As Cornish butcher William Jewell sat in the desert during the midst of the Second World War, he thought back fondly to his homeland and all that he missed – not least a good old pasty to fill his stomach.
The result of his homesickness is a memento with a fascinating history that takes it from the birth place of Jesus to the Normandy Landings, before finding its way back to a butcher’s shop in Helston – the town where it can still be seen today, hidden amongst the treasures of the Museum of Cornish Life Helston.
It is now also in the running to be named Cornish Object of the Year in a competition by the Cornwall Museums Partnership.
The story begins in Bethlehem, 1943, two years after William ‘Bill’ Jewell enlisted to the Royal Scots Greys, part of the Desert Rats.
In 1942 the Scots Greys moved from Syria to Egypt, and remained there until the end of the North Africa Campaign. At some point before they were redeployed to Italy, Bill must have visited Bethlehem – and carved the little pasty from a piece of stone he found, inscribing it with his location and the year.
The regiment returned home in 1944, before taking part in the Normandy Landing. Bill ended his service in Germany on April 21, 1946 with a note of “exemplary military conduct”, having also been a butcher with responsibility for the ration store.
On his return, he worked again as a butcher in Helston where he lived until he died in his nineties.
He kept his handmade memento all his life and following his death his family chose to give the pasty, along with photos, medals, and archive documents, to Helston’s museum.
This little pasty was a memory of home, adventures, and full tummies at a time of shortage.
A spokesperson for the Museum of Cornish Life Helston said: “We love the little pasty, which is plain and understated. It is an expression of what was important to a Cornish soldier very far from home in a very unreal situation. He went from being a butcher to tank battles in the desert.
“This pasty is no ‘tacky gift’ – it is both a remembrance of home and of people now gone. It is funny to think of Bill sitting in the heat carving a pasty from a bit of stone he picked up in Bethlehem, which was a small village at the time. Maybe it made him laugh that the translation of Bethlehem is ‘House of Meat’.
“What we do know is that this pocket-sized pasty journeyed safely with Bill from Bethlehem to Helston and was treasure all his life.”
The Helston museum is now hoping people will vote for the pasty to be named Cornish Object of the Year by visiting cornwallmuseumspartnership.org.uk/vote-now-for-cornish-object-of-the-year.
Shortlisting judge Mark Trevethan said described the object as: “A pasty with a story that reflects Cornish exploration and participation in the wider world but continued strong attachment to custom and roots.”
The little stone pasty is up against five other artefacts put forward by museums in Cornwall, including the Penzance Market Cross submitted by Penlee House Gallery and Museum, and a pick and shovel gold brooch from the mines of South Africa, found in Redruth’s Murdoch House.