After I had received a reply from most of them we arranged a meeting in the Chapel and read out extracts from them so that parents and friends who came along heard about them.
The chapel was packed and the congregation so pleased to hear the boys’ names rad out that someone stood up and insisted on having a collection to start off the next lot of parcels.
By this time there had been quite a few casualties among the Benwick men. One man had been killed, leaving a wife and five children; two others had left three children each, and several badly wounded, so there was a lot of trouble in the village.
The farm work had to go on, with the usual crops to be planted. Then came an order from the ‘War Ag’ that 10 or 12 acres of onions had to be grown on the farm. That was a problem as no-one in this area had grown them before and the weeding would be very laborious and there just wasn’t enough labour to do the job – however help was applied for and came in the shape of a party of Land Army Girls.
With the Zeppelins blocking imports, bread started to suffer as our wheat was not as good as the Canadian grain and now had to be mixed with whatever the bakers could get. The result was a heavy sour-tasting loaf, very different to the crusty ones we had been used to. There was much grumbling in the fields at dockey time. I remember my mother and others complaining about the flour after Chapel one Sunday, saying the Yorkshire puddings wouldn’t rise no matter how many eggs were put in. And, of course, there was not enough sugar to make cakes. We used to boil potatoes, mash them with some flour and make scones which were delicious when eaten hot, with margarine and salt.
One little luxury we got sometimes was called ‘Honey Sugar’. It came in blocks wrapped in paper and in cardboard cartons from Australia. It looked like solidified brown sugar and could be cut into slices to make sandwiches or to put on fruit or plain puddings. It didn’t come out way often, but the grocers shared it out amongst their regulars, to the great enjoyment of us all. I have never seen or heard of it since, except when two or three old folk get talking about those times.
The war dragged on and more of the village lads were called up for training, and more were killed or badly wounded – it was heart-breaking to have so many memorial services at our little Church and Chapel, but that seemed the right way to honour those who fought for us. Several of the men who had had a parcel from us kept up correspondence with me; some of their parents were too old or not able to write a letter and they were anxious for news of home, so most evenings found me writing a letter to someone, and especially to one curly-haired boy in the Navy. He was training at Plymouth but they went to sea and were caught in a blizzard off Land’s End. He got pneumonia and was sent to hospital in Devenport but died in a day or two. I seem to see his twinkling eyes every time I see his name on the memorial in Chapel or hear it read out at the Remembrance Services.