Agriculture and the War
The increasing shortage of food and lack of manpower on farms led to real concerns about the country’s ability to sustain a supply of food. This report, published in the Wellington Journal 22 January 1916, shows the ongoing debate about how to address the problem. The War Agriculture Committee in Much Wenlock discussed a number of issues; women working on the land, steam power and the reduced availability of horses, children to be released from school to work on farms, the supply of fertilizers and the need to cultivate more allotments and gardens.
Wellington Journal 22 Jan 1916 [p9]
War Agricultural Committee meeting Monday. Letter read out from County Council about female labour on farms and pointing out what women might do. County Sec, stated what steam demonstrations would be held in various parts of county, he had not seen the steam plough at work and asked opinion of those who had. Reported that fields were small but plough did good work 4 acres in 6 hours. Board of Agric wrote to say Labour Exchanges might be used to get workers for the land, also house to house canvas recommended to find out what women could be obtained, Mr Milner thought it a good thing if they could get sanction of School Committees to allow strong boys about 12 years old to work on farms, they would get paid, get their meals and thus relieve women at home. Mr Whitley said Educ Committee had agreed to 12 year old boys to work on farms. Mr Dyas said he knew of farmer who could not have coped without the boys. Letter read from Board of Agric that sulphate of ammonia was imported to Holland but precautions were taken that none should reach Germany. Letter read from Lord Selborne asking if patriotic people could be found to cultivate allotments. Mr Cooke said allotments in district had not been very successful and most had been now ploughed up. Reported that 15% less wheat –sown acreage in county last year and a good deal less all country. To prevent food shortage in winter of 1916-17 efforts must be made. Said that labourers did not make best use of their gardens and the ladies might talk to them in patriotic spirit. Mr Milner said certain papers in district requested men to drill and this had upset men who were starred. Before they went to Wenlock to drill they said they would rather enlist. Mr Cooke said the men should not to take that seriously, it was voluntary. Secretary mentioned the question of the county appointing women instructors in farming. Proposed resolution that the Educ Comm be requested to adopt some method of training women to do farming work. Discussion about loaning light draft horses to farmers. Said one farmer had 75 of the government’s horses on his farm at 25s per week which he preferred to buying bullocks (laughter). Stated that farmers wanting to hire these horses should apply to committee.
The Women’s Land Army
Lord Selborne, President of the Board of Agriculture, made an appeal that more women should work on the land. Many women were keen to get involved, amonst these women was Louisa Wilkins, formerly Jebb (sister of Eglantyne Jebb and Dorothy Buxton formerly Jebb, who co-founded the Save the Children Fund – see Children Starving in Europe). Louisa had been one of the very first women to study agriculture and horticulture at university (Newnham College, Cambridge). She set up the Women’s Farming and Gardening Union, which did extremely valuable work before the war looking after the interests of all professional workers in agriculture and horticulture by offering training courses.
Louisa, also known by her married name of Mrs Rowland Wilkins, established the forerunner of the Women’s Land Army, called the Women’s National Land Service Corps in February 1916. This report in the Wellington Journal records one of mainy public meetings which she attended to promote this cause.
Wellington Journal 11 Mar 1916 [p6]
Harper Adams College set up training courses for women. This group of trainees are learning to make hen houses.
For more information on the formation of the Women’s Land Army:
Following a poor harvest and increased attacks on shipping by German U-boats, food supplies by the winter of 1916/17 were worryingly low. Many women spent hours queuing and trying to find supplies of food. People were asked to eat less and not to waste food. There were concerns that the rich were stockpilling food which further led to shortages and pushed up prices. In 1917 a campaign of voluntary rationing was encouraged.
Eventually rationing of some items was introduced. Sugar was rationed from 31 December 1917, meat was included in April 1918 and butter, margarine and lard were added in July.