Monday, 31 August 2009

Summer/Autumn 1945 More on Food and How to Get It

I have written about the last remnants of food from cellars and larders, gathering free food from hedgerows, woods and fields, the organised gleaning of grain and digging for potatoes left behind after the crops had been harvested.

Another means of gathering food was to steal it. In spite of the hardship there was very little of that. Some village children would make their way into the farmers' orchards and pick a few apples or pears; we were all too small to do much damage and we usually only picked what we could eat. Generally speaking, we were only chased away after we had had enough time to fill a pocket or two. The big boys would share their pickings with the children who were too small to reach even the lowest branches of the fruit trees. Plums and cherries were inaccessible to all.

Farms in the low-lying, wind-swept area of the Lower Rhine were built in a rectangular, enclosed pattern, barns, stores and cattle sheds were all part of the enclosure, with the farmhouse itself forming one side of the rectangle, usually in a prominent position facing the massive farm gates. These gates were only opened for vehicles and livestock, at all other times pedestrians used the ordinary, man- sized door cut into one side of the gates.

Outside the main gate on one such farm, in the middle of the green in front of it, stood a magnificent old walnut tree. Generations of children must have eyed up this tree, boys measuring their climbing prowess against it. During these hard times few farmers were generous; the owner of the walnut tree however, was by all accounts, a particularly mean man, only ever willing to exchange any food produced on his farm for goods many times its monetary value. Starving people from the towns came out into the villages to barter precious possessions for a slice of butter or a bag of potatoes.

One autumn afternoon a group of boys decided to raid the walnut tree. Although I was very small I tagged along, to the disgust of all the boys, one of whom had been told to mind me for an hour. In those days we were usually left to roam the countryside, the adults had no idea what games children played. When we got to the farm the pedestrian gate was shut. The boys had come armed with sticks which they threw up into the lower branches of the tree, thereby dislodging the nuts, causing a small shower of the fruits to rain down on us.

It was only a very short time after this that the farm dog, chained to his kennel in the farmyard,
started his furious barking. A moment later, the small door in the big gate flew open, the dog bounding out with the farmer in hot pursuit. The farmer had unchained his vicious guard dog and set it on us. The boys scattered in all directions; I ran too, as fast as I could, which was not very fast at all and very soon the big dog was on me, baring his fangs, slavering and growling.

Terrified, I screamed. The farmer, who had not expected to see so small a child, ordered the dog to stand back. He ran up to us, me and the dog, and reattached the chain. He was badly shaken himself; setting his dog on a group of children, the oldest of whom was no more than ten years old, was a very foolhardy thing to do, which he must have realized as soon as he saw us scatter. He picked me up, set me on my feet. I was crying and trembling in fear but otherwise unhurt.

The boy who was my minder slunk back, the farmer berating both of us soundly, giving his anger free rein. He threatened to beat us and set the dog on us, should he ever catch us trying to steal from him again.

The boys never took me on such expeditions again.


  1. This episode would stay in your memory for sure – such a scare. The only thing I remember that scared me a lot was once, when I was about 11 years old, I was walking alone with my dog in the forest, la forêt de Montmorency, as I used to do, and was far into the forest, when suddenly the branches moved and a man was there, exposing himself. I ran so fast back home with my dog, falling down the hills and trails. I still remember being so afraid that he would catch me. I guess these kinds of frights stay with you.

  2. What a story, Friko. You are fortunate the dog didn't rip into your skin with his fangs - and that the mean farmer, seemed to have some momentary compassion.

    You must have some amazing memories to recount of childhood days during the war!

  3. Oh how scary. Enough to put you off dogs for ever. What memories you have. Thank you for sharing them. A x

  4. What a fascinating account of your life as a child. I can remember scumping from orchards but never in quite the extreme circumstances you have experienced. Thankyou for sharing it with us.

  5. arosebyanyonthername1 September 2009 at 10:34

    Doesn't quite sound like the stuff of "Just William' does it? Much more scary and dangerous. I remember scrumping apples once but no farmer or fierce dog in sight.
    Interesting recollection. Thank you.

  6. Dire circumstances can bring out the very worst in people. The man probably thought more carefully in the future realizing the actuality of the situation. Must have been so terrifying for you. I wanted to be there and comfort you.

  7. Great storytelling, Friko. Are you a little apprehensive around dogs, now? I think I'd be.

  8. Cor Blimey! That had me hooked. I felt as though I was there with you, glad I wasn't though! I don't think our dogs would be quite so fierce but are good guard dogs all the same.

    CJ xx

  9. I loved this post . I to remember digging for remaining potatoes and rummaging for food that might still be in the ground. We picked wild plums on our way home from school and filled our lunch containers which was usually empty syrup containers cleaned. I loved this story and is so much like my own childhood.

  10. What a mean man. I am sorry you had such a fright and I hope he was too.

    We never forget childhood traumas and yours might have given you a lifelong fear of dogs.

  11. That's rich with feeling, and such strong contrasts.

    When I was a kid our neighbor's big nasty dog would sometimes get off the chain (you'd be mean too if you lived on a chain) and chase us around - terrifying.

  12. What a memory.
    The divide between city and country people is never so wide as in times of war or famine. If a family can feed itself at all it is rich in those times - so sad that there are always those who hoard or profit from the misery of others.

  13. Just came back from my holidays in Spain and it's nice to see that the good quality in writing is the same if not better.

    Greetings from London.

  14. I like the way you write this. Funny how these childhood experiences - especially the traumatic ones - come back so vividly.

  15. Hi Friko! I thought all along that it was the scraper telling the story, but then I realized he would have been older, being a soldier at about that time. So that was you! No wonder the man called his dog, seeing a little girl there! Beautifully evocative of the times and the incident. xx

  16. Vagabonde - how awful; unfortunately, there are many children who have these tales to tell, me included.

    Bonnie - I do rather, some of them are family stories.

    Wipso - thanks for our comment.

    lampworkbeader - yes, scrumping is a bit different.

    arosebyanyothername - see above - thank you for commenting.

    Tabor - thank you for your sympathy.

    Prospero - I rather like dogs

    Crystal Jigsaw - in those days, chained dogs were very fierce.

    Lucy - thank you for your comment - how about you find stories to tell from your childhood?

    Darlene - thank you; just as well all my dogs are sweet-natured.

    Mark Kerstetter - thank you for your comment, too true, it's no fun spending your life on a chain.

    Pondside - I really don't believe that human nature ever changes.

    A Cuban in London - Thanks, kind Sir.

    Fran Hill - I am doing my best to remember them.

    Margaret - Yes, the little girl is me.

  17. You sure do know how to spin a yarn in the best tradition of story telling. Beautifully written - can't wait for another gripping instalment of 'Once upon a time'... :)

  18. Jinksy - thanks for that, I haven't finished with the food stories yet.


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