Sunday, 4 November 2012

Book review of 'Wartime Farm', based on the BBC show

After being told by three separate people I’d love Wartime Farm, I thought it was probably worth a look.  Having missed Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm, I had no idea what format the show would take but my friends were right, I did love Wartime Farm!  Presented by historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Alex Langlands, the show is a year in the life of a Hampshire farm under wartime restrictions, which got tougher and tougher as time went on.
However, I am not here to review the programme but the accompanying book (which was kindly sent to me by Octopus books).

L-R Peter Ginn, Ruth Goodman, Alex Langlands

The book is split into eight chapters covering different aspects of the wartime experience on a farm ranging from the livestock and growing food, to where all the labour came from and how people they made everything go that little bit further.

How to darn stockings – hair was often used in place of thread

The tone of the book is very similar to the show, very relaxed and friendly – not just a series of regurgitated facts.  I think because the presenters experienced some of the wartime difficulties personally, it gave the book a much more engaging tone.  I was also impressed at how humbled the writers seemed to be, acknowledging that no matter how hard they found it, at least they were never living in fear of being bombed and knew that it would eventually end.  Also, the course of the show condensed the six years of war into just 12 months.

Comparing the military timeline with what was happening on the home front

The layout of the book is very good, everything is very clearly set out and all of the information is very easily accessible.  Stills from the show abound, as do many contemporary photographs and government posters, a few of which I’d not seen before.

One thing I particularly liked about the book, is that even if you have read the original government issue books and pamphlets such as Food Facts for the Home Front and Make-do and Mend, having all the different topics collected in one volume really shows how the war really affected every aspect of a person’s life.

There is a whole chapter entitled ‘Make Do and Mend’

For those readers that are feeling a little creative, there are instructions on how to make a toy spitfire from scrap metal, how to darn stockings and how to make your own shampoo, roof tiles and soft cheese for starters!

Ruth making the dubious-looking
‘Baked Potato Pudding’

Overall, I am rather impressed with this book as I think some people will find it a very good resource as it combines many different elements of the social and agricultural history of the countryside.  As it covers so many topics, it may not go into enough depth for some, however I think it is a good starting off point for many.

Alex making a ‘skep’ for bee-keeping

I’m not sure where the series can go from the Second World War, as the country has not faced the same shortages of food since – I can’t imagine how the country would cope with the threat of impending starvation nowadays.  However, I would really like to see any subsequent series’ – and indeed books – from Peter, Ruth and Alex.

Peter making a camouflage ‘ghillie’ suit, as used by the Home Front


  1. I very much read this as 'Wartime Fun' for a little while... Just as I was thinking that's a little inappropriate I realised my error.

    1. Everyone loves some Wartime Fun Jennie, you know that...