The Food Supply
Initially fairly relaxed attitude to food – but local authorities ahead of game – quickly urged for use of vacant land to be turned to food production for domestic market and Blegian refugees. – letters in Borough News.Shortages not really experienced for some time and GB still fairly agricultural nation. 1915 Govt apptd local agric committees. Wim ( Dec )
Towm Clerk as Chair. Mayor issued appeal for funds. – posters and circulars calling for land workers. Probs of Council ability to provide contracts with landholders = Home Produce Soc est. – not all landowners willing to offer up land for use. Local Committee given powers to prevail on good will.- approaches to Thrift Committee, Board of Agric, etc = non committal replies from Govt. fearing land controversies - Nov 1916 Govt acted – Wim Land Cultivation Cmmittee – land provided = H P Soc to manage it.
March 1916 War Agric Committee founded Home Prod Soc – legally constituted body to take over land, let it out in allotments and purchase supplies for cultivators. Mayor = Pres.
By end of 1916 Soc had 228 shareholders and 1436 by 1918. 10 rod plots under cultivation = 173 1916, 1089 in 1917 and 1205 in 1918. Trading turnover went from £27 to £1352. – fencing, water supply to waste land – lime,12.5 tons, slag 8 tons, vaporite 5cwt, superphosphate 9cwt, soda, 30,000+ plants – BY 1917 had distrib 20 tons of seed potatoes
“Most families had acquired in some way a patch of ground which produced vegetables and potatoes and one year, I remember magnificent marrows. So proud was my father, that we hung the marrows up in the conservatory so that all might see them but alas they were on view too long and when taken down were completely dried out and hollow shells… horse manure was still available on the streets and certain parents allowed their children to collect this under cover of darkness, always producing better results on their allotments. These families were not always regarded with the highest esteem by their resolute neighbours.” ( Vernon Ely )
However by 1917 German U boat attacks on shipping from Empire and Europe created serious food shortages – need to feed those on front line and also prevent risk of Britain being starved into surrender. Restriction of imptd food = Govt. belatedly introduced a system of rationing ( still to some extent a voluntary system. ) “Grow More and Buy Less.”
Many people admitted to cravings for sugar and butter – subs got mixed reactions.
“My husband, a Brigadier on the Staff in France, used to come home with his suitcase stuffed full of potatoes, a piece of bacon and butter and sugar, which shows how hard hit we were and how short of food. No rationing and no convoys. I believe we nearly starved. Sometime however we got a sheep’s head and stewed it and the excitement when I shared the tiny tongue amongst the five of us was intense. We got very tired of lentil sausage as a supper dish. I cooked our morning porridge in a hat box to save fuel…”
( Winifred Whitehead )
Food Savings – esp bread. April 1917 Town Clerk of Wim set up committee to start creating Communal Kitchens to save food and fuel., Eminent speakers talking of dangers of wasting food and use of substitutes for staples in short supply. Empire Day 1917 made propaganda day for war and food saving. Mayor read King’s proclamation at every school and large number of voluntary ration cards signed.
“there was the food shortage, especially before rationing was belatedly introduced, periods when there was no butter or margarine to put on our bread and then, when these reappeared, no bread to spread them on. To fill the gaps, potatoes became of great importance and everybody tried to grow them – half our tennis court was dig up and planted but a very poor crop resulted.” ( P Fawcett )
Also had to take measures against hoarders and profiteers. Mer & Mor Clerk Mr C Mountifield, and later his wife acted as inspector for Merton and later Surrey. “ The district did not suffer to any great extent from the queue evil but no doubt many of the inhabitants will recollect the energy displayed by the chairman and officers of the committee at the time when eve margarine was a luxury only to be dreamt of.”
1917 Govt apptd Soc local distrib agents for sugar and bottles for fruit preserving – at no profit = 5 tons sugar and 3000 bottles. Work initially done by volunteers but then paid helpers taken on. – use of council depots and rooms at 51 Broadway ( Conserv & Unionist Assoc )