Leafing through a copy of The Home Front - The Best of Good Housekeeping 1939-1945 is something of a revelation. The British magazine's wartime editions reminded me that our grandparents, especially those who lived in Europe during that time, knew a few things about privation, making do and surviving an unimaginably difficult time.
Advice like 'Don't forget your gas mask' and 'Save your coupons' inspire pride that our little island and the people on it survived horrors with determination and spirit; but they're not terribly useful these days (thank goodness). But, 'Grow more vegetables' and 'Turn off the light when you leave a room' stand the test of time.
Here are a few examples of the kind of advice your Grandma got, why it was useful then and why it applies today.
'Make Do and Mend' was an idea that applied to everything from bed linens to shoes and clothes. According to G.H. editor Phyliss Garbut 'To wear clothes that have been patched and darned - perhaps many times - is to show oneself a true patriot'. It's hard to imagine mending clothes these days (I'm not even sure what darning is), but it's good advice, both financially and environmentally, when it comes to home stuff. The real trick is to find something that you like enough to stick with; two sets of good quality high count sheets rotated weekly will last for AGES. Same goes with towels. Finding ways to re-use stuff when it does get to be 'past it' is a good thing too, for example sheets can be turned into pillowcases, comforters can be turned into padded headboards.
'Learn to do it yourself' I was completely charmed to see that in the opinion of the Good Housekeeping Institute circa. 1942 that 'every woman should know how to mend an electric fuse, fasten the head on a broom and re-washer a dripping tap'. I might add 'change a light fixture' and maybe 'put up or replace tiles' to the list.
'Plan A Weekly Menu In Advance' Because of rationing and availability issues this was super important. Fuel rationing meant that firing up the oven for just one meal was pretty much a no-no. Advice included 'fill the oven to capacity every time it is on' and 'Cook complete meals in your steamer', both still good ideas. Having a menu planned in advance also lets you plan your shopping time with military precision and not wander aimlessly and impulse buy. A bit of forethought also allows for creative leftover usage. Win Win.
'Don't forget your shopping basket' - for a generation of women who had their groceries delivered having to tote them home themselves -to save petrol (gas) from being used by delivery vehicles- was a rotten surprise. Baskets were important because plastic bags didn't exist and paper was a 'salvagable' war material needed to make munitions. Today, while there's something intrinsically pleasing about a good solid basket a fold-up fabric grocery bag does the job nicely and is good for the planet.
'Salvage! Salvage! Salvage!' Finding, saving and recycling paper, metal, rubber and bones was a major part of the home-front war effort. Bones were used to make nitroglycerin, paper for shell casings, tin for ammunition. Today, your old milk cartons are more likely to be turned into things like these, but recycling is still an important, if slightly less direct, way to save the planet.
And above all,
After all, things could be a lot worse.
Keep Calm poster available from here.