Rationing in the First World War

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.

Photo 1 Zigomala cropped

Potatoes were even grown outside Buckingham Palace. NRO, MC 2738/14 


By December 1917, the situation was grave.

Photo 2 Aylsham DC Letter cropped

Letter issued by Aylsham District Council. NRO, MS 21630/114

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.

Photo 3 Meat Rationing Order cropped

Part of the guidance issued to butchers in 1918. NRO, BR 254/65

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.

Photo 4 Children's Meat Coupons cropped

Children had their own coupons.  These shown here were handed in to butchers D W Bellamy & Sons of 136 King St, Gt Yarmouth. NRO, Y/D 74/58


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.


Photo 5 Ration allowances cropped

Ration allowances for adults. NRO, MS 21630/114



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





The Dogs of War

The Dogs of War

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Heritage Centre

Dogs have always had a role to play in wartime.  Some larger dogs were used for the transportation of ammunition and lighter stores.  Other breeds were used for pathfinding, tracking and carrying messages.  As well as carrying out specific roles for the military they have also been a source of comfort and friendship in harrowing times.

The Military Dog

Private Bob Benifer of the Norfolk Regiment kept a photograph album during the war.  It includes several photos of dogs.  (MC 2149/1 925×5)

The photo below is annotated by Benifer who wrote “Private Kirby given to me at Bangalore 30/6/17”. 

Photo 1 Pt Benifer Pt Kirby

Private Benifer and Private Kirby (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

Benifer and Kirby also appear in a regimental photo along with several other dogs.  Kirby looks the same but Benifer has since acquired a moustache!

Photo 2 Benifer with regiment edited

Benifer (first row, right-hand side) and Kirby with the rest of the regiment (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

At Pulham Royal Naval Air Station, Peter was the station mascot.  In September 1917 the first edition of The Pulham Patrol, the air station magazine, was published.  A whole page was dedicated to this important member of the base.

For 11 months he has been with us . . . Being a staunch patriot he absolutely refuses to accept pay . . . . he has fine musical tastes, for he thoroughly objects to all bugle calls!


Photo 3 Peter the Pulham mascot edited

Peter the Pulham mascot (NRO, MC 2254/183)

Dogs – our faithful friends

The Carrow Works Magazines of April 1915 and January 1917 recount two stories of the lengths to which dogs would go to be with their masters.

In April 1915 Private Brown of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment left for the Front.  His wife and Irish terrier Prince accompanied him to the station to say goodbye.  Prince became very distressed at the parting.  Shortly afterwards Prince went missing.  Mrs Brown was reluctant to tell her husband that she had lost him and searched in vain without success.  However, after several weeks, she plucked up the courage and told him.  To her surprise her husband replied that Prince was with him.  Private Brown wrote:  “I could not believe my eyes till I got off my horse and he made a great fuss of me.  I believe he came over with some other troops.  Just fancy his coming and finding me”. 


Photo 4 Prince edited

Prince – not such a dumb dog  (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

In January 1917 an article entitled “A Dog Story” told of the tale (no pun intended) of a collie dog at Cambridge railway station.  Mr George Lambton had often noticed the dog on the platform.  When he asked about the dog he was told that some eighteen months ago the dog had come to the station with its owner who left on a train for the Front.  Since then the dog returned every morning and stayed until late at night awaiting his master’s return.  The dog was very friendly and responded to those at the station who befriended him.

The other day his fervent desire was gratified.  A soldier in khaki descended from the carriage.  At first the good dog could not believe his eyes, but another look and a sniff sufficed, and with one bound he sprang up, got his paws on his master’s shoulders, and clung hard.  His eighteen long months of waiting were at last rewarded.

Edith Cavell and her dogs

Edith Cavell had two dogs, Don and Jack, both born in 1909.  Little is known of Don and he had died by 1912.  After Cavell’s death Mlle de Meyer took on the matronship of the Edith Cavell School in Brussels and she also took on Jack.  Jack did not settle and he was sent to the Duchess of Croy’s estate.  Meyer wrote “the poor animal felt lost without its owner and in new surroundings. . . . . .. .Some nurses and I took him there and he became the great comfort of the Duchess who is well known for her great love of animals”.


Photo 5 Jack edited

Jack (From ‘Nurse Cavell Dog Lover’ by Rowland Johns held at NRO)


The Duchess of Croy later wrote:

“I was first told that after her death he had been locked up in a damp stable all alone. . . . No one in Brussels dared take the dog for fear of the Germans.  I did not know of his existence, or else I would have taken him as soon as poor Nurse Cavell was put in prison, and let her know that the dog was safe.  She was very anxious about him, and begged in several letters that he might be well looked after.  Jack was brought to me in March 1916.  He was extremely naughty and bit”.  Eventually, “he became as good and gentle as any other dog. . . . Jack seemed very happy here . . . I had him for about seven and a half years, when he died of indigestion caused by old age.”

The Brave Dogs

The Carrow Works Magazine for April 1915 reported on several acts of canine bravery.  In February 1915 a dog show in London had a special section for fifteen dog heroes.  There was Lassie, the dog who lay at the side of W S Cowan rescued from the British ship Formidable.  Cowan was thought to be dead.  Lassie stayed by his side licking his face for quite some time and Cowan started to move.  Cowan’s movements and Lassie’s barks attracted attention and Cowan was saved.  Then there was Wubbles who had rescued a drowning Frenchman and Tony the Belgian sheep dog who had helped the wounded on the field by taking out refreshments in a tin bottle with a tin mug attached.

Photo 6 Old man and brave dog edited

Unknown man and his dog who rescued fifty fugitives in his fishing boat from the Scheldt (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

They may have been our “dumb friends at the Front” but they were clearly not dumb.

Daryl Long NRO Blogger


War Letters: August 16th, 1917

These are extracts from letters sent by local men, printed in the Carrow Works Magazine during the First World War. The magazine was published quarterly for Colman’s staff. More than 900 workers at Colman’s Carrow Road works signed up during the conflict. 

From Bombardier Sydney W. Smith, Palestine, to Mr Beales.
August 16th, 1917.

“… Although for the past few months I have had to adopt the roving habits of the Bedouin, and have wandered about the Sinai Peninsula and Southern Palestine, yet I am glad to say the Magazine has eventually reached me; but upon perusing it, although glad to learn of those who have won honours, I am sorry for those who have fallen in battle, especially my old workmate, Walter Copland.

Having spent a considerable time in the desert we are well climatised, but the heat at times is very trying , both to men and horses… Lucky is the man who has the fortune to bivouac for the night near one of the few oases there are in this district, for they then have the opportunity of getting figs, grapes, pomegranates, prickly pears and dates, as these fruits are now in season…”


War Letters: August 13th, 1917

These are extracts from letters sent by local men, printed in the Carrow Works Magazine during the First World War. The magazine was published quarterly for Colman’s staff. More than 900 workers at Colman’s Carrow Road works signed up during the conflict. 

From Private William Cracknell, Birmingham, to Mr Rix.
August 13th, 1917

“… I am in hospital. I got wounded on the 31st July. I had a bullet go through my leg, but it did not touch the bone, but it leaves my leg a bit numb after I have been on it a little time. Getting back to the dressing-station I got a piece of shrapnel in the jaw. I had it x-rayed on Sunday… it will be a week or two before I shall be able to eat solid food. I don’t mind that as I think I am lucky to get off as lightly as I have…”

War Letters: August 1917


These are extracts from letters sent by local men, printed in the Carrow Works Magazine during the First World War. The magazine was published quarterly for Colman’s staff. More than 900 workers at Colman’s Carrow Road works signed up during the conflict. 

From Private A.H. Cornwell, R.A.M.C., Egypt, to Mr Beales.
August, 1917.

“… there is plenty of work to do here looking after the patients. We have two fine homes just outside our place for soldiers, where we can go and read, and write our letters, and play all sorts of games when we are off duty. There are some fine sights to see out here, but I would rather see the sights of good old Norwich again. I went and saw the pyramids and the Sphinx last Sunday week, and I thought it a grand sight…”

Santa Warned to Obscure his Headlights A Carrow Christmas

Information taken from Carrow Works Magazines held at the Norfolk Record Office

The Carrow Works magazines reflected the strong community of all those employed by the Colman family in Norwich. It would routinely document the births, marriages and deaths of its employees, chronicle its social events, inform readers with interesting articles and give details about the comings and goings of the Colman family itself.

Thus, when war broke out, there was much to write about which directly concerned the Colman family and their employees with news of those on active service and those left behind at home. In the first months of the war, 250 Carrow employees had enlisted of whom 88 were married with a total of about 180 children. Christmas was a particularly difficult time and much was done to bring some cheer to all those affected by war.


A Christmas greeting in the Carrow Works magazine at the start of the war. Carrow Works Magazine, January 1915

A Christmas Gift Service had been an annual Carrow event since 1901 with gifts usually going to local causes. On December 20th 1914 the 13th Annual Christmas Gift Service was held in the Carrow Club House.

 This time it was felt that the needs of the ‘stranger within thy gates’ should be thought of, so it was decided that all gifts be sent to Belgian Refugees in England.

The gifts were largely clothes which had been made at home. 283 garments were sent and a small number of toys. The following year the annual service helped those suffering in war zones in France or Flanders. Gifts included clothing and lavender bags, the lavender having been grown in the Carrow Gardens.

On Boxing Day 1914 the wives and children of those who had gone to war were invited by Mrs Colman to a ‘Tea and Christmas Tree Entertainment’ at the Carrow Schoolroom. Some children were lucky enough to have their fathers home on leave and they went along too.


The huge tree, reaching to the ceiling, bedecked with the many toys dear to the childish heart. Carrow Works Magazine, April 1915

The April 1915 article recorded that a splendid tea of jellies, cream cakes and other tasty morsels had been provided. This was followed by crackers and, while the children on the whole were too young to understand the mottoes and jokes, they enjoyed the novelties inside and wearing the paper hats.

Afterwards there was an entertainment by Professor Greenie performing magic tricks. Some of his magic failed to convince the older children but his final trick impressed everyone as it resulted in a small gift for every child there.

The event ended with a Christmas parcel given to every child to open at home and the mothers were given a War Calendar as a souvenir of the occasion.

All felt that through the kindness of the Fairy Godmother many a young heart had been made happier at this otherwise sad Christmastide.

While the wives and children enjoyed their Boxing Day treat, Christmas on the front was no less magical despite the circumstances. In a letter from Colman employee Private J H Dawson of the Queen’s Westminsters, he wrote:

My Christmas was the most eventful I have ever or am ever likely to spend.

Dawson described how, on Christmas Eve, he witnessed a battalion exchanging Christmas greetings with the enemy who were in trenches 200 yards away. Several men went out and met them halfway and the soldiers exchanged cakes for wines. Two from his own battalion and two from another made their way into the German trenches unarmed “but as they had evidently seen too much they were kept as ‘souvenirs”.

No shots were fired that Christmas Eve night. Christmas Day was spent conversing and exchanging souvenirs with the Germans. Some of the officers took photos of the occasion.  “These were three Saxon regiments and were decent fellows”.

Dawson himself received a 1 pfennig coin, a signed card and some chocolate.

Others spent their Christmas in different circumstances. An article from the April 1916 magazine was entitled ‘How We Spent Christmas’ and was written by “Jock”, one of only four soldiers spending their Christmas in the Norwich District Nursing Home.

Waking up on Christmas morning we were surprised and delighted to find a large stocking on each of our cots. 

In the afternoon “Jock” and his comrades enjoyed a musical entertainment and on Boxing Day they were welcomed to the home of Mrs Beck in The Close. The following day they helped at a children’s party and the day after they were the guests of the Lady Mayoress Mrs Southwell.

Children at Carrow School also helped to give a little bit of Christmas cheer by sending parcels to all ex-pupils serving in the Army or Navy. The contents of the first parcels were a mixture of small treats and much needed essentials:

  • A diary and a pencil
  • 6 packets of cigarettes
  • 1 tin Boric acid powder
  • I tin Boric ointment
  • 1 tin lozenges
  • 1 tin candies
  • 1 booklet (One & All magazines, December and January)
  • 2 handkerchiefs.
  • 2 woollen articles
  • Motto card for 1915
  • Norfolk News (current week)
  • Note paper and envelopes
  • 1 bundle bootlaces

For the second Christmas of the war, parcels were once again sent to those on active service. Most parcels went to France and some to the Dardanelles. Some went to HMS Ark Royal which was “somewhere on the sea . . . no matches might be sent on account of the great amount of petrol used on board”.


Contents of a home parcel. Carrow Works Magazine, April 1916.

The April 1917 magazine reported that Christmas parcels in 1916 were sent to Egypt, Salonika and France. These had been packed in waterproof paper and then carefully sewn in calico. The gifts were understandably well-received and the children received many letters of thanks. Sergeant R. J. S. wrote from France:

It was a great and pleasant surprise – every article will be most useful, and great care must have been exercised in the choice.  It is nearly twelve months since I left, but I can plainly see I am not forgotten.

What is clear in his letter is not only his gratitude for the items sent but how reassuring it was that he had not been forgotten. Many soldiers had been away from home for a long time and needing to be remembered and to be reminded of home was a common theme in wartime letters.

By Christmas 1915 the country was continuing to endure the nighttime blackness because of the fear of zeppelin raids. This caused many difficulties throughout the year but at Christmastime the children’s concern was ensuring Santa still knew how to find his way. An article in the January 1916 magazine gave Santa some sound advice while also taking the opportunity to make a pointed comment about those who had not yet enlisted:

One wonders how darkness will affect Christmas. Children who are on good terms with “Santa Claus” will have to warn him to obscure his head-lights and to exhibit a red rear-light. . . . . . Let us hope he finds the right chimneys, for a pop-gun intended for a younger brother would be hardly welcome by the bedside of a slacker, who had so far dodged the khaki.

If Santa was to find his way then it was equally important that he had some toys to deliver. A small toy-making enterprise was set up in Norwich which addressed both the problem of women with no work and the need for toys in wartime as many had previously come from Germany. The factory was at 5 St Margaret’s Street, off St Benedict’s Street. From humble beginnings it grew to be very successful.

The present season finds us busy with orders for Christmas from London firms such as Messrs. Gamage, Liberty, Harrod, Gorringe and others.


The Norwich toy-making factory. Carrow Works Magazine, January 1916.

Although the war ended in November 1918, many continued to be on active service. Christmas parcels continued to be sent to those overseas.

Owing to the uncertainty of their movements, several did not receive their parcels until the New Year, but the delay in delivery did not render the gifts less welcome.

Following the armistice, the annual Christmas message expressed the thoughts of the nation; joy for the safe return of loved ones and remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.


The 1918 Christmas message. Carrow Works Magazine, January 1919. 

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger