VE Day Celebrations: Food in WW2

 This week we are featuring a series of posts about food during WW2, a subject very close to our hearts especially in these times of Covid-19.

Please join in by sharing with us your favourite wartime recipes and photographs of your home cooking to our Facebook page:

We start with an extract from the book ‘Ilkley at War’ by Caroline Brown.

Children’s War: Communal Feeding Centres

In the months before the outbreak of war, plans were made for the establishment of feeding centres to provide meals for large groups of evacuated children, schoolchildren and their teachers. The general view was that these canteens were providing a National Service because to cook for a greater number of people would amount to less cost per head. A mid-day meal was provided at 6d per head for children and 8d for adults. Householders who had received evacuees were not obliged to send the children to the communal feeding centres. The responsibility for these canteens was placed by the Ministry of Health upon the Urban and Rural District Councils on whose behalf the WVS organised the arrangements and provided the staff. The centres served a 3 course meal; a sample menu might consist of soup followed by fish pie and boiled beetroot or stewed steak and onions. The meal would be finished off with a pudding such as jam tart or queen pudding. Burley’s Communal Feeding Centre was organised in Salem Church Hall. At Menston a canteen at Kirklands, catering for 60 children, opened in October 1939.

Initially, a feeding centre had been established at Ilkley in the Winter Garden but the hall was in demand for a variety of other uses, including a reception centre for evacuees and a children’s clinic. There was some feeling locally that the arrangements for the evacuees were taking precedence over those for local people. In October 1939 some of these issues were raised at the meeting of the Ilkley Urban District Council including complaints that: ‘they were going to give clinic treatment on one floor with the smell of Irish stew coming from down below.’ The Winter Garden was abandoned as a feeding centre and later in the month Ross Bros. Garage on Wharfe View Road was requisitioned for communal feeding. The centre opened in November with provision for feeding over 300 schoolchildren, evacuees and teachers. There was also a canteen for adult evacuees and any government workers such as ARP, WVS and the Fire Brigade. In July 1940, the Dowager Marchioness of Reading, Chair of the WVS, inspected the Ilkley communal feeding centre and declared that it was the best feeding centre she had seen anywhere in the British Isles. On another occasion another appreciative comment was made by one of the diners at the centre: ‘You get plenty to eat and it is good but we don’t like tin plates. For sixpence it is a fine meal.’ However, the WVS kitchen workers were less happy with the experience and asked that more responsibility should be shouldered by the women evacuees: ‘few have as yet helped with the cooking, serving and washing up. Most of them appear to take things for granted and sit comfortably back with their cigarettes while their hostesses do the work.’

By July 1943, as a result of the easing of local Civil Defence duties, the feeding centres were closed to all but evacuees, school children and teachers and at the beginning of January 1945 the administration of the feeding centres was handed over to the West Riding Education Authority.

‘Ilkley at War’ by Caroline Brown, Tempus, 2006, 9780752441914. All rights reserved.


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