Alma Park Primary in Levenshulme gets a taste of World War Two

PUBLISHED: 09:06 02 February 2012 | UPDATED: 11:16 20 January 2016

Seven-year-old Nancy Berry helps Philippa

Seven-year-old Nancy Berry helps Philippa

Our food writer Philippa James grabs her ration book, straightens her seams and heads for a Lancashire school

Philippa James with head teacher Pat TreanorPhilippa James with head teacher Pat Treanor

It was a time of ration books, powdered egg and black market nylons - a world that must be a complete mystery to children of the 21st century.

So I was thrilled to be asked to take my World War Two paraphernalia into Alma Park Primary School in Levenshulme and spend time with the children educating them about food from the 1940s. It was also a great opportunity to get dressed up! There were some splendid outfits worn by the head, Pat Treanor, and the school staff. Everyone felt immersed in a real wartime experience.

I believe children can gain so much with hands on, living history, and I’m grateful to have been asked to join the fun by Arnold Fewell, managing director of AVF Marketing and organiser of the Local Authority Caterers’ Association national school meals week. This project encourages pupils to have a healthy school meal that meets agreed nutritional standards. In a time of concern about increasing childhood obesity, it was the perfect chance for me to talk about times of austerity.

My day was to encourage the children to remember and reflect upon the sacrifices that were made and how people had to grow what they could by uprooting flowers and replacing them with vegetables in the ‘Dig for Victory!’ campaign. It was also to explain about rationing by showing them Ministry of Food wartime cookery, and ration books and a tray with a week’s food allowances.

Pupils take the taste testPupils take the taste test

As always happens, the children believed that rations for an adult, for a week, were for one day. The meat allowance, if you could get it, was just over a kilo, or five ‘quarter pound’ burgers. I showed the children how much meat was in a double burger, which many agreed they eat, and that the measly 3oz left after two meals would have had to last for the remaining five days of the week!

The children were fascinated by how much could be recycled - there was no waste. I explained that every part of an animal was used, down to the bones being crushed to make glue for aeroplane manufacture. I said that tea-leaves were dried out and used over and again, and that the rind from bacon would be put into peas to give flavour to a basic soup, then fished out and rendered down to get enough fat to fry a sausage.

One child asked: ‘Did they have toilet rolls, Miss?’ I held up some yellowing squares of newspaper, threaded on a tatty bit of string; as quick as a flash a tiny hand shot up. ‘Miss, Miss!’ one little boy pleaded. ‘But you couldn’t wipe yer bum on Churchill’s, or Hitler’s face, could you?’ I admit, I had to stifle my giggles!

The younger pupils were obviously confused. I said that this was quite right, even though Hitler had been our enemy, it was disrespectful to wipe your bottom with a picture of him on a newspaper! Much laughter ensued from the girls. I chose not to mention the propaganda rolls that were issued, with a cartoon of him, saying, “Wipe out Hitler!”

Wartime rationsWartime rations

I took rice pudding and drop scones in, which my ‘wing man’, Ken Claxon, topped with jam, he then helped children try on the gas mask, explaining that they would have to sit in class like this, and a tin helmet to show what it was like for the soldiers, while I showed others how people made cakes with pigeons’ eggs.

We had a brilliant time at Alma Parkand they went on to have a street party school lunch, provided by Manchester Fayre, complete with Woolton Pie and bunting!

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