The reminiscences of John Bowman, a former Tring postman.
Tring is a small market town nestling in a fold in a scarp face of the Chiltern Hills facing North to the Vale of Aylesbury. It was a self-contained community of some five thousand people, with many shops covering the needs of everyone. The local industries mainly catered for agriculture, much of the land surrounding Tring and the Vale was owned by the Rothschild banking family. Their estates were extremely well run, and the family were modern in their outlook. There was little unemployment and the Rothschild family assisted the local council to provide decent housing in the late nineteen thirties. After the death of Lord Rothschild, the estates around Tring were sold to local tenant farmers and others. This made little difference to the way of life in the area.
The second world war started in September 1939 and normal life changed only gradually for the first few months. Then the local Territorial Army, the Second Battalion of the Hertfordshire Regiment was mobilised. Gradually local men volunteered or were called up to join the Armed Services, and this caused a shortage of labour in the local industry, which was adapting to war oriented operations. As a consequence women started to fill the vacancies. Some worked as bus conductors at the London Transport bus garage in Western Road. The Silk Mill in Brook Street became an engineering works with its own foundry. Parts for aircraft engines, airframes, tanks and many other items were manufactured for assembly elsewhere. The Post Office, which was a Government Department, started to employ women as counter clerks and sorters. The delivery of letters and parcels was left to men.
In agriculture, land which was unproductive was requisitioned by the Government and used for the production of those crops suited to the local soil. The Ministry of Agriculture formed its own Army and named it, The Women’s Land Army. Members were trained as tractor drivers, operators of machinery used in farming, and all aspects of animal husbandry. They were billeted in large houses such as rectories, and in purpose built Army huts. This was efficient because seasonal tasks such as haymaking could be tackled on a collective basis.
A number of large organisations moved to the Tring area. The Rothschild bank moved into the Rothschild’s Tring Mansion. The Exchange Telegraph Company, an important communications organisation, occupied the Mill buildings at Hastoe Farm. At Newground on the way to Berkhamsted, beside the Grand Union Canal, are some large warehouse buildings, which were used to store emergency stocks of food for distribution. The stores were called ‘buffer depots’ and were built for the Ministry of Food at strategic places all over the country.
The way in which people shopped was very different from what we do today. It was common to shop once weekly, and when ration books were issued, one registered with a particular grocer. In those days, sugar, tea, butter, lard, bacon, cooked meats and lots of other products were not pre-packed as they are today, but were cut, weighed and packed to order. When one walked into a grocer’s shop, the aroma of spices was absolutely delicious and pleasurable. The grocer, in our case, visited our home at West Leith on a Tuesday, he took our order, and told mother of any special offers he had to hand.