12 December 1997

A wartime scandal of

evictions

THIS moving book* is really two stories in one. On one front it chronicles the story of farming and rural life through the early part of the century, World War II and beyond.

Its other grimmer theme is the scandalous treatment many farmers recieved from war agricultural committees when they wouldnt or couldnt follow food production orders.

The authors delightful sketches, diagrams and watercolours recreate a world where washday involved mangles, Reckits blue bags and carbolic soap and families still ate stew with dumplings, liver, pickled damsons and home-made pork pies. The nostalgia will send you quite misty if, like me, your childhood was spent in early post-war rural Britain.

But to return to serious matters, Ms Mountford effectively follows the fortunes of one farming family which worked hard to take over a rented farm, only to fall foul of the Dig for Victory campaign.

They were told by a committee to drain a marshy field at their own expense in order to grow wheat or potatoes for the war effort.

They pleaded that not only could they not afford the cost of drainage but that the field would never produce a worthwhile crop anyway. There was no appeal procedure and eventually they were evicted, with the farmer ending up in a midlands metal foundry.

Many more producers suffered worse, being thrown off their farms with minimal notice.

It was a scandal that Ms Mountford is to be congratulated for publicising and a tragic example of the small man caught up in the big tragedy of war. JE

*Heartbreak Farm. A Farmer and his Farm in Wartime by Frances Mountford. Sutton Publishing (£17.99).