From the Archives: Jesuit life during the Second World War

POST BY MAllen

Tags: 
Archives, WW2
Great Britain declares war on Germany (Juniors' log ref. MH)

2020 marks the 80th anniversary of the first full year of the Second World War. One event that took place early in this year was the start of rationing, on 8 January 1940. At first bacon, butter and sugar were rationed, but by 1942 many other foodstuffs, including meat, milk, cheese and eggs were also limited. Not all food was rationed, such as fruit and vegetables, but they were often in short supply, especially those shipped in from overseas. In this blog post, the Jesuits in Britain Archives look back to see what the Society’s records can tell us about this time.

First, it might be interesting to note what meals were like during peacetime. Between 1933 and 1940, Br Thomas Moore served as head cook at Manresa House, Roehampton, and a recipe book from this time survives in the archives. It contains recipes and monthly menus, such as this example for January 1934. During the Second World War, Moore served as a cook at St Beuno's (1940) and Birmingham (1941), and as a cook and sacristan at St Peter's School in Southbourne (1942-1944). Unfortunately there aren’t any records of his time at these places, but perhaps we can imagine that he continued to use his book, adapting his recipes as war shortages demanded.

Monthly menu for January 1934 (ref. SJ/29/6)

On 3 September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. The following month, nearly three months before rationing officially began, war economies were introduced and approved by Fr Provincial. At the novitiate at Manresa House, Roehampton, these include meatless lunches, no liqueurs, and reduced consumption of beer, wine and cider. They were also encouraged to cut down on cigarettes by 25 per cent.

War economies introduced 12 October 1939 (ref. OX/8)

Goods such as cigarettes and alcohol were never officially rationed, but were often in short supply. This may account for an incident near the end of the war, recorded in the Heyhtrop Minister’s log book on 27 January 1945: “Raid on Br Atkinson’s room in afternoon – when no one of the Brothers was about. Room upset & cigarettes taken.”  On 26 January 1944, Rector’s Day, dinner included soup, roast chicken, sprouts, roast potatoes, plum tartlets and custard, celery, apples, cheese, chocolates, Turkish delight & fudge, biscuits, coffee, and cigarettes. “No wine – unobtainable. Rector’s health proposed in cider!” Another large meal was had on 2 February, presumably to celebrate First Vows, where there was again no wine to propose a toast. On Rector’s Day 1945, altar wine was used as a substitute. On 8 February 1945 Fr Minister noted that the cider supply had been completely exhausted. Thankfully new supplies were received later that month.

The Ministers often detailed what was consumed on various occasions in their log books, and for the most part the Society didn’t seem too badly affected by shortages. On Christmas day 1945, for example, the Farm Street community had grapefruit, soup, sherry, roast turkey, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, burgundy, plum pudding, mince pies, Roquefort cheese and later crackers, port, more sherry, chocolates, cakes, cigars and cigarettes (ref. CM/1/6/9). Fr Minister at Heythrop did, however, note several occasions on which fruit was unobtainable, including Shrove Tuesday 1944, when lemon squash was used as a substitute for lemon and sugar on their pancakes. Worse was to come on New Year’s Day 1945 when it was customary to have a large meal similar to that of Christmas day, as there were “no turkeys, no pheasants, no chickens, in spite of great hopes held out to us by Sims.” On 6 January 1945 he wrote: “Epiphany. Again no turkeys, no pheasants – in spite of personal appeal to Mr Bolongaro of Ditchley Hall. (Reason Birds poor and scarce. Very little shooting. Much poaching). But splendid dinner, excellent chops, plum pudding, mince pies, large oranges, very good sweets.”

Men and women across the country were encouraged to grow their own food in times of harsh rationing, and open spaces everywhere were transformed into allotments, from domestic gardens to public parks. At Manresa, the Philosophers were expected to do their bit: “17 June 1943. Farming starts (for 1st & 2nd Year)… The Phils were divided into 3 groups as last year … Four days a week and 3 rest-days, including Sunday.”

Notice in the Manresa Philosophers’ Journal (ref. 24/4/2)

Shortages apart from food were also to be endured in wartime. On 3 November 1940 the Manresa Philosophers’ Journal (ref. 24/4/2) recorded that baths were to be strictly rationed to 1 per man per week. Water shortages lead to further restrictions at Heythrop on 11 May 1943: “Ban by Doctor on use of swimming bath till water has been chlorinated (shortage of water makes it impossible to change the water). Leave given for bathing in ponds (temp. 65°) under normal conditions (swimmers only, another swimmer present, togs to be worn & no sun bathing).” Periodicals could also difficult to obtain. On 23 December 1944 the Heythrop Minister wrote: “Very few periodicals for salons. Impossible to obtain. As part compensation, extra daily papers were allowed – Daily Mail, Express, Manchester Guardian & a picture paper. Extra copies of the Times could not be obtained. Order given for December & January numbers of Strand, Windsor, Wide World, Grand, Pearson – but these may be unobtainable.”

Air raid alerts recorded in the Heythrop Minister’s log book, November 1940 (ref. OX/8)

But food and lack of recreational activities were not the only concern to Jesuit life during the war. The Manresa Junior’s log (ref. MH) provides a stark reminder of the very real dangers that many faced. Throughout September and October 1940 the log is littered with reports of air raids, which ultimately lead to the tragic death of a young Jesuit:

10 October 1940: “Great activity in Air during supper… 8.50 Bomb fell in Juniors field near Goal mouth. At the same time one hit Juniors’ Old Schoolroom. Window of Chapel smashed. Roof of Schoolroom, of P. Townsend’s old room & of corridor destroyed. F. Howarth & F. Cluderay (Juniors) & Bro Bunker were there at the time. F. Howarh fell under a beam. F. Cluderary managed to free himself – escaping with a few wounds. Bro Bunker was helped out by F. Nugent & Wren who arrived on the scene. Bro Bunker was rather worse. F. Howarth was trapped & was now unconscious. Doctor & Ambulance. With Jim’s assistance, he was finally rescued. P. Corbishley returned from Maryfield & went with the three of them to St. Mary’s hospital. F. Howarth was anointed & his case was announced serious. A Rosary was said & shortly after P. Corbishley returned to say F. Howarth had died.”

Preparations for evacuation finally began 15 October 1940. At a farewell dinner on the 17th, “Fr Rector Thanked Juniors for their excellent work.” The first year went to Craighead to continue the Juniorate, while the second year went to Heythrop.

The records mentioned in this blog post provide a fascinating insight into Jesuit life, particularly during wartime. If you are interested in this material or in the work of the Jesuits in Britain Archives in general and would like to get in touch, please contact us: archives@jesuit.org.uk.

Mary Allen, Deputy Archivist