How farmers stopped Suffolk starving

BRITAIN'S heroic role during the dark days of the second world war is known by everyone - the immediate images that come to mind for most are of battles and the blitz.

By Paul Geater

BRITAIN'S heroic role during the dark days of the second world war is known by everyone - the immediate images that come to mind for most are of battles and the blitz.

But the battle on the homefront - to feed and clothe a nation at war - was just as important.

PAUL GEATER has been looking at a new DVD which shows how farms in East Anglia prevented Britain from starving.

MENTION farming in the second world war and everyone immediately thinks of the Women's Land Army - but in fact it was full-time family farmers working on their own or with their regular workers who were the backbone of food production during those dark days.

And they did a wonderful job - ensuring that however bleak the outlook was on the battlefields of Europe or north Africa, no one in Britain starved to death.

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Now their contribution has been recorded on a four-hour DVD showing what life was like on a farm in a wartime summer and winter.

Filmed at two Suffolk farms - one of them Wantisden Hall near the old Bentwaters air base - the story is presented by Paul Heiney based on the experiences of people who lived through the war in the East Anglian countryside.

Paul said: “When we started filming this we realised that the wartime years are fading into history - the war ended 61 years ago now so everyone who was an adult during that time is now at least in their early 80s.

“There are still a lot of them around, but they are starting to fade away and I think we did this just in time.”

Life on the farm was tough - and change came very rapidly - during the wartime years. People working on the land might not have been in the same danger as those on the front, but life was very hard.

Paul said: “During the 1930s agriculture was in a very depressed state in this country and we imported much of the food the country ate.

“Farmers in Britain were not mechanised and had little money to improve things - it was a difficult life.

“Britain was in real danger when the North Atlantic blockades started. There was a real danger that people would starve - but the farmers of this country, especially those in this part of the world really did a fantastic job.

“A combination of rapid improvements to the farming and the introduction of rationing ensured that no one went too hungry. In fact the low-fat high-fibre diet was very healthy - people were probably in a better shape then than they are today!”

During the war many farmers got their first tractors and combine harvesters - and the British commercial farm really started to take shape.

Farming was a reserved occupation - farmers and their eldest sons were exempt from being called up to the services - but Paul feels their contribution should not be overlooked.

“They might not have been on the battlefield but they did as much to win the war as anyone,” he added.

The programmes were shown on ITV last year, but have only now been re-edited and released on DVD by Ipswich-based Old Pond Publishing.

nA Wartime Winter and Summer costs £24.95 and can be ordered from Old Pond Publishing, Dencora Business Centre, 36 White House Road, Ipswich IP1 5LT or online at

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