Saturday, 27 May 2017

Revisiting the Great War nu 2 ............ food queues, aliens and a marriage

Queueing fot poataoes in 1914
We all have our own images of the Great War and for most of us they will be that mix of young men in ill fitting uniforms, barbed wire, trenches and women at work in our munitions factories.

Less familiar perhaps will be those of people queuing for food or the lines of policeman escorting enemy aliens into custody.

Now these are part of that landscape which is the Second World War but is less commonly featured in stories of the Great War.

Leaflet for meeting, 1915
And yet as rationing was not introduced until 1917 and food prices along with the cost of fuel and rents rocketed upwards queuing became a way of life.

It led inevitably to a level of discontent which was recorded in the media and manifested itself in demands by the Labour movement for greater control over the production, distribution and sale of all everyday commodities.*

Much of these demands can be followed in the minutes and leaflets of the Food Vigilance Committees which sprang up all over the country.*

These were grass roots organisations composed of trade unions, co-op societies women’s groups  and labour party branches and fed their deliberations, along with reports of the actions they undertook to the War Emergency Workers National Committee which had been established by the labour movement at the start of the war.

I doubt today that many know of either organisations or the part they played in protecting the living standards of working people.

Manchester Guardian 1914
And in much the same way the swift response to those who became known as enemy aliens rarely gets the same attention as the moves made by the Government against Italian and German nationals in 1939.

Churchill’s “collar the lot” and the subsequent imprisonment of both the innocent and the potentially sinister is the stuff of many television documentaries but the experiences of Germans in 1914 is less well covered.

At best there are a few references to attacks on German property violent attacks on individuals but that is it.

Like the Defence of the Realm Act, the Aliens Registration Act gave the Government wide spread powers, which required all aliens  over 16 to register with the police and to seek permission if they planned to be away from their registered home for more than 24 hours.

And so within just twelve days after the war began the Manchester Guardian reported that two thousand Germans living in Manchester had registered.***

But registration was just the start, for by the following month some at least of these were being arrested and sent to a camp at Queensferry.

On September 9th according to the Manchester Guardian “Fifty-five more German and Austrian subjects who had been arrested by the Manchester police were sent to the camp at Queensferry.  

They were manacled and chained together, and were under an escort of policeman armed with rifles.  

The total number of alien enemies arrested in Manchester is now 107 of whom 99 have been sent to military detention camps.****

The authorities justified the action by citing that “news of the German advance towards Paris had brought about a distinct change in the attitude of the younger members of the German colony.  They began freely to express their satisfaction at the German successes and boast of what they would do as soon as German soldiers landed in England.”

To its credit the Manchester Guardian was appalled that the detained men had been chained, commenting that “it should be borne in mind that these men are untried, that they are arrested on suspicion ....... and though there may be good ground for their detention there is none for degrading them.”

But such was the mood of the country a mood which would only get darker during the course of the next four years.

So with that in mind I shall finish with one of those little bits of normality which so often get overlooked.

Marriages, August 3 1914
And that was that on the day before war broke out VICTOR GEORGE CHARLES BREEDEN had married HILDA KATHLEEN DOBBS, both of Chorlton-cum-Hardy at St Werburghs Church.

Mr Breeden went on to serve in the Great War and was awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal but his military records gave not survived and I have as yet not been able to locate them in Chorlton.

All I do know is that Mrs Breeden died in Wales in 1963.

So that is where I will leave it.

Pictures; Queue for Potatoes, 1914, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,
 leaflet announcing a Mass Meeting organised against the rising cost of living at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, February 1915, and the aims of the London Food Vigilance Committee, 1915 courtesy of the Archives & Study Centre,  at the People’s History Museum

*Food Vigilance Committees,

**The War Emergency Workers National Committee

***Germans in Manchester, Manchester Guardian, August 13 1914

****Alien enemies in manacles, Manchester Guardian September 9 1914

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