GEM FROM THE ARCHIVE
Patricia Kelly from Kent History and Library Centre shows Jon Bauckham a source that reveals how a local Women’s Institute kept digging for Britain, even after war had ended
A 1940s Women’s Institute logbook
arlier this year, the Women’s Institute celebrated 100 years of changing lives across Britain. Although many modern-day members are keen to shake off the ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ image, it is important to remember that activities we traditionally associate with the WI such as jam making and home baking were all vitally important after the Second World War, when rationing was still in force. A document that reveals how WI members rallied together to stop Britain from going hungry can be found in Maidstone, as Patricia Kelly from the Kent History and Library Centre explains.
Which document have you chosen?
I have chosen the Saltwood Women’s Institute’s Operation Produce logbook.
This hand-illustrated volume, which was created in the late 1940s, shows the achievements of Saltwood WI as part of a national WI initiative known as ‘Operation Produce’. This was introduced in 1947 as a response to the continued rationing after the Second World War.
The volume includes poetry, photographs and lists of what was grown, collected and reared by the women.
What does it reveal about the lives of our forebears?
There are many stories about rationing during the Second World War, but we often forget that food restrictions were not completely removed until 1954.
In some respects, post-war rationing was more severe than it had been during the conflict. For example, bread rationing was introduced for the first time in May 1946 and continued until 1948. The Operation Produce logbook illustrates the continuing determination of ordinary women in the face of prolonged deprivation following six long years of war. But specifically, it shows the pride and hard work of the women of Saltwood WI, who, along with the rest of the country, were called on to add to the reduced stocks of food.
This can be seen in the beautiful artwork, as well as the photographs of members with their goats, pigs and bees.
The pages of the volume also demonstrate the variety of work and food that was produced. As well as the typical lists showing the amounts of fruit that were preserved, there are also lists of the types of vegetables grown, number of eggs laid and even women who were members of the local ‘Pig Club’.
Crucially for family historians, some individual achievements are described in detail. For example, we learn that Miss E Barlow grew 80lbs of potatoes when she had never grown any before, while Miss Lelhbridge [sic] produced 18lbs of marmalade, extra loganberry jelly, 11½ lbs of loganberry and raspberry jam, 11lbs of plum jam and extra damson jam. She also bottled 12lbs of blackcurrants along with some extra apples and damsons!
From reading the logbook, and the many like it that were created by WI branches across the UK, we certainly discover just how extensive Operation Produce came to be.
However, the document also shows the type of humour that prevailed at the time. There is a delightful poem describing the aspirations of a WI member to “... bottle and jam, And have cheese, eggs, & ham – And to be self-supporting I’ll try!” However, as 5am the next morning arrives she eventually decides: “But anyway, I’ll plant more potatoes!”
And who can fail to be moved by the story of the four Khaki Campbell ducks who arrived as part of ‘Operation Duck’ in November 1947? Unfortunately by February the following year it is reported that “Alas! Alas!” there were only three left.
Why did you choose this document?
In the centenary year of the founding of the Women’s Institute in the UK, it is important to highlight the records held in county archive offices. Those for the East and West Kent Federations of the Women’s Institute held at the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, were catalogued earlier this year. They contain a wealth of information about those who
were membersmembers, incincluding many photographs and scrapbooks.
This document initially jumped out at me for its colourful and careful production, but it also shows the important contribution of the Women’s Institute after the Second World War, when rationing was still in force. It goes beyond the typical jams and bottling of fruit to reveal what other foods were produced as part of this effort.
This document also shows how important it is to explore beyond the standard sources when doing family history.
The logbook gives a lovely insight into the activities of the women of Saltwood, and it is information like this that can round out research, which otherwise may only contain names and dates, bringing people vividly to life and providing some insights into the social history of the late 1940s.
Tell us more about your collections...
The Kent Archive Service was set up in 1933 and moved to the Kent History and Library Centre in 2012.
Located in Maidstone, the centre holds the full range of archives you would expect to find in a large county record office, such as parish registers, records of nonconformist churches, probate records for the dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury and the archives of the county’s two pauper lunatic asylums at Barming and Chartham. Our holdings are also particularly rich in borough records and family and estate archives, including estate maps.
The archives are complemented by the County Local History Collection of books, periodicals, printed maps, photographs and postcards, covering the county of Kent in its entirety.