Food shortages during the First World War were considerable, with wholesalers and retailers becoming bound by numerous regulations and the whole population seeing the beginning of rationing.
The first attempt at rationing was made with an order restricting meals in hotels and restaurants in December 1916, and by 1917 food prices has doubled with only two or three months supplies in the country. In January of that year new powers were conferred on Lord Rhondda, the Food Controller, who initially appealed to patriotism asking for voluntary rationing in bread, meat and sugar.
Strict rationing slowly came into force and in September 1917 Lord Rhondda wrote in the first issue of a fortnightly National Food Journal that it would give …detailed and official information in respect to the action taken by the Ministry of Food.
Many pages are filled with statutory rules and regulations, parliamentary proceeding and lists of official maximum prices, but it also provides a real insight into the difficulties that both the food producers and consumers experienced.
Attempts were made by restaurants to evade the Cakes and Pastries Order, which included the prohibition on using sugar in scones, This was particularly so where a tea-shop was attached to a confectioner, customers in the tea-shop being allowed to supply themselves with cakes from the confectioners, which was not permitted. Prosecutions followed.
Animal foodstuffs were also restricted and featured in an article in the National Food Journal on The Rationing of Horses:
Horses allowed hunting rations will in reality be part of the Army Remount Establishment, kept and fed at the expense of the present owners but liable to be called up at any time.
Surprisingly, among all the official information are a number of recipes, including those for barley cheese, savoury maize pudding, carrot marmalade, home-made bread with potatoes and chocolate potato biscuits (made with cocoa-butter). A list of suggested war time Christmas dinners comprised:
- Potage Parmentier, stuffed shoulder of mutton, braised celery, baked potatoes, fruit pie and custard. Cost 4s 5d.
- Celery cream soup, braised beef a la bourgeoise, brussel sprouts, duchess potatoes, orange pudding. Cost 5s 9¾d.
- Herring fillets a la juive, braised fowl en casserole, stuffed tomatoes, orange and apple mould mince pies. Cost 9s 3¾d.
Christmas parties where entertainment was the main consideration were instructed to dispense with food as far as possible, and where ‘a good meal for the poor’ was the main object then again, as far as possible, non-essential foodstuffs should be supplied.
The Journal also contains list of prosecutions, and in the first issue:
At Cardiff, Henry Cowley, greengrocer, 36 Union Street, was fined £100 for selling potatoes at a price above the fixed maximum, and £5 for using an unjust scale
Later prosecutions included:
Merthyr Tydfil – Fines amounting to £175 were imposed on grocers and their assistants for overcharging on jam, butter, tea and other commodities. The magistrate threatened drastic measures against future offenders.
Ernest Jenkins, grocer, Crwys Road, was fined £10 for refusing to sell a tin of condensed milk ‘by itself’.
Cardiff – Joseph Edward Townsend, Corporation Road, 40s or 1 months imprisonment for selling bread less than 12 hours old.
Cardiff – Domingos Gavincho, master of a Brazilian steamer, was fined £100 and Virgilio dos Santos, steward, £50, while a donkeyman and fireman, Antonio dos Santos and Joas de Campos, were sentenced to six months hard labour. Too much bread being supplied to the crew, 28 loaves had been thrown into the furnaces.
Most prosecutions in Wales were comparatively minor and ignorance was not accepted as an excuse.
The Journal was not completely inward looking as it contained articles on propaganda in Italy, food restrictions in France, Canadian food regulations, compulsory rationing in Germany and the methods adopted in allied and neutral countries.
The state of the war is not forgotten and an article on ‘The Civilian and the Submarine’ states that:
It is long since Germany gave up the idea of winning the war….the most that the Germans are now asked to do is to ‘hold on’… The powers now build their hopes not upon the army but upon two new services.
It then details the air service, and on the submarine it notes:
People are to be starved and the nation reduced to conditions of famine by indiscriminate murder at sea and the sinking of valuable cargoes of food.
The article goes on to outline food supply and distribution difficulties. The severe shortages in Germany were highlighted as was the fact that although Britain was suffering the German population was starving:
What greedy grousers in this country speak of as famine the hungry German would look upon as luxury.
A deputation of South Wales Miners went to see Lord Rhondda about the food situation and in February 1918 a parliamentary question was asked as to whether the Parliamentary Secretary was aware of the food famine in the South Wales mining centres, of the fact that the miners and other workers cannot get food to take during their working hours, and would some better system of rationing be at once put into force? In reply it was stated that the Food Controller was aware that there had lately been serious shortages of certain foods in the South Wales mining centres. Full details having been laid before him by a deputation from the South Wales Miners’ Federation, and he was taking measures to accelerate the introduction of a local rationing scheme which it was hoped would go far to remove the difficulties in question.
National Kitchens were making their appearance by 1918 and pithead cook-houses were suggested:
…where the meal or ‘tommy’ boxes of the men could be filled with good substantial food, prepared by expert cooks and suited to the conditions under which miners have to work. These boxes of could be easily handed out to the workmen when they go down the pit as are the safety lamps.
The food would be purchased in bulk and the cost would be compared favourably with that of providing it at home.
The Journal continued into the 1920s, recording the slow removal of restrictions, although prosecutions continued for excessive pricing and it became a summary offence to waste any foodstuffs. The problems of waste continue to this day.
Ann Konsbruck, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer