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U3A Writing: Hen Keeping

…One day we had a terrible storm with gale force winds. The hens, which were allowed to roam freely in our fenced-off back garden, had retreated from the storm into the shed which was their home. But the wind blew the shed over, allowing the terrified hens to escape. In their terror most of them flew over the fencing and scattered all over the avenue…

Jean Flinders had to learn how to keep hens during the austere food-rationing days of World War Two.

During the Second World War, eggs, like many other foodstuffs, were rationed. However, if you knew someone who kept hens you could register with them for your egg ration and in return they could obtain the meal to feed their hens, which was also on ration.

My dad, having served in the Army for the first year of the War, had his appendix removed in a field hospital somewhere in France, was rescued from Dunkirk in one of the little ships, spent some time in a military hospital and was eventually discharged from the Army as unfit. He then began to work on munitions at the De Havilland, working long shifts and in his spare time he decided to go into egg production.

All my aunties and some of our neighbours registered with him and were very happy when the hens were laying well because they got more than their legal entitlement in eggs.
However when some of the hens refused to lay, my dad had some explaining to do. We weren't complaining though, because it sometimes meant that we had chicken for dinner on the following Sunday.

My dad also helped with my own war effort when he gave me three eggs to raffle off. My friends and I sold raffle tickets all round the council estate on which we lived. The proceeds from this and from the back garden concerts we gave from time to time were sent to the Red Cross. It may not have amounted to very much but we felt we were contributing to the war effort.

Children were not so protected in those days and everyone was expected to do their share in looking after the hens. Because my dad worked shifts I sometimes had to collect the meal from the shop, carrying it on my back in a sack. I also had to collect potato peelings from our neighbours to mix with the hens’ food. Thankfully, I wasn't expected to actually feed them nor to clean out their living quarters.

One day we had a terrible storm with gale force winds. The hens, which were allowed to roam freely in our fenced-off back garden, had retreated from the storm into the shed which was their home. But the wind blew the shed over, allowing the terrified hens to escape. In their terror most of them flew over the fencing and scattered all over the avenue.

My dad was in bed, having just returned from the night shift, and he wasn't pleased when I woke him up. He and I chased all over the estate, in and out of people's gardens, trying to round up the hens. Fortunately, a few boys, looking for excitement, joined us in the chase. It was a good job because I couldn't have picked up one of those hens to save my life.

We did eventually recapture them all but it took hours. After that Dad wasn't so keen on keeping hens and I, for one, was not sorry to see them go.

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