and more demanding.
It was a gruelling challenge but one from which the nation's farmers would not flinch.

Previous EpisodeNext Episode