Life in Ireland during World War Two

rationing

The Irish Free State remained neutral during ‘The Emergency’, as the Second World War was called in Ireland – the only member of the British Commonwealth to do so. An estimated seventy thousand men and women served in the British armed forces, including almost five thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces who deserted to fight.

Into The Unknown‘s Kate Sheridan’s father, mother and grandmother lived in Co Galway on the west coast of Ireland. Kate’s father was a solicitor and despite having a good job, they couldn’t afford to be extravagant. He had a car but with petrol priced one shilling and sixpence per gallon and rationed, the car was only used to get him to and from work. By 1942, petrol was so scarce that most private cars were off the road.

During The Emergency, every person was issued with a ration book. Goods rationed included tobacco, butter, tea, sugar, flour, soap and clothing. Inside each ration book were several pages of instructions in both Irish and English followed by pages of numbered squares, either marked by the product name (Flour, Tea, etc.) or containing a letter to be used for different purchases. Space was also provided for keeping details of when, where and what was bought.

Kate’s mother had approximately four pounds per weeks for housekeeping. She cooked on a rather antiquated solid fuel range which was powered by a turf (peat) as coal was no longer available for domestic use. Overall, the Sheridans did not fare too badly as, unlike in the United Kingdom, eggs and meat were not rationed as most people had their own animals to provide these necessities.

Mrs Sheridan kept chickens to produce eggs and for eating and any surplus eggs would be bartered for other commodities at the local shop, where she also bought flour for baking in eight-stone bags. In January 1941, the tea ration was two ounces per person per week, but by April it was reduced to one ounce. Like in the United Kingdom, rationing continued long after the end of the war.

Censorship of the press was rigid. Critical commentary was not allowed and no weather reports were printed so, apart from letters which were read and censored, the Sheridans would have known relatively little about the war and Kate’s part in it.

* * *

London on 3 September 1939 is in upheaval. War is inevitable. Into this turmoil steps Kate Sheridan, newly arrived from Ireland to live with her aunt and uncle, and look for work. When she meets Flight Lieutenant Charlie Butler sparks fly, but he is a notorious womaniser. Should she ignore all the warnings and get involved with a ladies man whose life will be in daily danger?

Charlie Butler has no intention of getting involved with a woman. But when he meets Kate his resolve is shattered. Should he allow his heart to rule his head and fall for a nineteen-year-old Irish girl while there is a war to fight?

Private conflicts and personal doubts are soon overshadowed. Will the horrors of war bring Kate and Charlie together or tear them apart?

Read An Excerpt…

“You don’t know much about my family, do you?” She frowned. “I’ll tell you, seeing as we’re stuck here for the time being. My father is a solicitor in Galway but he met Mummy at a wedding here in London. They live a few miles outside Galway now, beside the sea. Granny Barbara can’t stand him and makes no secret of the fact that she thinks Mummy married beneath her. Daddy and Granny Norah are Catholic but Mummy is Church of England, and when Mummy announced she wanted to marry Daddy there was uproar. Granny Barbara and Granddad Thomas were completely against it, but Mummy and Daddy were completely for it.”

“So what happened?” Charlie asked.

“Granddad Thomas and Daddy came to an arrangement. Mummy could marry Daddy, but any children they had who were born in Ireland would be brought up Church of England, not Catholic. It’s always amazed me that Daddy agreed, but Granddad Thomas was quite frightening, from what very little I remember of him. He died when I was five, a few months after Mummy, Daddy and I were here on a visit.”

“He was,” Charlie smiled, “very Victorian in his outlook. He used to frighten the life out of me. He caught me smoking in the garden once. I was about fifteen and I can remember him bellowing at me, ‘Are you smoking a cigarette, boy? A gentleman smokes a cigar.’ He gave me a cigar and the thing almost gave me bronchitis, so I stayed with cigarettes.” He laughed. “So were you brought up Church of England?”

“I was baptised Church of Ireland, which is Anglican, too. Apparently, Daddy stood outside the church and refused to go in.” She sighed. “They really needn’t have bothered because I’ve no time for religion. Poor Mummy, she tries so hard. She’s on every committee there is, but means well, even if the locals do still call her the ‘blow-in’ after twenty-two years.”

“Why?”

“She sounds exactly like Helen and Granny Barbara—that very posh English accent—and it rubs some people up the wrong way because they think she’s putting it on. Poor Mummy; she’ll never fit in, no matter how hard she tries. Daddy’s only brother, Michael, fought in the Irish War of Independence against the British. He got shot shortly before the Truce in 1921 but didn’t die for a long, long time. Daddy paid for him to be looked after in a nursing home. I was about four when he died. That’s why Daddy is a bit, you know, about Britain. There’s no reasoning with him. Everything is all Britain’s fault, according to him, but he’s not involved in anything. I know you were wondering, Charlie,” she finished softly.

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Into The Unknown is currently unpublished and will be republished in due course.

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Why I Chose This Setting and Era

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I chose London and the south east of England as a setting mainly because I have no close family connection with either area and I wanted Into The Unknown to be a work of fiction and not a family memoir.  

I chose the Second World War because my grandparents’ experiences of the war couldn’t be more different. In 1939, my maternal grandparents were living in The Netherlands while my paternal grandparents were living in the Irish Free State.

Opa (my late grandfather) joined the Dutch Army. When it surrendered to the Germans in May 1940, he was taken as a prisoner of war to Bremen, Germany and worked on clearing and developing sites to be used as graveyards. Oma (my late grandmother) spent the war in boarding school and in Rotterdam, which was almost destroyed by aerial bombardment by first the Luftwaffe and then the RAF and USAF.

Oma’s father was a baker and there is a family story that he and other bakers chartered a ship and brought flour back to Rotterdam from America. I have no idea whether the story is true and if anyone can dismiss or confirm the story, I’d love to hear from them.

When Oma’s family home was destroyed in a bombing raid, they moved into the bakery. The family photographs survived, having been given to one of Oma’s sisters for safekeeping while she was away at boarding school.

Meanwhile, in neutral Ireland, my paternal grandfather worked as an insurance inspector. My paternal grandmother’s parents were farmers and kept Granny and Grandad supplied with chickens, eggs, turf (peat) and also a goose each Christmas. Despite rationing and shortages of commodities, to them, the war must have seemed a very long way away.

* * *

London on 3 September 1939 is in upheaval. War is inevitable. Into this turmoil steps Kate Sheridan, newly arrived from Ireland to live with her aunt and uncle, and look for work. When she meets Flight Lieutenant Charlie Butler sparks fly, but he is a notorious womaniser. Should she ignore all the warnings and get involved with a ladies man whose life will be in daily danger?

Charlie Butler has no intention of getting involved with a woman. But when he meets Kate his resolve is shattered. Should he allow his heart to rule his head and fall for a nineteen-year-old Irish girl while there is a war to fight?

Private conflicts and personal doubts are soon overshadowed. Will the horrors of war bring Kate and Charlie together or tear them apart?

Read An Excerpt…

“It seems like I’ve known you for years,” she told him.

“A year since Christmas Day.” He kissed her. “I love you so much, Kate.” They both jumped as they heard a bomb fall some way off and more planes approach.

“Bastards,” he whispered. “Leave us alone.”

“I wonder if there are people like us in Germany, sitting in shelters like this—frightened—not knowing when it’s going to end. They can’t all support Hitler.”

He’d never thought of that. “I suppose not,” he conceded. “But Hitler has brought it upon them all. Kate.” He turned her face towards his. “Your father wants you home, doesn’t he?”

She nodded. “He wanted me to go to America. It was Mummy who persuaded him that I come here. Now he really hates Bob because he thinks Bob put me under pressure to join up.”

“Is your father…” Charlie began. How could he put this delicately? “A bit anti-British?”

“He doesn’t like the British, Charlie; there’s no point in me denying it. He conveniently forgets that Mummy is British. The censor has had a field day with his letters. Churchill isn’t his favourite politician in all the world.”

“So he does hate me?” Charlie asked. “Like you said he would?”

She sighed. “He’s never mentioned you, even though I write about you in all my letters. It’s his loss.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh, Charlie, don’t be silly.” She kissed him. “Mummy likes the sound of you, though. Even Granny Norah does. If anyone should be able to persuade Daddy otherwise it’s her. He’s a bit of a mammy’s boy at heart.”

But an idiot apart from that, Charlie thought angrily, but smiled to placate her. Bloody hell, the man could support the IRA, or be in it for all he knew.

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Into The Unknown is currently unpublished and will be republished in due course.

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