John Close wrote There’s a War On for the community documentary musical play, Sheltered Lives staged in 1983. The play was based on interviews with Wolverton and New Bradwell residents who built up an evocative picture of local life after the 1st and into the 2nd World War. This song in particular evokes the ways in which ordinary folk coped with the deprivations imposed by war restrictions – with forbearance, resourcefulness and humour.
Times were indeed hard: Ration Books were issued in Britain by the end of September 1939. As an example, the Clothing Book was introduced in June 1941 when households were allowed just 66 clothing coupons per year. An overcoat took 16 coupons; pyjamas took 8; shoes cost 7; a dress could be from 7 to 11 coupons; cardigans, trousers and shirts were each 5; underwear was 4; even an apron was 3; and stockings, if you could find them, were 2. With two-thirds of the coupons used up on just this list, accommodating a family of four for a year meant many hand-me-downs and lots of mending!
You had to register with the coalman; and your soap was rationed… and so was fresh fruit - as deliciously described in a key source for the song, so skilfully incorporated by John Close:
A young couple were going for a walk, you see, and as they walked by this shop they saw these oranges in the shop you see. So the chap said, ‘You like oranges don’t you?’
So she said, ‘Yeh’.
He said, ‘I’ll go and get some’.
So he went in and he said, ‘I’d like two oranges please.’
The man went, ‘Sorry, they’re only for pregnant mothers.’
He said, ‘Alright, we’ll call on our way back…’
(Harold Hood, interviewed by LAMK in 1983)
Images and material from LAMK archive
The song is featured on the Living Archive Band’s album All That’s Changed Vol 1 (LAMK)