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

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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.


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