Writing a series of novels set in the Second World War has inevitably opened my eyes to the privations that people suffered during those eventful years, and I regularly thank my lucky stars that I was born into easier times. So far at least, I haven’t had to suffer relentless night time bombing, not have I felt obliged to eat whale meat, nor indeed have I needed to rethread my underwear every time it’s washed due to a UK wide shortage of knicker-elastic!
But what I have discovered is that there several wartime tips which might come in handy even today.
For example, ‘newspaper burns much more slowly if rolled into tight sausages before being used as kindling’. ‘Crushed egg-shells make an excellent scouring compound for encrusted grill pans’. And vinegar, when combined with onion juice, is (apparently) an effective treatment for age spots.
I am less optimistic about making hairspray from sugar and water, or toothpaste from soot and salt, and the idea of making your own chewing gum by melting candle wax and flavouring it with slivers of an OXO cube sounds absolutely revolting, even with the accompanying advice not to swallow!
My first two wartime novels, LAVENDER ROAD and SOME SUNNY DAY, focus mainly on life in London, but in ON A WING AND A PRAYER and LONDON CALLING my characters begin to venture overseas. People thought wartime life in the UK was hard enough, but in parts of occupied Europe and Russia things were even worse. In the siege of Stalingrad, among other unmentionable horrors, people resorted to sucking glue off wall paper to give them enough nourishment to get through the day. In Holland during the bitter winter of 1944/5 the Nazis had such a stranglehold on Holland that the Dutch were forced to eat tulips bulbs (which apparently gave a nasty stomach ache.) And a friend of mine in the Ukraine told me that her grandmother boiled shoe leather to make stock.
However tough things are now, at least we can console ourselves with they thought that they aren’t quite as bad as that. And as we head into our own 2016 winter, I can give you a wartime tip from a 1942 issue of Woman’s Own which recommends wearing two pairs of socks because ‘nothing keeps up one’s resistance to coughs and sneezes than nice warm feet.’