At the end of October 70 years ago, farmers and farmers’ wives were reading the Farm Journal. It was a dark period in the Second World War; we’d lost more than 40,000 troops and the Philippine Islands, the German army was battering the gates of Stalingrad, England was rebuilding its armed forces after Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.
There were, however, glimmers of light: British bombers carried the war to Germany, Doolittle bombed Tokyo, the American navy won the Battle of Midway, and U.S. Marines landed on Japanese held Guadalcanal.
Meanwhile, the second front in Europe was about to commence with Operation Torch, an Allied landing in North Africa that began on Nov. 8, 1942.
The October Farm Journal emphasized the importance of farmer’s collecting scrap for the war effort — even the cover photo was of a pile of scrap iron implements and an old tire.
On the editorial page it listed the amount of scrap needed to make certain weapons: one disc harrow = 210 carbines; one sulky plow = 100 armor piercing shells; one old tractor = 580 machine guns; 10 grain drills = 1 light tank; and 12 mowers = one 3-inch AA gun, while one old tire would furnish the rubber for 12 gas masks.
It was said that the FBI was called in when an Army pilot spotted a “secret code message” in an Illinois hayfield. Upon investigation, it was found that the 17-year-old son of the farmer had mowed the message, “DR+CB,” which, of course, was nothing more sinister than his and his girlfriend’s initials.
There was a lot of complaining about the shortage of farm labor due to the high wages being paid by defense plants. The editor said the government was doing little to help other than encouraging the use of city boys and girls on the farm and to call on farm women to work harder.
An Oregon farm woman wrote that “every 16-year-old lad in my neighborhood is working in Portland shipyards for $8.20 a day, and the girls are waiting tables at mountain resorts at $4 a day, which tells much of our farm labor story. If farmers could sell their stuff at prices allowing them to pay as much the shipyards, we’d be sitting pretty.”
Letters to the editor urged readers to pick up American boys in uniform hitch-hiking, as well as pointing out the dangers of government-imposed double daylight savings time that forced children to walk to school or meet the bus in the dark.
And, interestingly, in light of today’s push to eliminate six-day mail delivery, a reader implored FJ to “Please help us get six-day-a-week rural mail delivery. Modern times demand it.”
Everyone ‘recycled.’ A blurb under Farm Equipment, told of a country welder in Indiana who welded sections of auto spring to old plow shares to make them again serviceable.
I remember Al McDonald, the local mechanic in our area, did the same thing; I did a lot of plowing with such shares.
Of course, war or no war, teen-agers worried about the opposite sex; a boy wrote to Up in Polly’s Room to ask: “How many times must a boy go with a girl before he can ask for a kiss without being thought of as ‘fresh’?”
Polly told him it depended upon a lot of things, but the number of dates wasn’t one of them.
A girl asked if it was “…all right for a girl to ask a boy to a party?” Another said she was “…only 18,” but her “…parents think I’m too young to be going out.” Sounds kind of quaint in today’s permissive environment, doesn’t it?
A woman in Royal, Neb., reported: “Women have darned near taken over the place. The school superintendent and all the teachers are women; there’s a woman station agent, a woman cream buyer, a woman delivering milk, women clerks replacing men in one general store, a woman mail carrier, women filling station attendants, and so on and on.”
Another wrote about a “Mrs. X,” whom she had visited. Mrs. X had a son in the service who had survived Pearl Harbor and the woman wrote:
“Mrs. X hasn’t a spoonful of sugar in the house. ‘What do I want of it?’ she said. ‘I can do without sugar the rest of my life if my boy can have what he wants to eat and if it helps us to win.’”
In the Talkies column, the movie Wake Island, the story of the heroic but futile defense of the tiny island by U.S. Marines against overwhelming Japanese forces was rated “magnificent.”
Sonja Henie performed “at her most dazzling” in Iceland, and Abbott and Costello acted their usual screwball selves in Pardon my Sarong.
Under Passed by the Non-Sensor, the patient wailed to her doctor: “Oh doctor, I’m so worried about the operation; do you think the scar will show?”
The surgeon replied: “That, young lady, is entirely up to you.”
Under Now is the Time To: was the following advice.
“Waste not; Husk corn; Reduce debts; Go to church; Butcher a pig; Fix the chimney; Combine soybeans; Dehorn feeder steers; Harvest pumpkin pie; Paper the living room; Crack walnuts, sell the meats; Keep insurance policies paid; Clip Bossy’s flanks and udder; Look for moth holes in your overcoat; Make sure animals have enough iodine; Tell your neighbor: ‘Let’s all go to the meeting in one car;’ Mail overseas packages. October 31 is the deadline; Drain and flush radiators and put in anti-freeze; Ask the hired man how he learned to husk corn so fast and clean.”
Most of the ads had a war theme, including one from IH that showed two pretty young ladies cultivating corn with Farmall H tractors. The headline read: “Women Join the ‘Field Artillery’ as International Harvester dealers teach power farming to an army of ‘Tractorettes.’”
It’s amazing how different the times were in those days; although I was just nine in ’42, I remember them well.