From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office.
With attacks on merchant shipping, agricultural labourers leaving the land to fight on the Front and horses being requisitioned for the war, there had been growing concerns about food shortages as the war progressed. Articles abounded on wartime economies and in May 1917 the Bread Pledge was introduced encouraging people to eat less grain. However, as food shortages continued to be an ever growing concern, compulsory rationing was introduced in January 1918. At first only sugar was rationed but, in April, it was followed by the rationing of meat, flour, butter, margarine and milk.
Before rationing, in time-honoured fashion, women in the home had been called upon to make economies. The Carrow Works magazines, held at the Norfolk Record Office, give a typical picture of the situation. In July 1916 the magazine announced:
Three rules for housewives. Buy Economically. Prepare Carefully. Avoid all Waste.
The earlier edition in January 1916 quoted the Right Honourable Arthur Henderson of the Board of Education:
“Economy in food at the present time is absolutely necessary. It is part of the patriotic duty of every British citizen, rich and poor alike”.
The following year an economy exhibition was held at the Castle Museum. The Carrow Works magazine for April 1917 reported:
“. . . . cakes without eggs” were on view, and various preparations of nuts, cheese and lentils. It has to be remembered that dishes of this kind will probably become necessities during the present year.
‘Dig for Victory’ may have been a slogan from the Second World War but the message was the same for the First World War. The Carrow Works magazine for July 1917 stated:
Let us all who have any available ground cultivate it . . even window-boxes may be set with cress . . and many an otherwise waste spot may be made to produce some form of vegetable life.
By December 1917, the situation was grave.
But, despite the best efforts of the majority, sugar rationing was introduced the following January. The Ministry of Food issued a Meat Rationing Order in March 1918 in preparation for meat rationing the following month (NRO, BR 254/65). The Order issued guidance to butchers and others such as caterers on how to obtain meat supplies under the Meat Rationing Scheme. The scheme applied to those living in England and Wales and outside London. From April 7th 1918 meat could only be sold to those who had registered with butchers as customers. Registration was carried out in March and butchers had to send a list of those who had registered with them to the Food Control Committee. If the Committee considered the butcher had too many registered then they had the power to transfer some of the customers to another butcher.
The guidance recommended that butchers in a local area should group together to form Butchers’ Committees which would act as trade associations. One person on the committee should be responsible for buying livestock and another for dead stock. A levy should be paid for each butcher joining the committee and this money would provide a working fund and pay for any expenses incurred by the butchers. It was recommended that the committees drew up rules limiting the financial responsibilities of each member to avoid any irregularities.
The meat rationing scheme started on April 7th from which time butchers needed a permit to buy meat. If there was insufficient meat to provide for those registered with the butcher then this would be reported to the Deputy Meat Agent who would try to procure supplies. Equally the agent was to be informed if there were surpluses so that the stock could be redistributed where there was a need.
Margarine was also rationed from April 1918. The Carrow Works magazine for that month wrote:
Any Margarine? Well four ounces a week – when you can get it. But please don’t call it Mar-jer-ine. Ask for Mar-gar-ine, and if you detect a smile on the face of the shopkeeper, tell him that the word “Margarine” comes from the Latin word ‘Margarita’, signifying a pearl; and that the ‘g’ is hard.
A letter written by Frank Palmer to his father about his father’s imminent visit to Norwich expresses concern about the availability of food supplies that his father had requested. (NRO, MC 2440/1/16, 973×4). From his address at 9 Market Place, Norwich Frank wrote:
Unfortunately it does not lay in my power to obtain only such quantities of Butter, Tea & Sgr to which we are entitled to. Here we are only allowed 1oz of Butter and 5 ounces of Margarine each per week. 2 ounces of Tea & 1/2lb Sugar per week also.
Hardships continued throughout the war but these were ameliorated by several initiatives. The work of the Woman’s War Agricultural Committee recruited women to work on the land. This was later formalised into the Women’s Land Army in January 1917. The introduction of mechanization with tractors made up for the loss of horses and men, The employment of German prisoners of war, while not without its problems, also helped fill the gap in labour shortages. Such initiatives, along with the determined efforts of men, women and children to do their bit, ensured that Britain may have been hungry but it did not starve.
NRO Blogger – Daryl Long
From records held at the Norfolk Record Office.
Edith Upcher’s diary started and ended with a very loud bang (UPC 188 642×2). In the short time that she kept her diary, spanning the first three months of 1916, she captured the fears both real and imaginary of the people of Sheringham.
Crash. Bang. Shake. A loud explosion. Every door & window in the house struggling to break free.
Thus wrote Edith in her first entry recounting a zeppelin raid on 31st January 1916. The servants had seen the zeppelin flying low over the wood near Edith’s home, Sheringham Hall. It appeared to be following the coastline. Such was the noise that Edith’s mother thought it must be a naval battle. Edith describes bombs being hurled from the sky, some in the direction of Holt. Following the raid there was much talk both in the town and at Sheringham Auxiliary Hospital where Edith worked voluntarily.
Everyone claimed that it went “right over my house”. Hospital calm tho’ the locals had been a little excited.
30 bombs were dropped at Bayfield Lodge probably thinking it was the aerodrome:
Windows of house broken, barn damaged and forge blown to bits. Many dropped in fields. 8 large holes in which 22 men could stand. Report told of aircraft party having left on their large light and finding “things too hot for them” fled to Holt leaving the searchlight turned on Holt Lodge.
The fear of further raids was ever present. Unconfirmed stories circulated about zeppelins approaching. Mrs Steward, a local resident, is said to have desired a gun so that she could shoot them down adding that neither guns on the cliff at Bodham would fire and they needed someone to come up from London to look at them because the man from London “knew more about guns than what those soldiers do”.
Residents were understandably fearful of any unexplained noises or anything flying overhead. On one occasion Edith was chatting to a local neighbour when an aeroplane flew by.
Old Mrs Dawson Sidney fled indoors in tears crying “Oh I do hate them things. I don’t care if they’re ours or not they do frighten me”.
On 5th March there was another zeppelin scare, heavy snow providing ample light for the zeppelins to see. Edith wrote:
Music for a bit then to bed wondering how used one got to the idea of Zepps about but hoping that a hurricane would meet them on the way back.
Residents were also worried that the presence of troops in the area would invite attack. On 8th March Edith remonstrated with a soldier about the danger of leaving ammunition wagons close to local houses. The residents were anxious that if the wagons were attacked by zeppelins then their houses would be blown up too. The unsympathetic soldier replied, “We could have put em in your back yard if we had had a mind to”.
While strangers were welcome in the seaside town before the war, now they were viewed with suspicion. Two women checked into one of the town’s hotels, one demanding a room overlooking the sea and the other a room at the back of the hotel. Edith wrote that they were:
Suspiciously like spies – but after a time proved to be officers’ wives coming to stay to the finish.
When the lifeboat went missing during a rescue mission, there were again fears of invasion. Rumours circulated that the Germans had landed and were dressed in khaki so that no-one would know who they were.
Good deal of agitation about many soldiers on Links and round Hospital. Found out from outpatient that a landing was expected, all the soldiers had been out all night & not come in for morning rations. . . . . One after another the men came in with the same tale & always ending in awestruck voices. . . . . .As it happened there were a most unusual amount of ships hanging about all the morning. As we were looking at them we saw one of the soldiers from the Hospital hoist up the Union Jack & the Red Cross Flag. He had got leave to do this to calm his feelings but it had the contrary effect on most of them as they again came to pour out their fears.
The missing lifeboat eventually returned having taken its rescued vessel safely to Grimsby. Fear of invasion fuelled rumours that it was returning with German spies on board. A lifeboat member from Sheringham was stationed on the beach to meet its return and to identify every man aboard to check there were no Germans among the crew.
Edith’s diary concludes with a major explosion in the town which caused severe damage. On 11th March she wrote:
At 5 past 8 a resounding bang and windows rattling furiously. . . . A floating mine had come ashore. It was seen for 2 hours but no steps were taken to prevent disaster. Reports as usual. “They” had telephoned Lowestoft for instructions & received none. “it was too rough for any boat to get out to it”. None of the fishermen would have dared touch it etc etc. Anyhow the unsuitable had happened and the mine had burst. The spot it chose was the Town drain pipe and here it did its worst though mercifully so much less than if it had met its end a few minutes sooner and not a soul was hurt or even touched by the portions of pipe-mine & stones which were flying incredible distances into Town.
The damage caused by the mine was extensive with Cliff Road particularly affected. Mrs Lucas’ house ‘The Mo’ on East Cliff was badly damaged as it was close to the blast. Stories of narrow escapes abounded. Birrell’s house was apparently lifted out of the ground eight inches and dropped back again. Edith wrote that Birrell then ran about all day long carrying a bottle of medicine from which he drank at regular intervals. Mr Craske had heard about the mine and got his wife out of bed. After the explosion they found a large piece of metal in her pillow. Fortunately, because the morning was so stormy, children were not playing outdoors and so escaped injury.
After the mine explosion people went around the town collecting metal shards in an attempt to prove it had been an English mine so that the town could claim damages.
Edith’s diary illustrates how the fear and reality of war manifested itself directly on the doorsteps of British towns in the First World War.
Written by Daryl Long NRO Blogger
Norfolk Libraries have been receiving some fantastic donations from groups and individuals around the county, who have been busy making poppies for our 2018 commemoration project. So far we have origami, crocheted, knitted, card, wool, fabric and even pom-pom poppies. We have a year to reach our goal of 15,500, and there is still a long way to go – we need your help!
If you need some inspiration to get you started, we’ve listed some of our favourite crafty library books below with links of where to find them…
- Vintage Projects – Vivienne Bolton
- Scissors, Paper, Craft – Christine Leech
- Paper Craft
- Paper to Petal – Rebecca Thuss and Patrick Farrell (also available as an eBook)
- Supercraft – Sophie Pester
- How to Decorate and Embellish Your Fabrics – Laurie Wisbrun
- Felt Sew Good – Christine Leech
Remember your local library will have a crafting book section (Dewey class 745-746), and will always be able to reserve books for you to collect – just ask!
With thanks to our Mesopotamian researcher for this aside!
General Sir Charles Townshend’s Terrier
During the siege of Kut al Amara Spot accompanied General Townshend on his regular patrols of the besieged town. Spot had been with his master through all the battles from Kurna through to Ctesiphon, and when the Kut garrison surrendered on 29 April 1916 Townshend asked if Spot could be send back down the Tigris to Basra in a hospital ship. Khalil Pasha, the Turkish commander, agreed.
General Mellis’ dog went with Spot and they both found a home with Sir Wilfred Peek. Whether Spot survived to rejoin his master in Norfolk after the war is not known…
We’ve just received this mega donation of knitted and crocheted poppies from West Norfolk Libraries – there are 1,194 poppies in this bag! Staff and customers at King’s Lynn and Dersingham Libraries created each of these unique flowers, and donated them our Poppy Project for display during the Armistice centenary commemorations next year.
You don’t have to be a knitter to take part – people have created poppies out of cardboard, crepe paper tissue, and felt, and even coloured some in. You can use your favourite crafting techniques or try something new. Be creative!
There is still a long way to go until we reach our poppy target – find out more about the project here and get in touch if you’d like to get involved!
A rather large tank at Great Yarmouth, marked ‘YH777’ part of a fundraising effort shortly after the First World War. The image was taken by Alfred Yallop and is held in the Photographic Collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre.