Baking during the Occupation

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Rive's Bakery was in David Place


This article by Rob Shipley was first published in the Jersey Evening Post in February 2011


The problems faced by Jersey bakers during the German Occupation were recounted by baker's son David Rive to a church meeting in Surrey and then recorded in a book of his memories of the war.

A young David Rive walking through St Helier with Granny Prigg

Daily deliveries

'Even though there was a war on, customers still expected daily deliveries', Mr Rive wrote.

Initially transport was the major problem, because there was no fuel for motor vans, but his father, Sydney Rive, who was in business at 37 David Place in St Helier, hired a horse-drawn, canvas-covered furniture van for deliveries to a depot in the east of the island.

He also bought a huge cart, which required three men to haul it, to reach a depot in the north.

Onward distribution was by smaller carts or bicycles with trailers.

As the tyres on carts and cycles wore out, they were replaced by lengths of hosepipe.

As the war continued, supply became an increasing problem, flour having to be imported from France, where it was never in plentiful supply. And the convoys shipping it to the island came under increasingly frequent attack from Allied aircraft as the years wore on.

White flour quickly became a luxury of the past and for most of the war years the best that Jersey tasted was bread made from very poor quality wholemeal - probably what was left over after sources in France had had their pick of what was on offer.

But that was far from the worst of it. From time to time bakers were ordered to use 50 per cent potato flour, which meant that they could produce only soggy flat loaves that had to be left to dry for three days before they were fit to sell.

No yeast

Yeast supplies also failed, so that sour-dough loaves had to be baked using dough retained from earlier production runs. This apparently gave Occupation bread a distinct flavour that some will never forget.

Flour milled from island-grown wheat also had its shortcomings. The bakers at Rive's noticed that it had black specks that were not removed at theold watermills which had been pressed back into service because their flour sieves had corroded and could not be replaced.

The Medical Officer of Health said that the specks would not be harmful provided that the bread was thoroughly cooked, but everyone at the bakery - and perhaps some customers - knew that the impurities were mouse and rat droppings.

Salt was in very short supply, so seawater was used to mix the dough and this added further extra ingredients - according to Mr Rive bits of seaweed and tiny crabs could sometimes be detected.

And he adds:"There were no problems with obesity then."

We take a loaf of bread for granted and complain if it is served stale, but during the Occupation loaves were unimaginably valuable. They were therefore stored in locked cages before distribution and were occasionally the objects of night-time raids by German soldiers.

Mr Rive recorded that Clary de la Cour, a bakery employee on night watchman duty, had a very nasty surprise once in the small hours when a jackboot suddenly came crashing down through a glass skylight.

In the final months of the Occupation there was nothing to bake and nothing to fire the bakehouse ovens. The last batch of bread - a one-pound loaf for every member of the civilian population - was baked in November 1944.
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