Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Four slices of bread a day, giving up the stuff for the war effort .............. stories behind the book nu 9

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War.*

In Honour Bound, 1917
Now here is a jolly poster I have never seen before.

It dates from March 1917 when food shortages were beginning to get the Government worried.

The official line at the beginning of the year was that there was no problem and even by March Mrs Peel of the Ministry of Food commented that “whilst the food position is serious, there is every reason to hope that if people carry out the recommendations of Lord Davenport we shall come through a very difficult period without anything worse than considerable inconvenience.”*

The recommendations had included an appeal for families to adopt ‘The National Scale of Voluntary Rations’ of 4 pounds of bread or 3 pounds of flour, 2½ pounds of meat and ¾ of sugar per week which was the allowances already in place for people eating in restaurants and hotels.

Queue for potatoes, Manchester, 1914
All houses agreeing to do this received a small placard which proclaimed "IN HONOUR BOUND WE ADOPT THE NATIONAL SCALE OF VOLUNTARY RATIONS."

The campaign had begun in the middle of February and by March 11 leaflets “with useful information on rationing and methods of economy [along with the] cards of honour in red, white and blue,” were being prepared.

I have yet to discover just how successful the scheme was but anecdotal evidence suggests that amongst the middle class who were the targets it did have some success.

The London correspondent for the Manchester Guardian reported that that during the first week “out of the fifteen families of barristers, architects, artists, Government officials, and journalists thirteen were keeping their food consumption within the suggested limits.”**

The long queue, 1914
An observation which was supported later that year in a book on food supply and distribution in which the authors asserted “in the short street in which we lived in London last spring three out of four houses showed the placard.  In a certain village of 25 houses all 25 displayed the card.

Altogether as a result of this appeal and an independent “Eat Less Bread” campaign the Food Controller is able to declare that fifteen per cent less bread was eaten in the United Kingdom in June of this year than in February.

In some of the larger cities the consumption of bread was reduced by as much as 25 per cent to 30 per cent.  Portsmouth reduced its weekly capita consumption to 3lbs. 1 oz and Keighley, the ‘model town’ to 2 pounds 07 oz. ‘It is perfectly safe to say,’ says the Director General Kennedy Jones ‘that an enormous reduction has been effected through the voluntary efforts of the people in the United Kingdom in the consumption of practically all food-stuffs.’” ***

All of which sounds fine and dandy but obscured the fact that shortages had been pushing the price of food up since the beginning of the war causing increasing hardship amongst the poor and the working classes.

The London Vigilance Committee, 1917
The Food Vigilance Committees established by the Labour Movement at the outbreak of the war, continued to highlight the issues of food shortages and price rises and demanded that the production and distribution of food should be taken over by the Government in partnership with the trade unions and Co-operative Societies.

And had also argued for food rationing and even bolder moves to alleviate the problem.  One “very lively conference of working-class women from all parts of London met at Westminster [on February 25] to discuss the voluntary food rationing scheme, with all agreed that the bread rations should be greatly increased ........ a public supply and distribution of milk, and meals for mothers and young children and the establishment of municipal kitchens.”******

The Government however remained  opposed to compulsory rationing despite the growing evidence of shortages and its impact on the poor, with the Food Controller asserting in early November in a Speech at Manchester Town Hall that this was “the voluntary Scheme’s last chance."*******

And that proved to be the case for later in the month the Government gave in and began rationing.

Location, Britain

Pictures; The honour card, 1917 from the collection of David Harrop, extracts from documents from The London Food Vigilance Committee, 1915, courtesy of the Labour History Archives & Study Centre,  at the People’s History Museum, Manchester, http://www.phm.org.uk/ queue for potatoes, 1914, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass

*Manchester and the Great War, Andrew Simpson, due out at the end of 2016, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/A%20new%20book%20on%20Manchester%20and%20the%20Great%20War

**Why not official Menus? Food Controller’s Cards of Honour, Manchester Guardian, March 11 1917

***First week of Voluntary Rationing, Manchester Guardian, February 14 1917.

****The Food Problem Vernon Lyman Kellogg, Alonzo Englebert Taylor, Herbert Hoover, 1917, the Macmillan Company New York page 66-67

***** Food Vigilance Committeeshttp://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Food%20Vigilance%20Committees

******Working Women on rationing, Manchester Guardian, Februry 26 1917

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