“Grow wheat” announced the postmark on the letter from Dublin postmarked 27th February 1940 and lying amongst papers in the basement. The postmark was a reminder of Clair Wills’ account of Ireland during the Second World War. That Neutral Island describes a country where it was not just wheat that was in short supply, but just about everything. Perhaps on 27th February 1940, though, things had not become too bad; perhaps fuel was still readily available and travel was not so hard. The letter is addressed to a clergyman living in Ballacolla, Leix summoning him to Dublin for a meeting to elect a new bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin.
It seemed odd to be contemplating a meeting to elect a bishop while in Europe Adolf Hitler was sweeping away everything before him. Was this how people coped with the big realities of the outside world, by keeping themselves occupied with the local and particular?
Finding the letter recaptured a memory of working on a nursery during student days. The place was in its twilight years; even in the 1970s, much remained from the pre-war years, (even some of the staff!)
The buildings were in varying states of decay. One of the Victorian stone buildings had a tool room in one corner. The tools were mostly old and worn out; relics of the former glories of the establishment. On the back of the tool room door, various cutting from newspapers had been pasted. From the long past, these had faded to a yellowish brown, but were still legible.
One was a report of a question in the House of Commons about the transport of flowers. The report was from 1942 or thereabouts. A Member of Parliament was seeking assurances from a Government minister that the transport of flowers had been safeguarded. An opposition MP had stood up to object that when the nation was fighting for its survival, the transport of flowers should not be taking up parliamentary time, but his words had been cut through by whoever had clipped the piece from the newspaper.
Maybe flowers were important; as part of keeping ordinary life going and keeping up the morale of the people; but they were hardly of such priority that parliamentary questions were necessary. (In long retrospect, when the whole nation was being urged to dig for victory and where every available patch of ground was being cultivated to try and feed the population, it seems strange that flowers were being grown at all).
Maybe flowers in England were equivalent to bishops in Ireland, adornments that reassured people that if such luxury could be afforded, then the world was perhaps not a wholly bad place, though the flowers would have been of considerably greater use than the bishops.