1939–1945, The War Years

The war years [1939-45] affected the people of Navan in different ways – depending on which age group you belonged to. When Santa called during those years and for some years after he brought little in the nature of mechanical toys.

If you liked oranges, bananas, nuts etc., you were out of luck; while many favourite sweets and bars of chocolates were to disappear also for the duration. My favourite until they too, went were pastilles which then cost roughly the equivalent of two new pence a quarter as compared to today’s price of 34p a quarter.

Secretly, you hoped the Germans would make a mistake and drop a bomb or two on the town, preferably on the school when, of course, you were not in it! The Germans had already made mistakes, dropping bombs in Dublin and Wexford thinking they were bombing England.

People were expected to cover their windows with black-out curtains.   But nobody did except those in charge of the civil authorities. For house-owners was time or “The Emergency”, as it was known in the Republic, was a period of improvising and doing without.

Until then it was, for most of us a question of never having enough money to buy all you would have liked.   Now the situation was reversed.   You had the money but could not buy. Virtually everything was rationed – tea, sugar, butter, soap, clothing, shoes etc.   The tea ration was 2 ozs. per person per week.  So a family of six people had to make do with 12 ozs. of tea a week.

Top price for tea in the town was three shillings a lb. [15p].  But there were individuals who could supply you with black market tea at £1 per pound and, as the tea scarcity got worse, 150p [30 shillings in old money]. Fuel was probably one of the biggest problems in Navan.  There was no coal to be had and you had to rely on firewood and turf for heating and cooking.

Turf supplies were generally wet and of poor quality so often the turf had to be dried in front of a firewood fire before it could be used. Of course, if you could afford it you would buy a lorry load of turf from someone you knew who owned a turf bank in Jamestown, Bohermeen or Tullaghanstown bogs.

It was in those days that the hay-box and sawdust methods of cooking were born.  The first I have never seen – the second I observed many times. It was very successful and also inexpensive since sawdust could be had from any of the town’s furniture mills.

Not many people had electric cookers in the war years, but quite a lot of Navan homes had gas cookers as the town had its own gasworks. But with coal unavailable the operations of Navan Gas Co. came to an end.

I suppose there are numerous Navanites who do not know that the town had its own supply of gas as well as electricity. The gas company closed in the early 40s and the electricity generating station closed in the 20s due to the arrival of the State-sponsored E.S.B.

Ironically, the winters of the war years were, invariably, severe and the elderly and feeble must have suffered a lot.

In 1944 (I think it was) there was no dried fruit and therefore, no Christmas pudding. But, unlike England so short a distance away, we had plenty of the basics – meat, vegetables, potatoes, milk, eggs and, most times, a good fruit crop.