Eastern Angles 'Dig for Victory' double-bill explores the Food Wars
PUBLISHED: 18:24 19 September 2019 | UPDATED: 10:33 24 September 2019
@ Mike Kwasniak Photography
Next year sees the 80th anniversary of the introduction of rationing during the Second World War. Eastern Angles are touring with their new double-bill Food Wars looking at the ingenuity and resilience of a war-torn population
When it comes to discussing the events of the two world wars; outside of stories of The Blitz or the odd Zeppelin raid; the home front is rarely mentioned. And yet, as Eastern Angles writer-director Jon Tavener points out, both wars were won by the resilience and ingenuity of people working away back home.
In both the 1914-18 and the 1939-45 wars, Britain was largely cut off from its supplies of food and it was up to the people at home to make the most of what they had. German U Boats and surface raiding battleships had Britain under siege in both conflicts.
Despite the country being a much more rural nation back then, Britain has always been unable to feed itself, relying on food imports from the Empire and the United States to keep everyone hale and hearty.
With the German navy controlling much of the Atlantic millions of tons of shipping and supplies were sent to the bottom and in Britain the slogan 'Dig for Victory' became a rallying cry encouraging people to turn their gardens into mini-alotments.
Rationing came late to Britain during the First World War but it was present almost from the beginning of the Second. Having learned the lessons of the first conflict, the government were better prepared to deal with deprivations of war second time around.
Food rationing began on January 8 1940, four months after the outbreak of war. Swiftly limits were imposed on the sale of bacon, butter and sugar.
Then, on March 11 1940, all meat was rationed. Clothes coupons were introduced and a black market soon developed while queueing outside shops and bartering for extra food became a way of life.
There were allowances made for pregnant women who used special green ration books to get extra food rations, and breastfeeding mothers had extra milk.
The history and effects of rationing form part of a new Eastern Angles double-bill which they are touring this month across Suffolk and north Essex.
The first half of the evening Oh, What A Lovely Food War takes audiences into the world of the music hall during the First World War which provided people with a sideways glance at the way the war was being run through comedy and satirical songs which commented on the actions of the great and the good and offered a wry look at the news stories of the day.
The second half of the performance, Saving Our Bacon, moves the story into the dark days of World War II. Written and directed by Jon Tavener, the script has been shaped by first person testimony. Jon has interviewed those alive during the 1939-45 war and incorporated true life experiences into the narrative. It celebrates the ingenuity and resilience of people 'digging for victory' and demonstrates how important fighting the war on the home front was.
Jon Tavener said: "Just as I did for Sid and Hettie and Everything Must Go, I have gone back to the first person testimony for my material. I have woven a diverse number of real-life stories into a tale of resilience, good cheer and resourceful thinking helping to get us through some very tough times.
"Life was tough because of rationing but here in East Anglia we had it better than those in the big cities because we had gardens and large open spaces which could be used for growing vegetables or keeping pigs and chickens. But, even so you had to be clever if you wanted to serve up something special, something off the ration and I have encountered some lovely stories from those who were youngsters while the war was still being fought and can remember what parents, grandparents and older brothers and sisters got up to."
Jon's drama follows the beautifully named Treacle who has a sweet tooth and a sweet-heart, but balancing the two becomes harder when war breaks out. It's bad enough when her man goes off to war, but even more difficult when he comes home expecting bacon for his breakfast.
This is a tale of local characters caught in the middle changing and challenging times. "It's a time when pigs in blankets were something different, and the black market was just round the corner. Life was tough and you had to be resourceful."
Jon says that this is a performance of two halves with the light-hearted music hall setting the scene for the drama that follows. "Although they are two distinct performances, the first half does inform the second. It is because of the lessons learned during the first war that rationing was ready to go into action as soon as war was declared in the second."
Jon points out that rationing continued for many years after the war ended. Restrictions on sales of flour were lifted on July 25 1948, followed by clothes on March 15 1949.
On May 19 1950 rationing ended for canned and dried fruit, chocolate biscuits, treacle, syrup, jellies and mincemeat while petrol rationing, imposed in 1939, ended in May 1950 followed by soap in September 1950. Three years later sales of sugar were off ration too.
The show stars Eastern Angles favourites Sally Ann Burnett, Hayley Evenett and Joseph Phelps and features a lot of quick costume changes as the trio play a bewildering array of characters.
Food Wars is touring to Walton, near Felixstowe, Harwich, Dedham, Dennington, Brightlingsea and Maldon as well as to various residential and care homes. The show is a collaboration between Eastern Angles and New Heritage Solutions, which previously staged the war-time US airforce drama Somewhere in England in 2016.
Tickets can be booked online at easternangles.co.uk