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Curator's Blog – How Kitchen Scraps and Pigs Helped Win the War

pigs wartime dig for victory

21 September 2017

The Collections Team this month have been busy preparing for the Museum’s ‘Dig for Victory’ weekend (Saturday 30 September – Sunday 1 October 2017).

The event will draw visitors into experiencing the harvest season in Britain during World War Two as we transform home-grown fruit and vegetables into thrifty dishes, uncover the fascinating history of wartime rationing and head back in time into the homes and shops of Black Country folk as costumed demonstrators tell you all about the tactics once used to keep Britain and the Black Country fed, from pig clubs to preserve making.

To bring this to life, the Curator of Domestic and Cultural Life has been carrying out research into wartime efforts to turn gardens into vegetable plots to grow crops all year round, keeping pigs and chickens, food rationing and the Ministry of Food’s wartime character, ‘Potato Pete’.

Our tilted cottage on site was occupied by the Bradley family, who kept pigs and chickens.  During the war, people were encouraged to keep livestock but the foodstuffs they normally consumed was rationed too.  So the government gave much advice on how to save kitchen scraps, such as potato peelings, which could be fed to pigs and chickens.  Even where people didn’t keep animals, they were encouraged to save scraps and place them in galvanised bins, which the councils would collect and distribute. 

Turning our research into living history involves us finding appropriate historical props, to place in the buildings, to help our demonstrators interacting with our visitors.  The tilted cottage will be giving talks during the ‘Dig for Victory’ weekend about keeping pigs and chickens during the war, so we have found an old galvanised bin and stencilled ‘KITCHEN WASTE’ on the side.  We also asked our Food and Drink Team and staff to save kitchen scraps (no dairy, meat or fish) to help us fill the bin.  The inspiration for the bin came from a photograph in Alton Douglas’s ‘The Black Country at War’ (Beacon Broadcasting Ltd, 1984) showing waste collected by Walsall schoolchildren for pig food in April 1941.  The photograph shows schoolboys emptying hessian sacks and metal tubs of lots of peelings into galvanised bins marked ‘Kitchen Waste’.  Some bins also display the Ministry of Food’s poster ‘We Want Your Kitchen Waste’, which you can view here on the National Archives website  This poster was widely displayed in communal areas, including village halls and shops.

The importance of saving kitchen scraps to feed pigs, to help the war effort, was summed up in this rhyme included in a Ministry of Food advertisement:

“Because of the pail, the scraps were saved,

Because of the scraps, the pigs were saved,

Because of the pigs, the rations were saved,

Because of the rations, the ships were saved,

Because of the ships, the island was saved,

Because of the island, the Empire was saved,

And all because of the housewife’s pail.”

Today the foodstuffs provided to livestock is strictly controlled, so we can’t feed our animals these peelings, but we can show how Black Country folk did their bit for the war effort.

Click here for more information about the event visit.



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