Food and Food Shortages

Fit men were sent to the battle fields and horses were requisitioned to transport equipment. A few men who were deemed un t for military service were sent to work on the land. Hilda Godber’s brother Sidney, was one of these. He had a hearing impediment. Most of the responsibility for producing the food for both civilians and the troops however, was undertaken by women and schoolchildren. As the war progressed food became scarcer, rationing was introduced in 1918 following years of U-Boat attacks on Bri sh supply ships. There were queues for essential provisions at grocers’ and butchers’ shops. The Loughborough Echo of 4th May 1917 reported that more women were employed on the land than formerly. Many of them had previously been working in factories and had no kind of experience or training in farm work. However, one employer, a local farmer, (details were withheld presumably for security reasons) reported that ‘they are very keen about their work …are very reliable and are very much be er than any male labour one could get now ‘ and ‘without the women the work could not have carried on’. Women without family responsibilities were sent away to work on farms – Vena Grain of Quorn (1895-1989) had to leave Wright’s webbing factory at age 15 because of her poor eyesight and was sent to Beaumanor Farm in Woodhouse Eaves for six weeks to be trained in farm work before being sent to a gardening job at a school in Nuneaton for the rest of the war. In February 1918, records show that Rosebery School had taken over an allotment and that boys left school at 1.30pm every day and were expected to dig until 5pm “until the trenching was finished.” The quad at Loughborough Grammar School was also given over to vegetables. In 1915, the Women’s Institute which originated in Canada, came to England. It aimed to educate and encourage countrywomen to produce, preserve and cook food for themselves, using the resources at hand. Speaking in 1917, Miss Talbot, Director of the Women’s Branch of the Food Production Department declared ‘We have to prevent hunger. Every ounce of food which can be grown in this country must be grown and every woman who can give a hand in this vastly important work, must give a hand.” The institutes took this responsibility seriously – for instance no meetings were held in September when women would be expected to bring the harvest in. Many families kept hens and schoolchildren were encouraged to bring eggs into school to be donated to the hospital. One autumn log book entry for Cobden Girls’ School records that “seventy girls a ended the Hospital this morning for a short time in order to take their gifts of fruit, vegetables and flowers for the wounded troops”. Food doubled in price during World War 1 and there were many shortages. Food was needed for the soldiers at the front, German U-boats were sinking food supplies coming into Britain, and men and farm horses had been taken to the front. Throughout the war people had been encouraged to save food and not to waste it, but even this was not sufficient and by late 1917 food rationing was on its way in. Rationing was unpopular but necessary. Sugar, meat, flour, milk, butter and margarine were all restricted. Everyone was issued with a ra on card.Men and women working in industry or manual labour – and some women in service – were allowed a larger ra on of bread. People were even encouraged to drink less tea and more coffee and cocoa. There were queues for essential provisions at grocers’ and butchers’ shops. School dinners were introduced for children during World War 1. Many children were coming to school hungry because their mothers were spending so long queuing for food. New foods were also introduced such as canned tuna, dried soup powder and custard powder that only needed water and egg substitutes. Some people fared be er than others when they had relatives in the country. “Grandma in Lincolnshire used to rear us a pig every year. We always had a ham and flitches of bacon hanging up in the cellar. It kept for six months down there in the cold. We were never short of meat, even during the war.” – Mrs Diggle, Loughborough As I Remember It For others the situation was more exacting. “I remember queuing at Harry Lacey’s pork butchers in Derby Square with six pence and when it got to my turn there was nothing left.” – anon. ‘Loughborough As I Remember It’. Women were exorted to fight the war on the domestic front, this from the Win the War Cookery Book: “Women of Britain…… Our soldiers are beating the Germans on land. Our sailors are beating them on sea. You can beat them in the larder and the kitchen” Rationing became necessary to balance distribution and avoid situations like this: ‘There was a queue for butter and margarine at the Maypole [a dairy in the Market Place]. We’d not had butter for a long, long time. We used to mix up some potato with milk and spread that on our bread. When I got to the counter at the Maypole the man said “Go on home, little one. Your mum has been in before you.” My poor mum had died just before the war. So I didn’t get any margarine or butter.’ anon. Loughborough As I Remember It.

To try to make things fairer and ensure that everyone received their fair share, the government introduced rationing in 1918. Ra on cards were issued and everyone had to register with a local butcher and grocer. The first thing to be rationed was sugar in January 1918, but by the end of April that year meat, butter, cheese and margarine were also added to the list. Some foods were still in short supply even a er the war ended, butter remained on ration until 1920. However, the problems had started earlier and were not just to do with U-Boat attacks on shipping which had reached new heights with the declaration of unrestricted warfare submarine warfare from January 1917. The wheat harvest of 1916 was lower than usual and the potato crop in Scotland and parts of England failed. Food prices rose rapidly as a consequence and made many things beyond the reach of the low waged. The authorities had to take ac on. In 1917 the Women’s Land Army was formed to provide extra voluntary labour, with ‘Land Girls’ replacing servicemen who had leave the farms to fight. The government also created propaganda campaigns encouraging people all over the country to start growing their own food. In the end the a empt to starve Britian into submission by the Axis powers failed but the Allied war of blockade and attrition on them didn’t finally end un l July 1919.

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