THE official title was the Hampshire County (Meat) Pie Scheme and almost 70 years ago the Government was convinced this was a major weapon in Britain’s wartime arsenal.
Following the long-standing principle an army marches on its stomach the authorities decided that pies would be the answer to problem of maintaining civilian morale.
For most of the Second World War and the following eight years up to 1953 thousands of pies were made each week and then sold to the public as cheap, nutritious food.
People living in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, away from the main centres of population where, despite the wartime shortages, shoppers could find a wider choice of food, especially welcomed the regular appearance of pies.
According to official figures, anything up to 156,000 pies a week were produced at the height of the scheme, which was originally brought in by the Government as part of the “Dig for Victory’’ plans.
On December 23, 1953, the Daily Echo reported Hampshire’s pie scheme, with its organisational headquarters at the Castle in Winchester, was to be finally wound up.
“For thousands of villagers and those in remote hamlets it will cause a deep and meaningful sigh of regret,’’ said the Daily Echo.
“The scheme, which in the days of rationing brought that little extra to the larder in rural homes cut off from some of the sources for supplementing the ration, has outlived its usefulness.’’ The Ministry of Food’s “Agricultural Pie Scheme’’ began in 1941, and then the following year it was passed to the county branch of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS).
In 1943, owing to the scheme’s expansion, Whitehall decreed that each county should establish a special committee to administer and control the production of pies.
The scheme continued to grow rapidly, and at the peak period there was a weekly delivery of more than 120,000 pie meals with an additional 36,000 at certain times of the year such as hop-picking and gathering the harvest.
Voluntary distributors were appointed and licensed, while statistics detailing the number of pies produced were sent to the Ministry of Food.
Pies were sent to railway stations across Hampshire and then delivered by members of the Voluntary Car Pool organisation but in areas where there was no train service the food was taken to the WVS and then, after 1948, to shops by the county scheme’s own van.
Over the years the profit from selling pies, at four pence (2p) each, began to mount up and so the Government instructed the various county organisations to spend the money on local charitable causes.
The Daily Echo said: “Now, in 1953, it is felt that the scheme has achieved its purpose and has therefore been wound up and a final distribution of the profits made.
“The money is being used for village halls, their repairs, heating, lighting, furnishing, various kitchen equipment; for playing fields and children’s playground equipment; towards building bus shelters; towards the cost of wireless installation at cottage hospitals; for boy scouts and girl guides and church repair funds.’’