In the years leading up to World War 2, many farms in Kings County were still in a transitional period. In other words, horses and oxen were still being used on more than a few farms, along with gas driven machinery.
This meant that when the war was in full swing and gas rationing arrived, some farmers felt its full effect and some obviously didn’t – if you had horses (or oxen) it was an easy matter to put the tractor in the barn and hitch up old Dobbin. However, farming was vital to the war effort, and this meant that townies and non-farmers were hit harder by gas rationing and it was eased somewhat for farmers.
I was eight years away from my teens when war began and almost oblivious of the fact that a world-wide war was soon raging. Not so my grandfather, Joseph Coleman. While he was more of a hobby farmer by the time the war started, gas rationing meant that his tractor was put away and he hitched up his horse. One of my memories of Grampy was him coming down Aldershot Road with his horse and wagon, passing long lines of soldiers on route marches. More than once there were snickers and catcalls.
Our family Lived outside the farming community in the pre-war years and I recall that gas rationing had little effect on us. My father, a WW1 vet, had re-enlisted but was to old to go overseas. He spent the war years in the Engineers at Camp Aldershot. At the camp, black market gas was always available and there was always enough petrol for my father’s 1930s Hudson.
It was a different tale when food rationing arrived. Almost overnight, most dairy products and meat were rationed, and eventually even certain items of clothing became scarce. When ration books arrived, there was still scarcity since merchants couldn’t sell what the government wouldn’t let them stock. I can recall when tea went on the rationing list and the upset it caused at home. A Britisher from Charing Cross near London, my mother always had a teapot warming on the coal stove until rationing put a stop to it. There was a lot of grumbling about that.
As for “making do,” as they used to say, we had a vegetable garden (a “Victory Garden” they called it) and every spring my grandfather took care of our meat problem. Even though we lived right on the Kentville town line we had a chicken coop and a pigpen. All during the war and for several years after, Grampy Joe bought in a couple of piglets by early spring. In the autumn they were ready to be turned into pickled pork, hams and bacon and the winter meat supply was taken care of.
It’s odd what you remember most about the war years: With eggs, butter and milk rationed, my mother still managing to whip up what was known then as war cake; older brothers finding it impossible to buy fishing hook; the “care packages” sent every year to my grandparents in Great Britain (with items in the package such as sewing needles and thread, and the rare piece of dark chocolate and hand soap).
When I was eleven the war really hit home. Word came that my brother had been wounded fighting on the dykes in Holland with the West Nova Scotia Regiment. Another brother was hospitalised when the tank he was driving in Belgium took a direct hit. We found out later that he was the only one to escape from the burning tank. Both brothers came back from the war – one a year after it was over since the tank incident left him with what they called shell shock and he had to be treated in a psychiatric ward.
To compound this disturbing news, word came from England that my grandparent’s home had been wrecked when a V2 bomb exploded close by. My grandfather was hurt, and he was never the same again, his injuries causing problems the remainder of his life.
After all this bad news this was no more complaining in the family about the shortages. Everyone finally understood that the soldiers fighting overseas and our relatives over in the war zone had it much harder than we did. We put up with ration books (over 10 million of them were issued to Canadians) and the odd black out exercise at night even though the war was a continent away.
Even when the war ended, rationing continued. It was at least two years after the war, by 1947, before dairy products were taken off the ration list and cheese, milk, and ice cream became abundant. Soon you could buy rubber boots; gas was finally plentiful and there was no more patching and sewing of pants and shirts at home.
These are a few of my war memories. Much of it is a blur now but I realise today we were fortunate to be so far from the war zone.