In our series The Great War – Through a London Child’s Eye, we’re following “The Private Diary of Edward Hampton” to learn about life as a child in London 1916, half way through the First World War.
Before the war, Britain had become dependent on imports for more than 60 per cent of food supplies.
We were dependent on other countries to feed us, including foods from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
As the war went on, it became harder to find enough food for all the people in Britain and the soldiers fighting at the front.
Many farm workers had left their families to go and fight. They had also left their cows, sheep, ploughs and fields, and there were not enough workers to keep the farms going.
As men left the country to fight overseas, women stepped in to take their place and started taking on work that they had never done before.
Lots of food was sent away to feed the fighting soldiers. There was also less food arriving from other countries because ships bringing supplies were often attacked by German submarines called U-boats.
People panicked and soon there were very long queues outside shops. A lot of people responded by producing more home-grown food. Government posters also encouraged families to save food.
Unlike supermarkets we have today, most food was bought from individual shops.
The grocer sold most everyday provisions. Foods such as flour, sugar, biscuits, tea were kept in barrels, and the grocer weighed out what the customer wanted on brass scales using pound and ounces weights, and put them in a paper bag.
At the butcher’s people bought pork, beef, ox-tongue, tripe (part of a cow’s stomach), pigs’ trotters, mutton and rabbits. The poulterer sold different types of birds, like chickens, ducks and geese.
The government and local councils opened National Kitchens which provided nutritious meals at low cost. Visitors would pay on entering the Kitchen and receive tokens which they could then exchange for food. You can see a token at the Burgh House & Hampstead Museum.
In September 1915, a group of women formed the Women’s Institute.
They wanted to encourage women to grow as much food as possible!
They gave tips for making food last through the winter months, like by canning or bottling fruit and salting vegetables. In 1917, the Government set up the Women’s Land Army.
At first, some farmers did not want women from towns coming to help. They thought the work would take too long to teach and women would not be strong enough to do all the heavy work around the farm.
The women proved them wrong!
They were quick to learn and glad to be in the countryside with plenty of fresh air and good food. With air raids on towns and cities, the countryside was a much safer place to be.
The women learned how to milk cows, make butter and raise animals for meat. They ploughed fields, planted, weeded and harvested vegetables, fruit and grain for flour.
It was hard work with long hours in all kinds of weather, but they kept the nation fed. By the end of 1917, over 260,000 women had gone to help on the farms.
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The Great War – Through a London Child’s Eye is supported by The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.