Wartime Farm (2012) s01e09 Episode Script

Christmas Special

1 The great British countryside - setting for one of the most pivotal battles of the Second World War.
Churchill called it the "front line of freedom".
And it was fought by the farmers of Britain.
It was the battle to feed a nation.
Over the course of a year, archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn, and historian Ruth Goodman, worked Manor Farm in Hampshire as it would have been during the Second World War.
Now, Ruth and Peter are returning to Manor Farm to recreate the conditions of Christmas 1944, the sixth of the war.
A bit of fun at Christmas.
This time, they're without Alex so they'll have their work cut out.
With shortages biting deeper than ever, the southeast of England was in the grip of the worst bombing campaign since the Blitz of 1940.
Ruth and Peter are about to discover how the countryside came to the aid of people living in cities in their hour of need.
They provided food Real country Christmas for the townspeople this, isn't it? .
drink We've got a magical Christmas brew.
and gifts to lift the spirits.
Happy Christmas! This is the untold story of the Wartime Farm at Christmas.
In 1939, at the outbreak of war, the government set farmers strict targets to double home-grown food production by 1944.
They grew an additional 6.
5 million acres of crops, an area the size of Wales.
But by December 1944, farmers faced a new challenge.
Five years of fighting had devastated farmland and transport across Europe.
Food was becoming scarce.
The government demanded an extra 700,000 acres of pasture to be ploughed up.
Farmers were fighting a battle to grow crops on unsuitable land that was prone to flooding.
Hedging and ditching are really winter jobs, especially round here where we have such trouble with drainage.
Keeping the ditches open and clear is vital to the productivity of the land.
There's a whole network of ditches here round all the fields to carry the water.
The plan is to make all this water drain out into the river faster, rather than sitting on the land.
In wartime Britain there were no machines you could really turn to for this.
It still had to be done traditionally in the old hand way with people and spades and rakes and billhooks.
MUSIC: "O Holy Night", Instrumental You can start to see the water flowing already.
It just proves how blocked up this ditch was.
Undertaking hard, physical work on a rationed, wartime diet was particularly challenging.
Pies! I've got your pies.
Come and get them.
Well deserved! So, the Ministry of Food set up the Rural Pie Scheme to fill the stomachs of hard-working farm labourers.
Dig in! Pies, pies, pies! Professor Karen Sayer has researched how the scheme worked.
By 1944, it was distributing over one million pies a week.
Can you imagine the logistical effort involved there?! It runs from 1941 through beyond the war.
So, they're keeping people going.
This was all part of the attempt to provide more calories for those involved in heavy, physical labour.
Literally feed them.
Take pies.
And it really did mean that women in uniform turned up in fields carrying trays of pies.
It really did, yes.
I just love it.
It's so British, isn't it? Hey, we haven't got enough food.
Well, I know what we'll do.
We'll have a national pie scheme! The pies were distributed by one of the most important organisations of the Second World War, the Women's Voluntary Service.
Founded in 1938 by Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading, at its peak, the WVS had over a million members.
Often older, middle-class ladies, they did whatever they could to support the war effort.
Christmas 1944 saw them called into action in cities, helping families who had lost everything in the bombing.
They fed them, found them accommodation, clothing, and even toys for children.
So by '44, the women in the voluntary services in the cities are stretched to the absolute maximum.
They are getting really punch drunk and they are having to call on women in the countryside, through the WVS, to come in and help them.
So, someone like me, who'd spent the rest of the war in the countryside, might not be particularly comfortable in town, maybe, suddenly finds themselves helping people who have been struggling on for years side by side.
Having had this movement of townspeople into the countryside, there is a beginning of a movement of country people moving back into the towns to give help.
To offer real practical help for people who, by this point, are in considerable distress, who are absolutely worn down now, at their wits' end.
They deal with everything and they just tried to make everybody's life a little bit better.
In 1944, London was under threat from terrifying new Nazi weapons, the V bombs.
First came the V-1s, known as doodlebugs.
Unmanned flying bombs, difficult to detect by radar.
When they reached their target the engine cut, putting the bomb into a deadly dive.
At their peak, more than 100 doodlebugs a day were hitting London causing almost 23,000 casualties.
Christine Wight lived in London as a small child and remembers the devastation they caused.
The doodlebugs - I hated that sound.
You could see them.
I remember watching one once and just watching this thing going over and suddenly it stopped.
My mum, I was out on the street, and she came haring out, dragged me in, "Get in here!" At one point, my school was bombed, but luckily they got all the children into the shelters and things like that.
In September 1944, the Nazis unleashed a new, even more terrifying weapon - the V-2 rocket.
At least 500 hit London, killing some 9,000 civilians.
Travelling at over 3,000mph, they seemingly appeared from nowhere, bringing terror and loss of life wherever they fell.
Many also had to cope with the loss of family and friends on the battlefield.
By Christmas 1944, hundreds of thousands of British servicemen and women had been killed.
For Christine, this was to be the first Christmas without her father.
He had been killed six months earlier during the D-Day landings.
I presume your mother heard fairly quickly? Yes.
I mean, it's odd because I remember she was running down the road with this paper in her hand and I'm thinking, "What's going on?" She was obviously very upset.
It must have been a telegram, I presume, but they didn't tell children that someone had died in those days.
You'd just suddenly wonder, "Why isn't Daddy around? "Why is he not home?" Christine still treasures the letters her father sent to her before he died.
A crumb of comfort as the bombs rained down and Christmas approached.
- These are from your father? - Yes these are from my dad.
- Oh! And he's saying things like, "Look after Mummy for me.
" "Hope you learn all your ABC by the time I come home.
" Yes.
"Tell Mummy, I love you both.
" Oh! - Yeah.
- "Loads of love, Daddy.
" - Yeah.
Christmas '44 must have been a pretty grim Christmas for you.
Well, I can't remember it so it must have been very much a non-event.
To protect people from bombing, in 1939 the government issued over 1.
5 million domestic air raid shelters.
Although they offered some protection, their shortcomings were quickly exposed.
Lots of people during the war, after the initial enthusiasm for Anderson Shelters, found them less than ideal.
For a start, they tended to flood.
Any heavy rain and you could find yourself more than ankle deep in water.
And then there was the problem of how secure they were.
There were awful stories of people being buried alive inside and that put a lot of people off using them.
So, increasingly, they became rather abandoned and, like me, people started using them for storage more than anything else.
By Christmas 1944, many had been abandoned.
London, by far the most populated city in Britain, took the brunt of the attacks.
So people there sought out deeper, communal air raid shelters where they decamped, sometimes for weeks on end.
It fell to organisations like the Women's Institute, Red Cross, Salvation Army and Women's Voluntary Service to provide relief, especially at Christmas.
I was talking to Karen about the WVS and they talked so much about what that group and other groups were doing for people in emergency situations and I was wondering if we ought to do our bit.
Well, definitely.
In the countryside you have got access to ingredients.
We may not have many of the traditional Christmas ingredients, but we do have plenty of food.
It's good food, it's fresh.
Food that's going to lift people's spirits.
This is the one day of the year when everyone wants to forget there's a war on.
Just celebrate life.
We ought to do something for the children though, really.
Yes, a form of distraction, toys or something.
Or games.
There wouldn't have been much in 1944 to buy a child.
You'd have to have made it.
This is it.
You don't buy Christmas, you make Christmas.
It isn't about what you buy in shops.
Christmas is about the people you gather around you and what you do with your time.
Well, that is the truth isn't it? Everything elsecan go.
Until now, it had been the role of the countryside to grow food for the nation and to take in evacuees from the cities.
By 1944, with many London streets reduced to rubble and services at breaking point, the country people headed for the city to help.
The government recognised that one thing in particular was vital to keeping up British morale.
They instructed it should never be rationed and during the war production rose by a third.
Churchill demanded all front line troops should receive four pints a week.
And women factory workers were encouraged to drink beer for the first time, becoming known as the pint-pot girls.
The main ingredient of beer is malting barley and, before the war, nearly 40% was grown abroad.
The war cut off imports so brewers were forced to water down their beer to meet demand.
By 1944, shortages became so acute that the Ministry of Food urged brewers to experiment with alternative ingredients.
Peter's going to make his own beer - a morale booster for those forced to spend Christmas underground.
He's calling on expert in rural crafts, Colin Richards, for help.
You can see it's dark and damp, nobody knows where they are.
During the war, it was imperative that nothing went to waste, so when the Ministry of Food got wind of a surplus of potatoes, they suggested they should be used to make beer.
Colin's surplus is stored in a tunnel.
Was it common to keep potatoes underground in the war? Well, the Ministry of Supply requisitioned a lot of underground workings for the storage of sort of military goods, particularly ammunition, torpedoes etc, but for farms and farmers in rural areas that had old mine workings, it was an opportunity to keep things safe, and not just for themselves, but for other villagers and for whole communities so that, if there was an incident, you know, if there were bombs or if there were the smashing of services - sewers, water - then the food wouldn't be lost.
The first stage in making the beer is to crush the potatoes, a job that calls for a bit of improvisation.
And Colin's coal-powered ambulance.
Henry and I have been given our instructions by Colin.
Potato beer.
Sounds a bit strange.
Apparently it makes you fart.
We've been told to wash the potatoes, which we've done, bag the potatoes in small sacks, which we've done, and lay the potatoes out on this metal track, which we're doing.
Because basically, these potatoes have to be somehow broken up so we can release the starches and sugars to make our wort which forms the basis for our beer.
And Colin has got an idea along those lines.
That's exactly what we want really, isn't it? Absolutely perfect.
We've crushed it enough to expose the inner surface of the potato, but not so much that it's just going to turn into one big stodgy mass.
Rationing and shortages made celebrating Christmas a challenge.
Despite this, the Women's Voluntary Service tried to make it as normal as possible for displaced families.
Magazines published ideas on creating make-do-and-mend decorations.
I'm making lanterns from any bit of coloured paper.
I've got a bit of old wallpaper I found out the back.
Karen's getting tips from the 1944 land girls' newsletter on using the papery covering around the fruit of the physalis plant, commonly known as Chinese lanterns.
During the war, they were a garden favourite.
The letter to the editor says, "I would like to suggest the use of Chinese lanterns" - which are these - ".
for Christmas decorations.
"Strip the lantern from the stalk of the plant "and thread cotton through the stalks of the lanterns.
"They look very nice hung around pictures or make a bright splash "of colour strung across a room, as paper chains used to be strung.
" And in fact, they're absolutely right - it's making the most beautiful Christmas decoration.
Look at this - that is going to be gorgeous, and it is very colourful.
But you can imagine in families which have been bombed out, that have beenthey've suffered all sorts of trauma - if they could have salvaged something like this, which is part of the family, it would help them to remember that, and it would help them to remember lost family members that are no longer with them.
So I think it's something that becomes very powerful, actually.
Christmas trees were scarce, as wood was taken by the war effort.
Tight controls on the use of paper meant decorations were reused year after year, and with the fall of the Far Eastern rubber plantations to the Japanese, balloons were scarce.
But the enemy, inadvertently, dropped an ideal Christmas decoration from the sky - strips of metal foil called chaff.
Well, this was dropped by enemy planes to confuse the radar, to make it look like a huge force was coming over.
So a single German plane would come over and chuck this stuff out.
We, looking at our radar screens, would think, "Oh, my goodness! There's a huge squadron coming!" We'd scramble everybody, they'd all go up in the air and there'd be nothing.
Yes, and pick this up from the fields - one in the eye for the Germans.
I'm now going to turn this into a Christmas decoration.
You think this is a force for evil? It's not - it's a Christmas decoration! So I suppose these things are just to cheer people up, really.
A bit of fun at Christmas, something a bit different.
Some sort of feeling of a special day.
You can't do it by buying loads of stuff, you can't do it by giant expensive presents, you can't do it by over-indulging in posh food.
- You've got to do it somehow, haven't you? - Using any resource you had to hand.
In the spirit of wartime improvisation, Colin, too, is using any resources he has to hand to build a makeshift Christmas brewery.
This is our sort of mash tun, I suppose.
We are going to pop the potatoes in here, pop some water in here, and it will gently heat but it won't boil.
That will hopefully bring out the starches and the sugars.
Stick some water in the bottom first.
This sugar-starch solution, known as wort, will form the basis of the beer.
Time for the tatties.
Oh, they're nicely crushed.
I've got confidence, Colin, how about you? I think so, because, you know, everything you need to make beer, we've got here.
We've got the heat, we've got the potatoes, so everything else is down to nature, really.
I like the fact you class potatoes as something you need to make beer, and I suppose in 1943 with shortages, and 1944, it kind of was.
Keeping morale up and particularly at Christmas, you know, it was very important.
- There's a lot on our shoulders, isn't there? - There will be if you drop that! Right, I suppose we just need to fill this up with water now.
It wasn't just ingredients for the beer that were in short supply.
Containers to put the beer in were becoming increasingly scarce by 1944.
I've just been hunting round the farm for a container to put our beer in, and the obvious choice is a barrel, and they are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, and they are built to last, but sadly, because it's an organic materialthey don't.
And that'sthat's dry rot.
This is pretty much useless.
I mean, back in the day, we could have just fixed this, but during the war we can't get hold of this oak, because although we've got oak in Britain, it's the wrong type of oak.
I know it sounds absurd, but it's all knotty and gnarly, and it's tough to work, and this stuff was coming from the Baltics, but that is completely cut off, so we're going to have to be slightly inventive about where we get a container for our beer, and it is quite critical, because beer it will condition in its container.
Wartime brewers turned to an ancient alternative .
using a raw material Britain still had in abundance - clay.
Peter's calling on the services of potter Mike Fletcher to make some wartime beer flagons.
So I suppose during the war, pottery wasn't a reserved occupation, so all those young potters that had been training up, they've gone off.
- So I suppose the old boys are left - And left people like myself who are too old to fight, but still can pot-throw, are left behind, so we were extremely busy.
OK, the next stage, Peter, is we open the clay out.
And then, I can then start squeezing from the bottom .
and then you start pulling the clay up.
This flagon will hold a gallon, but during the war even bigger stoneware containers were made to hold nine gallons - so big, they had to be reinforced with iron rings.
You make it look so easy.
Then just make the neck - like so.
In 1944, the V weapons destroyed thousands of homes in London, leaving many children not just homeless, but without any possessions.
Many had never known a peacetime Christmas.
The Women's Voluntary Service recognised the importance of toys in distracting children from the horror that surrounded them and began a drive for makeshift Christmas presents.
Second World War expert Biff Raven-Hill has come to help Ruth turn household waste into doll's house furniture.
It's all just rubbish really, the sort of things that most people would throw out in a modern world, just sort of finding a new life and a use, tiny little bits and bobs.
Making toys from junk had been a popular pastime before the war and this 1930s book, Practical Suggestions In Toymaking, is full of ideas for children.
But now, in wartime, it became a necessity.
I mean, nowadays there is a doll's house industry and people can buy ready-made bits and bobs, but dolls' houses were really do-it-yourself during the war.
Now I found this - this is Christmas 1943, and of course there were lots of articles in here.
I mean, it looks so modern, doesn't it? It's wonderful.
"Let the dolls' house go modern.
" I love it.
And it's basically made of wire and bits of canvas, And it's just bent round.
Yeah! "Just a few yards of flexible wire, "a bit of gummed paper tape - the sort pasted on to windows "during the Blitz, and a fragment of material from the piece box can be "converted into an enchanting set of furniture for the dolls.
" And of course, during the war, all resources were so precious and every single bit of everything was saved and scavenged, and because things like these cigarette packets, so many people smoked that there would have been tons of these around, and the same with matchboxes, of course.
That's all been made out of matchboxes.
And then cigarette cards, I noticed as well, which everyone used to collect at the time.
Well, these make super pictures for a bedroom wall or a sitting room wall, because again you can add matchsticks.
Yes, they're about the right scale to make little frames.
- You're making a little bedspread, aren't you? - Yes, I am, and I've made a pillow.
- It's a gingham kind of doll's house.
- It is a bit, yes.
And then your coverlet on the top.
Look! A little bed.
THEY LAUGH Here's the truth, let's go for it.
The beer flagon has dried.
Now it must be glazed to make it watertight.
And out.
And there it is, glazed.
What exactly is a glaze? A glaze is glass.
It's sealing the pot.
So there's tiny, tiny particles of glass in here? Really, at the end of the day yes, because it's the same recipe as glass.
The neck is also glazed, traditionally a darker shade.
We've added red iron oxide at 2% and 2% manganese oxide, and that will give it that lovely honey colour.
Take it like that.
It's heavier than you think.
Nice and level, so look at the top, and you want to go about an inch past the shoulder.
- Here we go.
- Go on - down, down.
- That's about an inch.
- Down, and then up.
One glazed pot! The pot must be fired at 1,300 degrees Celsius, so Colin is rigging up a makeshift kiln.
Here we are, Colin.
- Wow.
- What do you think? - You made that.
- I'd like to say I did, but I didn't! To reach this temperature, they're using a highly combustible fuel, brought to Britain during the Second World War by American troops - propane.
Propane gas, such as this, was discovered in 1910.
It is a by-product of the refining process of making petrol, and it was very, very big in America.
It was essentially introduced to the UK when the troops came across, because we basically had town gas that was produced by coal.
After the Second World War, propane gas had its golden age.
It became a major fuel source, not only in America, but also in this country as well.
- Anyway, we should get a lid on this.
- Yes.
Well, it's not just a lid.
You've wanted to get as much benefit out of this gas that's going in, so I though what we could do is actually create another chamber where we could put resinous pine, and try and extract some pitch and oil out of the pine.
During the war, fuel was precious and wasn't to be wasted, so in true wartime spirit, Colin is also using the kiln's heat to make pine oil.
When pinewood is heated to around 300 degrees Celsius, oil is released and can be used as a lubricant or to protect wood and metal from corrosion - a great resource to have around a wartime farm.
In the areas where there were a lot of pine forests, you would do this on a colossal scale, really.
With the pine oil and the pot cooking away, the beer is flavoured with hops, and the fermenting of sugar in the potatoes into alcohol is begun with yeast.
Producing beer and gifts would go a long way to bring Christmas cheer to those under attack in cities.
But people also looked for comfort and hope from another, more spiritual, source.
While shepherds watched their flocks Places of worship had a vital role to play, especially at Christmas.
St Bartholomew's Church is where workers at Manor Farm have prayed for centuries.
This is the sixth Christmas of the war and much has changed since peacetime.
Many of our loved ones are still far from home and will again not be joining us this Christmas.
The danger of invasion has now passed, and with quiet confidence, we can see the end in sight.
Before the war, religion had been declining in popularity, but by Christmas 1944, there had been a marked change.
Hark! The herald angels sing Glory to the newborn king The church had quite a special place in wartime Britain.
For many people, it was a source of great comfort and strength.
But then there were other people who found that the war turned them right off religion, and you noticed that the numbers of people going to church begin to fall very rapidly after the Second World War.
It was a time when people went one way or the other, a sort of polarisation when some turned to the church with more fervour, perhaps, than they'd had before, and others turned away.
angels sing Glory to the newborn king.
The government was looking to the Church for a binding together of the community, of all people and this was happening right across the whole of the Western world.
Stalin - amazingly, in Russia, having banned religion - actually re-encouraged Christianity during the war, hoping for this effect amongst the Russian population, before once again banning religion afterwards.
And our government thought that the Church could offer something that bound the British people together.
Pleased as man with man to dwell Jesus, our Emmanuel Hark! The herald angels sing Glory to the newborn king.
It wasn't just the British people that church bound together.
By Christmas 1944, one in five farm workers were German or Italian prisoners of war, as Godfrey Wight recalls.
He became friends with two Germans stationed nearby.
Do you remember prisoners of war? Oh, yes.
I knew two by name.
Frank Schoen, who's died now, but Georg Kabur is still alive.
They both married ladies from the area.
Some were accepted by the local church and there are accounts of them singing carols to the congregation in German.
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht Alles schlaft, einsam wacht Do you know how they were regarded by the wider community? There was a little bit of not quite everything didn't go quite smoothly, but the ones that I knew were very good.
We got on very well with them.
im lockigen Haar, schlafe in I suppose it's very easy to always think of the Germans as Nazis, but Oh, yes, Frank Schoen, he was in the Waffen SS, he was in the Hitler Youth, and was forced into it, if you like, rather than volunteer.
- So it was sort of - You had to.
- Yeah.
Both Frank, and as I say, Georg Kabur, both involved themselves with the church at Botley.
- So the church was very much a centre of the community.
- Very much a centre of the community.
Especially at a time like this at Christmas.
When you can put your differences aside.
MUSIC: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen After six hours of brewing, Peter's come to see how the potato beer is coming along.
- Shall we give it a go? - Right.
- It almost looks like beer.
Yes, smells good.
It does, doesn't it? COUGHING It's very hoppy, and it's quite sweet and very hot.
Actually, it's very nice! - It's lovely.
- It is! - I'd certainly welcome this type of beer.
- Yeah.
So our little clay pot for our beer is cooking away in the kiln.
The oil is coming out.
And it almost tastes like we've got a magical Christmas brew.
It certainly does.
Working for the war effort came in addition to the day-to-day duties of running the farm 365 days a year - even Christmas Day.
Let's wash your udders off first.
Just make sure she's reasonably clean so nothing gets into the milk.
But unlike those living in cities, country people didn't have to survive purely on rations.
Our cows really represent one of the major differences between life and food, particularly, for country dwellers, to those who were living in the towns.
All the milk officially from all our cows goes into the central rationing system, prioritizing mothers and babies in particular.
But as an incentive, farmers were allowed to take as much milk as they wanted from their cows for personal use.
So there is no shortage of milk, butter and cream for us.
Peter's also busy on the farm.
Heating the pine wood on the kiln has extracted oil.
- That's quite nice.
- It is.
He's using it to weatherproof farm tools.
I can't believe we managed to get so much oil and such great oil out of so little wood.
Ruth and Peter are going to leave the countryside and head to London to bring some Christmas cheer, as many farmers did in 1944.
They've made improvised presents for children .
and created makeshift decorations to brighten up underground air raid shelters.
The clay flagons are fired and filled with morale-boosting potato beer.
Communal feeding was also important to keep spirits up, a job undertaken by the Women's Voluntary Service.
In London, Ruth's going to help cook a WVS-style Christmas feast.
By the sixth Christmas of the war, food rationing was more severe than ever.
Traditional fare was not an option, so they had to find alternatives.
Yet at times, there were huge surpluses of vegetables.
This was thanks to the government's Dig For Victory campaign.
Nothing went to waste in wartime, so Ruth's kept a surplus of carrots in the Anderson Shelter for Christmas.
Boy, have I got a lot of carrots! SHE SIGHS At least we've got something for Christmas.
- Go on! - Let me have that one.
I think this beer is really going to boost morale.
Colin's coal-powered ambulance is only capable of travelling short distances.
TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS So Ruth and Peter are taking the train to London.
Unlike petrol, which was imported, which was in short supply, coal was a fuel that Britain had in abundance.
You all right with that? It's just a bit fragile.
Before the war, the railways had employed over 500,000 men.
But with 100,000 of them called up to fight, like so many other roles in wartime, their shoes were filled by women.
They're really struggling with those couplings, aren't they? It's amazing, you get women doing absolutely everything on the railways, all the heavy work, except for driving trains.
I mean, it's the only thing that they didn't draft women in for.
It takes so long to train an engine driver that that remained with the male workers who had the experience.
Women doing the shunting, women doing the portering, women in the booking lodge, women in the signal boxes.
- Women losing fingers.
- Women losing fingers.
With rail travel the only viable option over long distances, by 1944, passenger numbers had doubled.
Getting a seat was a luxury.
Troops and war-related freight took priority, so journeys were often delayed and sometimes painfully slow.
We are lucky to go on a train, aren't we? I mean, when you think of how much pressure the railways were under during this period of the war, they're moving all the munitions, all the troops around the place, you're trying to do such a large proportion of the freight to get it off the roads to keep the roads free, you get this HUGE pressure of running extra trains but they're also busily saying, "Is your journey necessary?" Is our journey necessary? UmYes, of course it's necessary.
- Important war work, Ruth, you know.
- War work(!) - I'm going to have a look in the GPO.
You know, the mail.
- Yeah.
See you in a bit.
During the war, the Royal Mail was entirely dependent on the railways to move post around the country.
On top of the surge in passenger traffic there were some 350 million items of post to move at Christmas.
With families split apart by war, more Christmas cards than ever were sent.
TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS Ruth is meeting post office historian Cyril Parsons to see how it coped.
- Hi, Cyril.
- Hello.
- I love this.
This is such an iconic image, the travelling post office.
I mean, did they keep running right throughout the war? The actual sorting of letters on the train ceased in the middle of 1940, and the reckoning is that the service was curtailed because the trains were disrupted by bombing and so forth, trains had to be re-routed and, of course, travelling post offices had previously ran to very strict timetables over strict routes but, of course, the trains were still vital for carrying the letters.
But all the extra mail to and from those in the armed forces was bulky.
So the Post Office came up with an ingenious solution.
The airgraph.
To save space, letters were miniaturized onto microfilm, flown to their destination, then blown up and printed at the other end.
Quite early in the war, the Post Office came to photograph the letters written on standard forms and you could perhaps have 1,500 letters on one roll of film taking up far, far less space.
- So you get something sort of that size? - That's right.
In the aeroplane, - flying across arriving in a post office in Britain.
- Yes.
And somebody has to open the film and develop it and each frame then becomes a letter that comes through the standard mail.
That's right.
These are just incredible, aren't they? This is a really lovely one - "Dear Dad, "Just to wish you a happy Christmas "and may all your wishes for the New Year come true.
"Your loving son, Eric.
" And at the bottom, "Here's hoping!" And this busy system creaking at the seams, how much more important at Christmas than at any other time, I mean, keeping these communication lines open must have been well, just so emotionally important to people.
The Lord Nelson locomotive, built in 1926, actually worked on these routes during the war.
- Up you come.
- Thank you.
The task of running an overloaded and overstretched rail system 24 hours a day, seven days a week was made even more difficult at night by the blackout.
Fireman Bob Cartwright joined the railways 50 years ago and was trained by drivers who worked through the war.
If you could imagine at night the glare from one of these engines was considerable and there was a danger of enemy aircraft seeing that so the whole cab was sheeted in.
There would have been a sheet from the top of the cab back to those irons there.
Anything to stop light showing through.
So, you couldn't really see where you were going.
Apart from the little bit of night vision that you had.
And, of course, one of these engines ran into a bomb crater during the war.
It just went straight in.
But I suppose all that extra pressure during the war, all those extra journeys, must have had a toll.
There was, but you shared the work.
And there was a tremendous camaraderie.
You would help one another out, you look after one another.
It's a very old-fashioned system, one, unfortunately, which died a death with modern thinking and the modern world.
TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS Peter and Ruth are heading to Chislehurst, southeast of London, just ten miles from the city centre.
Thank you.
Oh, it's lovely and rainy again.
Well, it's Christmas, isn't it? We're lucky it ain't snowing.
100 feet below ground is one of London's largest wartime air raid shelters.
Chislehurst Caves are made up of 22 miles of tunnels, dug by hand between the 13th and 19th centuries, to extract chalk and flint to build London.
In 1944 the Women's Voluntary Service, along with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, were here to offer food and support to those sheltering from V-2 rockets.
Today, Jim Gardner owns the caves and his father was a warden here during the war.
- Jim, you all right? Good to meet you.
- Hello, Peter! How are you? - Very well, thank you.
- Well, welcome to Chislehurst Caves.
What was it like down here in Christmas 1944? Packed.
It was probably at the height of its use - the V-2s were coming down like rain.
There were 15,000 people down here, at the busiest times, from all over south London, north Kent, living down here, sheltering from the bombs.
One or two bombs landed right above us and they didn't hear a thing down here.
15,000 people living in the caves warmed the air temperature by ten degrees centigrade and after the war it took a whole year to cool down again.
The sign here says they were selling tickets, six pence a week, to shelter down here and that covered the cost of the sanitary works that they had to do.
Because if you can imagine several thousand people in a cave, come morning, there's a bit of stuff to move.
And I suppose since you couldn't hear the bombs down here, you could actually get a silent night at Christmas.
Yes, apart from 15,000 people breathing and sighing, and snoring! Yes, it was a very peaceful night.
Cooking food in the caves would have burnt too much oxygen, so the Women's Voluntary Service prepared meals above ground.
So the WVS actually initially just set up, sort of, tea wagons outside such places - Geniuses! - Yeah! So the people can at least go and get a hot cup of tea! And then gradually that evolves into organising more food, and particularly at Christmas.
With turkey scarce, stuffed rabbit was a wartime substitute.
We've got loads of rabbit meat.
It's going to be a country Christmas for the townspeople this, isn't it? We've got to do enough stuffing for eight bunnies.
It's made out of parsley and celery, which is out of this cool little magazine.
The Ministry of Food produced a booklet in 1944, to help cook a Christmas meal using non-rationed ingredients.
They estimated that only one family in ten would get turkey or goose for their Christmas dinner but a stuffed, baked rabbit made a tasty alternative.
It doesn't do any harm to have loads of stuffing though because those rabbits have got to go between everybody.
Chances are that many of the people that we are feeding, being townies, are not used to eating rabbit, - whereas you know, country people always eat rabbit.
- Yeah.
And there was always a, sort of, social snobbishness about it as a meat before the war.
- Rabbit was a meat of the poorer country sort - Yeah.
and that other people didn't touch it.
They were slightly snobby and sneered at it.
- Of course, as the war goes on - Suddenly, it's all they can afford.
it starts to look a lot more attractive! And you find that townspeople begin keeping rabbits for meat in their back yards.
Whereas, originally, it had only been country people who did that.
- Yeah.
- You know, you, sort of, see it moving through society.
Rabbit became really popular for a while.
And it's a real shame, really, that since the war it's disappeared from the modern British diet because it is nice.
Underground, in Chislehurst Caves, Peter's seeing how the 15,000 Londoners were accommodated, sometimes for weeks on end.
So, did people live just wherever they wanted? Well, they were assigned an area.
For instance, this is where it all started, you can see the number on the wall, "A1.
" They thought that A1 down to A29, three or four beds bunked underneath each number, that would probably be enough but, from then on, it just grew and grew.
They were into the X, Y and Zs in the end.
So there is quite a lot of infrastructure down here? Oh, yes, by 1944 the government had spent the money, they had put in all mod cons .
and it became an underground town.
And people lived down here for weeks, possibly months at a time.
Their homes in London had been bombed out, they had nowhere to go, and this was warm, not particularly comfortable, but it was safe and everything was provided.
There was an underground cinema chapel Citizens Advice Bureau even a hospital.
Set up as a full-time facility, - it had a doctor and two nurses on call everyday.
- Yeah.
Did you get any births down here? One, that we know of, and they named her Cavena to celebrate the fact she'd been born in a cave.
Not something I think she overly appreciated in later life! By Christmas 1944 most of the ingredients needed to cook Christmas dinner were severely rationed.
So Ruth's making a wartime version of candied orange - candied carrot.
Candying carrots is really easy, like candying peel, you don't have to be that delicate with it.
If you try and candy whole soft fruit it's a really long slow process Yeah, you've got to be really careful with it.
and it can go wrong very easily but carrots and orange peel you can do in a day.
So, you sort of need something that's got a little bit of structural integrity to it.
- Yeah.
- Then you boil them, very briefly, really, in a sugar syrup.
The WVS actually got an additional sugar ration for this sort of work, which would have helped.
Rationing called for culinary innovation.
Some made their cooking fat go further by mixing paraffin with it, while ground dried beans mixed with almond essence replaced marzipan.
It looks much more like orange peel, doesn't it? - Out of marmalade, now.
- Mm.
To bulk out the meagre rationed ingredients, Ruth's making the most of the carrot glut.
There will be boiled carrots to accompany the rabbit, carrot soup, carrot cake and carrot fudge made with grated carrot in gelatine.
This is just such an odd recipe.
I think it's another one of these wartime things in which they're trying to, sort of, mimic familiar foods, you know? You can't make fudge, you can't afford fudge cos it's made entirely of fat and sugar.
So how do you make something that gives people a feeling of fudge, even though there's next to no fat and next to no sugar? Get a handful of grated carrots and then that's my orange essence, another handful of grated carrot.
So I just need to turn it into a basin or a tray and let it set.
Christmas Day - traditionally a time of peace and goodwill to all mankind .
but in wartime, celebrating Christmas was an act of defiance in the face of death, bomb damage and constant shortages.
In 1944 the population of Britain was more determined than ever to creative festive spirit against all odds.
On Christmas Day itself the bombing stopped.
The 15,000 people sheltering in Chislehurst Caves weren't to know this so it would be another day spent underground.
The food prepared by the Women's Voluntary Service is ready and Ruth's joined by Peter, who's brought along his potato beer.
Got to be very careful with this beer it makes you very gassy and we are in caves so Have a taste.
It tastes all right, it just smells horrific.
It smells more like cider, that's what it is.
It smells more like really scrumpy cider.
Food was recognised as vital to maintaining the health and morale of those in emergency situations.
Once again, notice, here's the WVS making the most of things, jumping in when there's an emergency.
- Yeah.
- Extraordinary circumstances.
- Would you like some rabbit? - Certainly would.
Thank you very much.
Keeping morale up in these sort of conditions is really important, isn't it? I mean, if you're going to ward off the cold and cope with the dark you've got to have something that just gives you a gee up every now and again.
But, I mean, you know, we've created a Christmas out of Out of next to nothing.
Well, also out of a surplus stock.
So, surplus potatoes to make this beer, surplus carrots to make everything carroty.
- Which is pretty much everything down here! - SHE LAUGHS It's a very carrot themed meal! You've got shredded carrot, you've got boiled carrot Carrot cake, you can have carrot fudge.
- Candied carrot? - Yes, please.
- Help yourself, that's it.
- Thank you, Merry Christmas.
- Merry Christmas.
You'd definitely like some beer.
Tastes better than it smells! With so many sheltering underground, there was no communal eating area so people simply ate by their beds.
Those who had lost everything to bombing also needed clothing and bedding and again the WVS came to the rescue.
I've got another blanket here for you.
Can I just tuck it on the bed, at the back? You're going to need that later, aren't you? Right, stick the blindfold on.
Even children's games took on a wartime theme.
None more popular than Pin The Moustache On Hitler.
Right, here you go, in your hand.
- You good with that? You can feel the pin? - Yeah.
You're going to stick that on Hitler - but first these guys are going to spin you around.
- Oh, no! Historian Dr John Martin is an expert on wartime farming.
Is this quite a common thing in the war? Variations of games like this were very common in the war, particularly encouraged by the government to reinforce the idea who the evil people were.
THEY LAUGH Good effort.
It's propaganda designed to, particularly in terms of humiliating a figure who was actually sending over V rockets, particularly in the latter stage of the war, which were completely indiscriminate.
So, I suppose to poke fun at them? Yeah, poke I think that's very important, to poke fun at them.
- THEY APPLAUD - Well done! That's pretty good! The Salvation Army, too, specialised in disaster relief, providing spiritual support, basic comforts and, of course, music.
MUSIC: "Once in Royal David's City" At Christmas 1944 they played here in the caves.
Once in Royal David's city Stood a lowly cattle shed What an atmosphere, though.
I know, it's a strange mix, isn't it? There's a lovely, jovial party atmosphere, especially in such a confined space, but thinking about what must have been going on up there.
Mary was that mother mild I have to say, the whole of this exploring the wartime thing, I've found myself with deeply mixed emotions.
There's a bit of me that feels full of patriotic pride and there's a bit of me that is in awe of people who somehow found the courage and the energy to go through it.
On Boxing Day, at 9.
20 in the evening, the bombing of London resumed, with a V-2 hitting a pub in Islington, killing 68 people.
It would be eight more long months before the war would finally be over.
Christmas 1944 would be the last of the Second World War.
Well, here's to make doing and mending.
Here's to make doing and mending, here's to a peaceful future and may there never have to be another Christmas underground.
- Happy Christmas.
- Happy Christmas.
- Happy Christmas! - Cheers.
To find out more about how Britain fed itself during The Second World War, The Open University has produced a free booklet and online interactive challenges Happy Christmas.

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