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The nature of war

The Iver Nature Centre draws links with modern concerns about healthy eating and recycling by recreating life on the Home Front during the Second World War. Carolyn O'Grady reports

A two-acre wildlife garden in Buckinghamshire seems an odd setting for a workshop on the Second World War; complete with ponds, woodland, a vegetable garden and an abundance of wild flowers and wildlife.

But the project tackles the Home Front, not the battlefield, and the theme of Dig for Victory enables The Iver Nature Centre to bring in many of its main concerns - sustainability, healthy food and recycling.

The session begins with an introduction. Year 3 children from Berkeley Primary School, in Heston, Hounslow settle in for a background talk by the centre's manager, Sally Munn. What was Adolph Hitler doing in 1933? Who was the British Prime Minister in 1939? Why was there rationing? Suddenly an air raid siren goes off.

The children look surprised, but they've been warned this might happen, and they line up, clutching identity cards which they have already filled in, and walk to the large tent outside.

There they are transported back to the past by volunteers and staff dressed for the part - land-girls with knotted scarves on their heads and men from the Home Guard.

With their ID cards stamped they tour the exhibition housed in the tent. In the 1940s lounge they see the Morrison shelter which acted as a place of comparative safety for those who didn't have access to an outdoor shelter.

About two metres long and 1.2 metres wide, it could also be used as a table by removing the welded wire mesh sides. In the kitchen they discuss the differences between food preparation then and now; and elsewhere they try on helmets, gas masks and handle old grenades.

A mound of rubble with its "No Looting" sign is all that's left of one house. Outside, children peer inside an Anderson shelter and discuss a vegetable patch next to it.

The group is then split into four for a carousel of activities, broken up by a trip to the mini assault course and lunch in an open air picnic area.

On one table children make and discuss a collage using cut-out pictures of objects including an Anderson shelter, an aircraft, and vegetables.

To see how they might make the most of healthy food they set about making carrot buns. "Do you think people were healthier in those days?" asks Monique, the volunteer. Healthier and more environmentally conscious, it seems: recycling, for example, was mandatory - waste went into the pig bin.

Elsewhere, Henry Avery, a veteran of the war, describes his life.

Eleven years old when the war broke out, he remembers that "Churchill had hardly stopped announcing the beginning of the war when an air-raid warning sounded, followed quickly by the all-clear".

Later, the reality sank home when he saw a German aircraft being chased by a British fighter plane, the former machine-gunning people in the street.

Henry touches on how people made toys from scrap wood. Extending this theme, Make Do and Mend is an exercise in which children make a rag rug, knit, and work out how they might "spend" 13 coupons on clothes that will see them through summer and winter. With trousers alone worth six coupons, it is a difficult assignment. "This year will probably be the last big celebration of VE day", says Sally Munn, "which is one reason we wanted to do it. But we can also get in a lot about recycling and healthy eating.

Also when they realise there were no supermarkets, no crisps, they look gobsmacked. It helps them appreciate what they have now."

Dig for Victory continues until September this year.

Nod-6 On the map Nod-7 The Iver Nature Study Centre Slough Road Iver Heath, Bucks SL0 0EB Tel: 01895 270730 Email: smunn@

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