The Great War

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What was life like at the end of the First World War?

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Everyday life in London in 1918 may have been better than in the trenches but conditions were hard nonetheless for those left behind.

Hunger was commonplace because agriculture and food distribution had been affected by the war, and naval blockades meant imported foods couldn’t always be brought into the country.

The war had taken the men from all walks of life and that included farming. Even with women and children tending the land, we just weren’t growing enough crops or farming enough animals to feed everyone. People would grow vegetables in their gardens or in allotments, even on common ground.

The shortage of crops meant a shortage of bread, and this was particularly hard on the poorest people because it would be one of the only things they could usually afford. 

People would horde food if they could, sometimes even steal, and long queues would form when supplies were available.

When food was available the prices were often very high although the government put price controls on some foods to enable as many people as possible to afford to feed their families.

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In November 1918 a government said that potatoes could be used to make bread as long as it was no more than 1/8 of the weight.

There were also no meat days on which no meat would be sold. They suggested alternatives from vegetables which were more easily produced, such as thick vegetable soups, stews or stuffed parsnips. 

Some people even thought dogs that weren’t working dogs should be killed because they needed meat too. 

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In January 1918 the London food committee asked the food controller to introduce a rationing scheme for the whole of London and the Home Counties.

This restricted the amount of meat, sugar, and margarine each person could buy each week.  There were separate cards for children and adults, and each had numbered coupons.

It wasn’t only food which was in short supply. Fabric too was difficult to find because all the available fabric had to be used for uniforms for the troops, and cloth factories without their men workers just could not produce enough to go around. 

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Fabrics were graded, with Grade 1 the best quality, Grade 2 for overcoats, Grade 3 and 4 for children’s clothing. It became commonplace for everyone, not just the poor, to repair and patch clothing and then repair the repairs.

Shoes too were difficult to buy and very expensive as the manufacturers turned all the factory output to boots for the soldiers.

Fascinating Facts about life in 1918

  • The King was George V.
  • The Prime Minister was David Lloyd George.
  • 155 people were killed in a pit accident in Staffordshire, caused by an explosion.
  • An act of parliament meant that some women were able to vote for the first time.
  • The Royal Flying Corp and the Royal Naval Air service merged to form the Royal Air Force.
  • The school leaving age was raised to 14.
  • The first festival of “Nine Lessons and Carols” – what we know now as “Carols from Kings” was held on Christmas Eve.
  • John was the most popular name for boys.  Other popular names were William, James and Robert.
  • Mary was the most popular name for girls. Other popular names were Helen, Dorothy and Margaret.

Recipes from 1918

“Bonza” Trench Stew

  • 1 turnip
  • 2 carrots
  • ½ tin corned beef
  • 1 pint of water

Bran coffee

Coffee would have been a luxury so this recipe was used to create a similar flavoured hot drink. Cooks would mix wheat and black treacle, roast the mix in the oven and then boil the granules and then sieve before serving. 

Potato Bread rolls

Mashed potato was mixed with a little wheat bread flour, and an ounce of lard before baking.  These produced rather heavy and chewy rolls but would have been filling.

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The Great War - Through a London Child's Eye!

Learn about life as a London child in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War.


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The Great War

The Great War - Life through a Child's Eye.

More From The Great War