Wartime Farm (2012) s01e07 Episode Script

Episode 7

1 The Great British Countryside - 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.
When war broke out, two-thirds of all Britain's food was imported - now it fell under threat from a Nazi blockade.
The government turned to farmers to double home-grown food production.
The plough had become a weapon of war.
It was the farmer's principle weapon of war.
If they failed, Britain could be starved into surrender.
Now, archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn, and historian Ruth Goodman, are running Manor Farm in Hampshire, as it would have been during Second World War.
Yes! By 1944, the tide of war was about to turn in favour of the Allies on D-day.
Farmers would be crucial to its success.
Growing thousands of acres of flax to make parachutes, ropes, tents and aircraft critical to the D-day landings.
Accommodating prisoners of war to bring in the harvest and pressing their racing pigeons into service to work as top secret military messengers.
Who would have thought the pigeon would have played such a crucial role at D-day? This is the untold story of the countryside at war.
By 1944, Britain had been at war for five long years.
The Allies now had the upper hand, controlling the skies of Europe and shipping in the Atlantic, so imports from the United States could again flow into Britain.
But, instead of shipping food, they were charged with importing military hardware.
So, for the farmers of Britain, their drive to double home-grown crop production went on.
Meanwhile, the Allies were assembling the largest naval task force in history.
The aim - to land 160,000 troops on the beaches of Normandy, to liberate France from the Nazis.
This was the prelude to a full-scale invasion.
Three and a half million troops, 7,000 boats and 54,000 vehicles lay in wait in the southern counties of England.
- They ours, Peter? - No, they're Yanks, they are.
- Yanks? - Yeah, they're American.
The military took over 11 million acres of land - a fifth of Britain - for camps, bases, munitions dumps and training grounds.
Much of this was valuable farmland.
Farmers like ourselves would be watching convoys like this and be thinking, "Look, guys.
"Be careful, we've got hay there, we've got wheat here, "about to drive into the flax field.
" The amount of land that must have been requisitioned from farmers to actually house them.
The thing is, they've got to do their manoeuvres, so they've to do this somewhere, Peter.
Oh, yeah, yeah, and they're all in single file, so any damage to the crop is going to be absolutely minimum.
But damage, nonetheless, is a bugbear for people like us, who have spent the whole war doing everything they can to grow these crops.
Key to the success of D-day was flax, from which fibres used make linen and canvas were extracted.
Before the war, this had been imported from countries like Russia and Eastern Europe, but, with supplies cut off, it fell to the wartime farmer to meet demand.
Parachute webbing, fighter aircraft fuselages, tents, ropes and hoses required vast quantities, so the government instructed farmers to boost production.
It was so important to the military that, over the course of the war, production was increased from 1,000 to 60,000 acres.
Four months ago, the team planted a crop of flax on Manor Farm.
It SHOULD soon be ready to harvest, but it's not looking good.
We want the plants to be, what, about a metre high? At least waist high.
The problem is just we have had this year, and, of course, this didn't happen in the war.
In the war, actually, we were gifted with really quite good summers, proving that God was on our side.
But, unfortunately, God isn't on our side in the present because we've have had more rain in this last month - than since records began.
- Yeah.
Six inches in a month.
And it's not a case of flax doing bad and everything else doing well, Because not even the weeds are coping with the water logging here.
Well, it is heavy clay soils, and this is the worst soil for flax.
And I suppose the War Ag at the time were forcing farmers to go against their intuition and grow crops on land they knew wasn't suitable for that crop.
And everything's conspired against us.
To stand any chance of survival, the flax needs a spell of dry, warm weather.
Another threat to the flax crop are wood pigeons, who eat the seeds before they've even had chance to grow.
The team hopes their bird scarer will keep them at bay.
But there was another type of pigeon, the carrier pigeon.
Often raced by wartime farmers as a hobby, they possessed a unique skill of always returning to their home loft when released.
Before D-day, radio blackouts were imposed to keep invasion plans secret.
So carrier pigeons were used to carry messages from the front line.
Oh, Chris, hello! Historian Dr Chris Williams is showing Ruth how the system worked.
I've brought you two pigeon containers.
Every bomber that goes over Germany, or every coastal command aircraft, has two pigeons in it to give a distress signal, particularly if it has to land in the sea.
They've not got the radio, they're in the dinghy they let the pigeon off, the pigeon flies back to its own home loft and that can be the difference between life and death for a bomber crew.
When the radio doesn't work, you use an animal instead.
The military had no time to train up enough birds, so civilian racing pigeons were often used.
Many were parachuted behind enemy lines in France, picked up by the Resistance, and then given messages with intelligence to courier back home.
The box would be dropped on this parachute - quite a small parachute but pigeons land well and they're quite light - over enemy-held territory.
This was done about 16,000 times between 1941 and 1944.
That's quite amazing, isn't it? In a war that has radar, radio, sort of modern communications, to all intents and purposes, they are still using carrier pigeons.
This is one of the interesting things about this war, is the different sorts of technology.
You've got the Allies, who invented the atom bomb, and they're using hundreds of thousands of pigeons as well.
I've heard somewhere, I'm not frankly quite sure where, that this medal that's given to animals for bravery has been won more times by pigeons than by any other species.
That's right.
During the Second World War, pigeons got about 30 of them, horses about three, dogs about 18, pigeons were way ahead with this.
We've actually got one here.
This is the Dickin Medal, which was awarded to a bird called Mercury of the Army Pigeon Service, Special Section.
Mercury was a spy pigeon.
Now if your pigeons worked well for the RAF in the routine way, particularly if they can home across sea well, they may get picked up for special service.
Mercury carried a vital message 480 miles from the Danish Resistance to Britain, making her the most celebrated of all wartime carrier pigeons.
But, although this homing instinct came naturally, carrier pigeons had to build up their stamina to fly such long distances and farmers would have trained their own birds.
What you've also got here is a diary of a pigeon trainer, and what he's got is records of how he's sending his birds away.
"Saturday 12th December - two more young birds.
All flying well, "except blue cock with bad foot.
" He's recording every day how his loft is working, how he's managing to train them to know where they are and to come back to his loft.
If you're going to be training pigeons, you'll need a basket in which you can take them out and start releasing them to train them.
So this is your basket you'll be needing to have, sooner or later.
- Oh, right.
- That could be a bit of a task for you, I think.
That looks a bit more challenging, doesn't it? This summer is turning out to be one of the rainiest on record, so Alex is making preparations for what looks like being a damp flax harvest.
This my old raincoat.
It's seen better days, to be honest.
It's developing a few holes here and there.
But one of the major problems is that it's just no longer waterproof.
And what's happening is the rain, once it gets in, gets across the shoulders and you get all crampy and rheumatic.
So it is in desperate need of a waterproofing.
He's making a traditional waterproofing solution with ingredients found on the farm.
This is our beeswax from June.
We extracted the honey from this and the wax has been kept in this muslin sheet.
So that's going to be the first ingredient.
Still a bit sticky, so we'll get that in there.
Next, Alex is adding linseed oil, produced from flax seed.
It's highly flammable, so he's taking great care when warming it.
It's got perfect waterproofing properties, this stuff.
So that's going to go in with the wax.
This is the most dangerous part of the enterprise.
This is where we add the paraffin.
The thing with the paraffin is it just really thins the mixture.
And, ideally, what I'll do is hang this up to dry and the paraffin will actually sort of evaporate off.
Now it will leave a bit of a smell for a while, but I'm not too bothered about that.
We've got the perfect consistency now.
So we're all ready to go.
The only problem is it's incredibly hard trying to paint onto one of these jackets, just on a table.
I've got a bit of an idea.
Peter? Ooh, you all right? - Yeah.
Can you give me a hand a second? - Yeah, sure.
We'll prepare that later.
Can you just turn around a second? Just run with me on this.
I'm just try this on for size, Peter.
Just try this on.
If you don't mind, I'm now going to paint on some boiling hot wax and oil.
How does that sound? ALEX LAUGHS It feels OK, I can't feel the temperature, but I can just feel your gentle brush strokes massaging my shoulders.
Tah-dah! Perfect.
While they wait for a break in the weather, Ruth's making a pigeon basket.
200,000 carrier pigeons were used by the military, so the demand for baskets was huge.
Like many traditional crafts, basket making saw a massive resurgence in the war.
It's amazing the variety of baskets that were being made during the war.
And so many of them with a military purpose.
I mean, there were the agricultural baskets - the potato-harvesting baskets - there were the domestic baskets for carrying shopping, and people still needed that stuff.
But then there was a huge range of hampers for parachutes and baskets for pigeons.
So there seems to have been an enormous demand, and a growing demand, for pigeon baskets during the war.
With all these carrier pigeons being needed to take secret messages here and there, how do you move the pigeons? You've got to move them somehow.
Ruth's made the base of the basket, now she needs to form the sides.
Oh, gawd, this is where it gets hard.
Ugh! Right.
Somehow these have all got to go upright.
It's amazing, too, how the strength comes to it.
These are really flimsy-looking bits of stuff, aren't they? yet the whole of that is made of just intertwining, and it's as rigid as heck.
I'm really enjoying this, I really am.
It's probably the sort of basket that would make a professional willow worker wince.
So many of these crafts Yes, it takes a lifetime to be really good at them, but making some sort of rough stab, it's just a matter of having a go.
The revival in basket making meant new apprenticeships were established.
The craft became a reserved occupation, meaning basket makers were exempt from military service.
Even the Women's Institute got in on the act, running classes in the art of basketry.
It actually looks like a basket, doesn't it? I know it's a bit wobbly.
I know.
I know.
It's not exactly the most geometrical of baskets but SHE SIGHS HAPPILY SHE GIGGLES Alex and Peter are monitoring the flax, but the constant rain is destroying it, by washing nitrogen - which is essential for plant growth - out of the soil.
The War Agricultural Executive Committee, known as the War Ag, issued advice on using chemical fertilisers.
This is ammonium nitrate - it's a chemical fertiliser.
OK Obviously, these are chemicals that occur naturally but, certainly by the Second World War, they're being used in their chemical form to fertilise crops.
So that one's loaded.
- Are you going to be all right pushing this one, Peter? - I think so.
Using a tractor in this waterlogged field would ruin the crop, so the boys are using a hand-operated seed barrow.
Rotating brushes scatter the fertiliser through adjustable holes in the sides.
It's a bit like walking on a high wire.
Is that heavy? It's not light.
Well, it's all right.
The thing is, chemical fertilisers weren't new in the Second World War.
They'd already been around long enough to generate a reactionary group - people who believed firmly in organic fertilisers.
And that using organic products was good for the health of the land.
But, of course, in a wartime situation, you couldn't afford to take those views.
And, in fact, in taking those views, you were actually seen as being unpatriotic.
Although chemical fertilisers had been around since Victorian times, during the war, pressure from the War Ag saw their use triple.
Someone like me, who doesn't really want to use this kind of stuff, would be a situation with the War Ag saying to them, "You've got to get out there and use this kind of stuff, use chemicals.
"It's the only way we're going to win this war to produce food.
" They still need a spell of dry, warm weather to encourage growth and to dry out the field.
But, instead, their bad luck continues.
And now the rains are coming.
Wonderful(!) This could prove catastrophic for the flax.
Ruth has spent the last week learning the art of basketry.
The carrier pigeon basket is finished, ready for Peter and Alex to begin training.
Here we go, Ruth.
Look, look, look! It does actually look like a basket, doesn't it? - So what is this? - It's willow.
So what d'you reckon? I think that's perfect.
Well, it's not actually perfect, I'll be honest.
Well, for a first attempt.
- I am so pleased with it, though.
- So you should be.
So you're going to take it away and fill it full of pigeons? Yeah, we're going to take it away - and fill it full of good pigeons, carrier pigeons.
- Rather than bad pigeons.
Then we're hopefully going to release them and you should get messages coming back.
You break my basket and you DIE! SHE LAUGHS Alex and Peter don't have birds of their own, so they're calling on pigeon fancier Leonard Painter.
Hats off.
Leonard's raced carrier pigeons all his life.
Birds like his would have been drafted into military service during the war.
- Mind your head.
- Mind your head.
- Mind your head.
Started off small in 1946, gradually grown bigger as Rather than get rid of pigeons, you add a bit on.
Most of these older ones have flown from Pau in the south of France, which is 540 miles.
You see, that old fella there, he's 19.
- He's 19 years old?! - Yeah.
He flew from the south of France six times - that's over 500 miles.
Really? Could you pick us out a good-looking bird, the type of bird we'd need today? Have you got something in here you could show us? - They're all good-looking.
- Of course they're all That's what my mum used to tell me! The boys are going to train Leonard's young pigeons to "home", by taking them away from their loft and releasing them.
At first a short distance, then increasing it over time.
To transport the birds, they're using Ruth's new basket.
That's a disgrace! THEY LAUGH - Look, it was her first attempt.
- Ruth's first attempt.
- Well, yeah, very good, actually.
- Bold and admirable.
That's a female.
- Right.
- Right.
- She does not like being handled.
- Right.
You have to put the lid down quick or they'll be out.
One up there, is there? Yeah.
Come on.
Any of these, you take them 30 miles, he's back in 30 minutes.
Leonard was just a boy when troops were gathering here for D-day, but he remembers local homing pigeons being recruited to carry secret messages back from France.
Were all pigeon keepers during the war responsible for producing birds for the war effort? Not all of them.
If you didn't join, you didn't get food, that's all.
- So everybody in the club joined.
- Right.
Otherwise you didn't get an allocation of feed.
This is feed for the birds.
Oh, yeah.
Not humans, of course! Particularly around the period of D-day, I mean, this was such a crucial operation that everyone had to observe this sort of radio silence.
That's essentially where these pigeons came into their own.
That's right.
Oh, yeah.
We used to wait and see if we could see them come back.
Only once I see a pigeon come back, in 1944, with two messages.
- It came from somewhere in France.
- The pigeons would fly back here.
It would then be your job to get that message And take it to the local police station - As soon as possible.
- They had a briefing once a week.
- Mind your head.
- Ooh! Sorry.
Carrier pigeons were crucial to the war effort and the government issued strict instruction s for farmers not to shoot them.
Woodpigeons, however, destroyed crops so the Royal Observer Corps tracked flocks down to be shot.
With meat rationed, it was a welcome addition to the menu.
As pests, of course, anyone could take pigeon, just like they could rabbit, and therefore, if you're in the countryside, it was an extra source of meat.
Wartime, you suddenly find that many people who'd been rather sniffy about them before were suddenly only too keen to eat rabbit and pigeon.
And many people from the towns, who'd never ever had them before in any way, shape or form, discovered the delights.
You can see what a small bird they are.
I mean, many people hardly bother with the rest of the bird, they just use the breasts, the two pieces here, and barely bother with the rest, but it makes such a good, rich, brothy stock.
I'm going to make the most of that.
I'm going to use every last little bit of him.
So these are being boiled in broth, stock, whatever you want to call it, with no additional fat.
In they go.
Alex and Peter are heading out into the English Channel with skipper Nick Gates to train the carrier pigeons.
Releasing them from a boat got them used to flying over water - essential for birds bringing back messages from the French Resistance before D-day.
Good stuff.
Like carrier pigeons and farmland, the wartime government also took control of fishing boats, including this one, the Ocean Pearl.
We're actually on a wartime boat, are we not? Well, that's right.
She was built before the war, built right back in 1933 as a fishing boat, but she was requisitioned by the Navy.
This vehicle would be running things like food supplies to and from the bases.
Yeah, I supposemaintenance stuff, fuel oil, that sort of stuff.
- Rum.
- Rum, yes! Probably.
Being farmers, our land would have been encroached upon by the military.
I suppose fishermen, you don't think the fact that their boats would also have been taken.
That's their livelihoods going as well.
That's right.
This I think it was used by the Navy for about four years.
It's just amazing, isn't it, about how the Ministry was getting its tentacles into every aspect of British society and industry.
Not only were farmers being put under pressure, but fishermen, too, having their boats requisitioned, and even pigeon fanciers having their pigeons taken for the war effort.
You know, all with one thing in mind - to defeat the enemy.
These are our carrier pigeons, currently in the basket that Ruth's made, and they're all set to go.
We've got the messages - we just need to tie them onto their legs and then we'll release them.
We're not going to release them all together.
If we do, the other birds will follow the first bird released, so they wouldn't do any work.
The idea here is to train them, keep them exercised, so they can find their way home.
Gradually the distance is increased until they are capable of returning home from hundreds of miles away.
Right, message in greaseproof paper to keep it waterproof.
Our first pigeon, Peter.
Even today, no-one quite knows how they find their way back home.
But scientists believe they may have an inbuilt compass and use the earth's magnetic field to navigate.
- Just let him go? - Yeah, I think so.
- We ready? Here we go.
- Look at that.
- He's fast, isn't he? Here we go.
Ooh! I hate to say it, Peter, but Southampton's that way.
PETER LAUGHS He's going to Chichester! Ruth's cooked the wood pigeons for an hour and a half.
Now they've cooled, she's preparing a wartime salad.
I'm just going to take the breasts off first, whole, just the four of those, as they'll look nice in the salad.
One of the great things about pigeon or rabbit is that they're full of flavour.
You get way more taste for a small amount of meat, really, and that really helped in wartime cooking! You think how much of wartime food is about potatoes and bread.
You know, it's bland, bland, bland, bland, stodge, stodge, stodge.
And anything that brings a bit of flavour in is a huge relief.
And then I'm supposed to arrange the meat in a bowl.
According to the recipe, I'm supposed to make it look attractive.
Not quite sure how I do that.
During the war, the government encouraged the nation to eat "a salad a day".
Raw vegetables were recognised as being good for health, especially when living on a rationed diet.
Ruth's rather unusual salad is set in gelatine.
Seems a bit odd calling it a salad.
It's more of a terrine, isn't it? But that was the wartime way, almost anything that got served cold was called a salad.
And then that can then just sit and set.
Despite Alex's misgivings, within half an hour, all the carrier pigeons have returned to Leonard's loft, completing the 30-mile journey with their messages.
- Oh, Leonard! Hello! - Pigeon with a message.
- Oh, my goodness! That's not ours already, is it? - Yeah.
- Wow! So, in wartime, I wouldn't have been allowed to open that.
I would have had to take it to the local police station? To the local Yes.
- And they would have forwarded it to whoever - Oh, yeah.
You're not aware what's in it, other than the fact it's a carrier.
Right, it says, "Ruth, Weather's good.
Wind - southeast, light.
"Basket still on boat.
"What time's dinner?" Yes.
Well, hmm What time's dinner? I haven't finished it yet.
I'm amazed, it's so fast! During the war, 98% of pigeons returned with their messages, but often with mortal injuries.
- I'll see you again - hopefully.
- That was dead exciting.
- Take care.
- OK.
Thank you.
A good hour after the pigeons returned, the boys are back in time for Ruth's revitalising woodpigeon salad.
This looks absolutely fantastic, Ruth.
Salad-tastic today.
Wartime salads.
So this is a salad in jelly.
Yeah! I know, it's really interesting, isn't it? That salad really just takes off in the wartime.
Everybody's eating all sorts of different types of salad, things they never had before like grated carrot and grated beetroot, I mean, you just don't find them pre-war.
I have to say, that pigeon does look fantastic.
So we're calling this a bad pigeon, because obviously it's feasting off of the land, it's the enemy of the farmer.
Whereas good pigeons It's amazing to think how many pigeons were pressed into service during the war.
And, you know, everybody's so excited about all these new communications The radio had been around, but all this radar It's hi-tech stuff and we're back to pigeons.
As well as pigeons, farmers also had land requisitioned by the military.
By 1944, there were 623 airfields in Britain.
Many were like small towns and built almost entirely on good agricultural land.
Farmers were living cheek-by-jowl with the military, and many witnessed fighting first hand - not on the land, but in the air.
The Ministry of Information recognised that this war touched so many people, that it should be interpreted by painters as well as photographers.
Artist Leo Stevenson is following in footsteps of the war artists.
- Good morning.
- Hello.
- Hello.
As you might guess, I'm an artist.
Yes, we can see.
We can see.
I wonder if you can help me.
Because I'm going to try and imagine I'm back in that period, doing an officially commissioned work of art as if I'm an official war artist.
So these aren't paintings that artists are doing just for the love of it - these are things that are actually commissioned.
Can you imagine that, amidst all the confusion and the anxiety of warfare, the British government found it its heart and also found the money for official war artists? Now they did this for three key reasons.
Firstly to protect the best artists, to preserve their lives, and to also to protect their livelihoods, because nobody is going to buy art in a time of war.
But most importantly, to say something about the real experience of warfare that the press couldn't.
Basically, the idea is this - you're working in the fields, minding your own business, as people did.
Meanwhile, 10, 20,000 feet up there, people are trying to kill each other and the sky is full of contrails from the aircraft.
But life carries on - you have to produce the food, you have to keep the country going.
Leo's taking photographs from which he'll base his painting.
Peter, if your hand is like that, that sort of thing.
That's it.
Go for it.
Just hold that for about two hours and I'll be done.
Ooh! Hundreds of German aircraft were shot down over Britain and, if the crew survived, they'd be captured as prisoners of war.
By 1944, women were being drafted to work in factories rather than on the land, so POWs were put to work in agriculture to help double crop production.
Farmers found themselves face-to-face with Germans, who told them rationing back home was far more severe than in Britain.
Hold onto there.
Push it in Even the humble loaf was hard to come by, as bakers Emmanuel Hadjiandreou and David Carter have discovered.
I've been looking at a recipe for a black type of bread.
It really has very meagre ingredients.
We have here I'm looking at some of these.
It looks more like the kind of stuff I'd feed an animal.
Yeah, well, indeed this is something you would feed an animal because this black pile here is silage.
Really? Andwe're using silage here because commercial yeast wasn't available.
It's fermented grass and anything that ferments has a by-product, one of which is the gases that enable bread to rise.
We have chopped-up grass.
That's desperate.
That is desperate, but don't forget that wheat is a grass.
And this is what was known as tree flower, and tree flower was, - in fact, wood shavings.
- Sawdust.
- Sawdust.
So those arethese ingredients.
To the silage and sawdust, David is adding chopped, fermented rye to help the bread rise.
But this wasn't without its dangers.
Rye is highly susceptible to ergot fungus which, when eaten, can cause convulsions and gangrene, even death.
It might also be good to put something a little sweet in it.
Now, sugar Very hard to come by.
One thing I have got.
We've got bees and we're producing honey.
That will assist the flavour.
As Germany's position weakened as the conflict wore on, this is just the kind of loaf ordinary Germans were forced to eat.
Pat that down.
Yet, in wartime Britain, bread was never rationed.
I think that would have been regarded as a very retrograde step on the part of the Ministry of Health.
The minute you start rationing bread, you're telling people that, "We are desperate.
" "We're losing", yeah.
And you think this is going to rise, then? - Yes, I'm confident it will.
- Excellent.
How long are we looking at baking this for, then? We'll try it for about 35 minutes and see what it looks like.
So I'm going to put it in the oven, and we'll wait and see what happens.
I'm looking forward to that.
Artist Leo is beginning to sketch out his painting of war in the countryside.
You're from round here, aren't you? Have been for 81 years.
In 1944, pigeon fancier Leonard Painter remembers clearly the countdown to D-day, when tens of thousands of troops, ships and vehicles amassed in the fields around Manor Farm.
Tell me about D-day - what was it like around here? It was like a closed-down army camp - you couldn't go anywhere without a permit.
There was barbed wire across the roads and had a permit to go down there if you wanted to.
- Total lockdown.
- It was, yeah.
And every space, field, grass verge was army equipment and tents and soldiers camped out.
Hundreds of them.
We had a field day when we were boys.
What did you get up to? Well, down the pub, the American soldiers used to line four, five of us nippers up and the one that could drink a pint of beer the quickest would get a pack of Chesterfields, or Camels, or a wad of chewing gum.
Haven't touched it since, mind.
But the big nippers used to lap it up.
They'd get tipsy drinking bloody beer! The German silage bread has been cooking for half an hour, and now it's the moment of truth.
Are you feeling nervous, David? Absolutely.
Nervous but excited, Alex.
ALEX LAUGHS It's like giving birth to a new baby.
- Hey! Wow! Look at that.
- Wow.
It's black.
It looks like a German black bread, doesn't it? I'm amazed.
It really does look like a loaf.
- So it looks like a bread.
- Yeah.
- The question is - Feels like a bread.
Is it going to TASTE like a bread? Alex, are you going to be the guinea pig? - I am indeed.
- Good man.
There you go.
The first person since Germany, 1944, to eat silage bread.
- It's not inedible at all.
- It's not inedible at all.
In terms of I'm chewing away on something that's not going anywhere.
But the flavour's surprisingly nice.
- I think the flavour is.
- Sweet.
- Very sweet.
And that's not just the honey, that's the silage.
But, again, if you only had this to eat and didn't have anything else, would you choose eating grass or would you eat silage bread? I mean You would, wouldn't you? You can see how they've arrived at that as a replacement for black bread.
I'm having to swallow the wood.
A cup of tea helps it down no end.
Or rather a steiner of German beer, I think.
From rough sketches and photos, war artist Leo is beginning his painting.
The idea, at this stage, is to rough out the approximate forms of where things are and gradually develop a sense of tone.
Now here we want some trees.
The idea for this little dramatic scenario is that these aircraft have suddenly appeared and you can almost not hear them until the last minute.
The war does seem a very strange time to start officially commissioning artists and paying with public money for works of art, but it was actually a very important thing to do.
But they weren't just making it for their generation, and to entertain themselves, they were going to say something for future generations, post-victory, for us.
And the point is that an artist could say something about the real experience of warfare, the horror of it - especially here in the countryside.
The one thing this art isn't is propaganda.
This was about real experience, it's not about what the government wanted to portray as such.
In fact, some of the images produced by some of the best artists were contrary to the government message, if you like.
But they didn't mind that within reason.
After a week in the studio, Leo's painting is finished - capturing the moment a German Messerschmitt 110 was shot down by an RAF Hurricane.
- Goodness.
- That's amazing.
- LEO: - Thank you.
Wow! You've worked hard on that, haven't you? One of the things that's so hard to get to grips with, down here, is the concept of the war encroaching on people's lives.
You get an impression but you'll never get that sense.
- But it's brought into sharp relief here, isn't it? - Yeah.
This is a reality for farmers in wartime Britain.
- LEO: - This was, yes.
That's the thingabout history.
It's connecting with real experience.
ALEX: Well, I think that's brilliant.
RUTH: Thank you, Leo.
It's just a shame we can't hang it in the farm.
This would go off to the Ministry of Information, is that right? If I'm a wartime artist, this has been paid for by the government, so this will be taken to some government source.
It'll shown round an exhibition, going round the country, possibly, and then after the war, these paintings were shared out among government buildings and little local museums.
If it was relevant to a particular place, as this is here, you'd probably find a local museum for it or something.
For the past month, the team have been battling to save the flax, but one of the wettest summers on record has finally got the better of it.
Alex and Peter have no choice but to write off the entire crop.
As in wartime, this is partly the consequence of having to sow crops on unsuitable land.
I don't blame you, Alex.
You know? I don't blame you.
It's the weather.
It's the heavy clay soils and the weather.
I mean, this must have happened during the war.
The ministry must have asked people to put crops into ground that it just wasn't suitable for.
In fact, we do know that.
With flax, we have learnt a really hard lesson here, haven't we? We have.
The one thing I do know about flax is it hates heavy clay soils.
But that's the only good thing, Peter.
This was famously one of the hardest things to harvest and in getting this all wrong, means we don't have the back-breaking job of harvesting it.
You really shouldn't count your chickens before they hatch, Alex.
Why's that? Because a neighbouring farmer DOES have a crop and he does need to harvest it.
And I said, "Ours has failed.
"We did schedule in a harvest.
We can come and help you.
" Who's "we"? You and me, and a few prisoners of war.
Anyway, as much as your coat's waterproof.
The rain's coming down hard.
Let's just get in before it really drenches us.
Alex and Peter are heading to Simon Cooper's farm to help harvest his flax.
Unlike the boy's crop, Simon's was grown on well-drained, light soils, so it's faired the wet weather much better.
It's now turned from green to brown, indicating it's ready for harvest.
- Hi, Simon.
- Hello.
- Hi.
Just admiring your flax crop there.
Thank you.
We've got a crop - not as good as we'd have hoped.
We'd have hoped it would be a bit taller, a bit thicker.
But a year like this, we've got to be grateful for what we've got.
By 1944, there were 60,000 acres of flax in Britain.
All the plants had to be pulled up by hand to maintain the long fibres in the stem.
During the war, extra labour had been provided by land girls, children and conscientious objectors.
But with the Allies in the ascendancy, prisoners of war became an ever-growing source of labour.
Johann Custodis' grandfather was a German POW.
Johann studied the impact they had on wartime agriculture.
So how many POWs were there working on the land? There were about 150,000 Italians and, at peak, about 300,000 Germans.
Almost every fifth worker in agriculture would be a German POW.
That's amazing to think.
Johann, I've noticed we've got some prisoners of war over here that have got these red diamonds on their back.
What does that signify? These coloured patches were so that you can actually see these POWs and spot them so that it would be more difficult for them to escape.
But, primarily, so you could identify them when you see them working in the field.
I guess it makes sense, Peter.
They've been designed for camouflage, haven't they, so you've got to reverse that by putting a whacking great big red mark on their back.
So D-day, Operation Overlord, what sort of effect did that have on the attitude of German prisoners? D-day had a massive effect on several fronts.
The effect on the Germans was, in camps in Britain, then realised that the war was pretty much over.
D-day was the point when most Germans actually came to Britain because there were masses of German POWs captured in France, so many of them were shipped to Britain.
On the one hand, a logistical nightmare.
On the other hand, increasing, overall, the amount of labour that you can use.
Another important source of wartime labour were gypsy travellers.
Their nomadic lifestyle lent itself to the intense but short-lived harvest work.
Dr Becky Taylor is an expert on how war affected their lives.
Like everybody else, they were massively affected by the changes of the Second World War.
So the men went off to fight and this left women and children and older people in the community in quite a difficult position because life on the road is hard.
So a lot of families, where they could, they would roll up on farms and then be there for much a longer period of time than they perhaps would.
And farmers were desperate for the extra labour, so they might be there throughout the harvesting season and pick up from the pea harvest, right through to the different sorts of fruit harvests, through to potatoes and sugar beet and things like that.
And then, if they'd worked, they could stay over the winter and develop close relations with farmers who they were working with.
And there's others who are saying, "They're camping on land "that I need for my crops," and you get a lot of tension locally.
But some of the farmers are happy to have them there and saying they're essential, because they need them working on the land.
After a day of back-breaking work, the flax crop is almost harvested.
As we're pulling it, this is quite green, some of this, isn't it? Yeah.
- So it just needs to dry out a little bit more, doesn't it? - Yeah.
And then this is going to be turned intopretty much everything.
Just about anything from canvas to ropes.
Parachute harnesses, hosepipes.
That has been the remarkable thing, finding out just how many things this stuff is used for.
- Yeah.
- Good stuff.
By early June, 1944, everything was in place ready for the D-day landings.
160,000 troops were ready to go on the first day.
Millions more would follow.
Carrier pigeons brought back messages from France with information on the enemy's movements.
Now everything depended on the weather.
Local historian Bob Nimmo is showing Alex and Peter the remains of a Royal Navy camp, called HMS Cricket, just a stone's throw from their farm.
It once covered 125 acres of woods and farmland.
Essentially, people stationed here were here to practice for D-day? Yes.
And prior to D-day, there would be 4,000-odd people living in the camp and then, when D-day came, it was pretty nearly empty apart from the base staff.
Everybody had gone.
So what part of the camp are we going to? We're going to the extremity of the camp, which you can see possibly one of the central ablution blocks, and clustered around that would be 20 or so Nissen huts.
This was HMS Cricket during the war.
Nissen huts, built in the woods, were standard accommodation for troops and here there were 110.
There's a set of steps here.
At the end of a Nissen hut there would be a step, I think.
This is a base for a Nissen hut.
This would be a base for a Nissen hut.
How many people would you have had in a Nissen hut of this size? I understand there are 20 or 24.
So these would be your sorts of pals that you were ultimately going to find yourself They would ultimately be together as a flotilla going across to D-day, or being taken across on board a ship to D-day.
This is a map of the camp and we are up here.
- OK.
- There was a cinema and a NAAFI building there A cinema?! Oh, yes, a cinema, and people came down and entertained them.
George Formby, I think, came down.
George Formby! He's one of my heroes! Is he? Well you are probably treading on the same spot.
Do you think George Formby might have He might have stood on that very spot, playing his ukulele or whatever he did But also the Americans played baseball in the square at Botley.
So all of this happening right on the doorstep of our farm, Manor Farm.
Indeed, yes.
The flax is harvested.
Next, it was processed to extract the fibres from the stem, used to make linen and canvas.
Ann Cooper is showing Ruth how it was done.
The first stage was to soak the crop in water - known as retting.
- So this is our retted flax, it's been in the water.
- That's right.
First we need to get these seed heads off because we don't need those for the fibre.
And we are just de-seeding here which is also known as rippling.
SHE COUGHS And that was another thing.
It's very dusty.
Very dusty.
Even in the factories, you'd have a tremendous amount of dust around.
- Right, we've rippled.
- Job done.
- Now it's time to break, am I right? - Indeed.
- So the purpose of breaking is to crack away the outer - .
So it's quite a quick, hard action but you can see it breaking away really well.
All those little bits of straw-like stuff flopping up and down.
And it's softening up already.
Processing flax by hand was labour intensive but, as demand grew during the war, the process became mechanised.
So although this is a little mini hand one, this is more the sort of thing that was found in the wartime flax factory? Yes, but on a lot larger scale, obviously.
- Now we - Feed in from this side? Through this end.
And it does feel like you're breaking something.
- It does, doesn't it? - Yeah.
Next, the flax is scutched to remove the broken bit of outer stem from the valuable fibres within.
Now, we've already got waste.
That's no longer part of the main bundle.
That's what you would call "tow".
Tow would be used for cordage, for twine.
Very, very important, although it seems like a cast off It's going to be saved and turned into Righty-ho.
Heckling then separates the fibres into individual strands.
This is just combing.
It's like combing your hair, - only not worrying about pulling the knots out.
- Exactly.
- So this beautiful.
- Hasn't that changed? Isn't it? That really is starting to look like hair, flaxen hair.
So turning it into thread is just a matter of twisting the fibres together, isn't it? This fibre could now be woven into canvas or linen, ready for military use.
I'm trying to break it.
I can't break it! Look at it.
It's cutting my fingers.
Look at that.
I really can't.
From such a delicate little blue flower in a field.
To the strongest of fibre.
Strange though it seems, I can't imagine how we would've won the war without flax.
If we hadn't had the fibre for the parachutes, and the webbing, and the camouflage nets, and the hosepipes and the tyre covers and EVERYTHING, how would we have managed it? How would we have done those D-day landings? We couldn't.
We couldn't.
As D-day grew ever closer, three and a half million troops packed into southern England - and its villages had never been so vibrant.
Foreign troops formed close bonds with the locals, drinking together and playing games.
Oh! Today, baseball is thought of as an all-American sport but it was very popular in Britain before the war, and, in 1938, Britain had won the first Baseball World Cup.
So the team are recreating a game that took place here in 1944 with the American troops.
This must have come as sweet relief, if you're thinking about round here.
Gearing up, Operation Overlord, you don't know whether you're going to live or die.
It's good.
You need something to let the tension Just to be able to control yourself, let alone anything else.
Oh! Ooh! Ooh! It must have been such a melting pot of cultures.
Right here, we've got Americans, we've got British from other counties, German POWs, Italian POWS.
Even just within Britain, you've got people of all sorts of classes and all different areas of Britain, - all mixed up and dumped into the countryside.
- Mm.
Oh! Yes! It's a stupid game anyway! Don't know why we can't play cricket.
It's a perfectly decent game.
3-2 to camp, nobody on! It must have been such a hive of activity just prior to Operation Overlord, prior to D-day and then the weather's right, the time comes, everyone leaves All overnight.
One night.
That's the thing - it's not moving out by degrees.
It is one night - the whole lot.
- Everyone goes.
- Womph! It must have been really eerie afterwards.
You must have got so used to this life and, this vibrancy and then, all of a sudden, nothing.
Stillness, and just reports coming back on the news.
"My Lord, I knew these guys and they're there, "and they are dying in their thousands.
" Who's for beer? Over you come then.
Is that elderflower cordial? - There you go, young man.
- Cheers! - Chin-chin.
- Mud in your eye.
- Oh! ALL: CHEERS! Productions were often put on for the troops, through organisations such as Entertainments National Service Association, ENSA, which the popularist vote thought stood for "Every Night Something Awful.
" So, on that thought, I give you Alex Langlands.
Thank you! OK.
This is a song - it's called "When The Boys Come Back From War".
When the boys come back from war It's the bravest thing I ever saw With Hitler's allies mob We'll wipe the floor Soldiers were unable to travel to the theatre, so ENSA brought the entertainment to them.
As well as George Formby, Tommy Cooper, Spike Milligan and Laurence Olivier all worked for ENSA.
Gather round you pretty girls And shed a silent tear Cos George Formby's got a melody That will fill your heart with cheer When Paris falls we'll be on top Berlin city our next stop We'll sing the songs we did before When the boys come back from war BOTH: Dear Mother, Father, Sister Lay a place for me When it's all over I'll be back for tea.
WHISTLES AND APPLAUSE On the 6th June, 1944, in the early hours of the morning, 7,000 vessels, the largest armada ever assembled, sailed to the Normandy coast and began the liberation of France.
D-day was the turning point of the war in Europe.
But, for the farmers of Britain, victory was still another harvest and another year away.
Next time, the team face the conditions of 1945.
They harvest their wheat using the latest machinery Incredibly tense for Peter and myself.
This is a whole year building up to this harvest.
attempt to restore fertility to their fields We've got to put some heart back in the land, and this is the machine that is going to enable us to do it.
and experience how the nation celebrated victory.
ALL: For he's a jolly good fellow and so say all of us.
ALL CHEER To find out how Britain fed itself during The Second World War, order The Open University's free Wartime Farm Brochure.
Call Or go to the website and follow the links to the Open University.

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