Bringing Tastes Of History to life...
 

Home Front 1914-1918

 

Edward VII was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India from January 22nd, 1901 until his death in 1910. The eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Edward was related to royalty throughout Europe. Who know that a mere fours after Edward's short-lived reign, this extended family of Kings, Tsar and Kaisers would plunge the world into the "war to end all wars".

Tastes Of History's displays for this period cover three linked themes: Women's Suffrage, the Home Front in World War One, and Homecoming at war's end.

Against the backdrop of our Edwardian cottage kitchen, you can meet us as we prepare for a "Votes for Women" campaign march.  Our displays aims to bring the women's suffrage movement to life and to discover whether The Representation of the People Act 1918 was the goal the suffragettes sought.

The above takes place on the Home Front so we also explain the measures for Britain’s defence, popularly associated with World War 2, were actually introduced during The Great War.  And we can explore the social changes in Britain as men and women adjusted to life after the Armistice.

On the eve of war, there was serious domestic unrest in the UK amongst the labour and suffrage movements, and especially in Ireland.   At the outbreak of war, patriotic feelings spread throughout the whole country, with much of the population rapidly rallying behind the government.  As the war ground on, significant sacrifices were made in the name of defeating the enemy, and it was during the years of conflict that many of the class barriers in Edwardian Britain were weakened.

Women at War  Variously throughout the war, serious shortages of able-bodied men ("manpower") led to women taking on many of the traditional male roles.  The Great War is credited by some with drawing women into mainstream employment for the first time.  Prime Minister David Lloyd George was clear about how important women were:

“It would have been utterly impossible for us to have waged a successful war had it not been for the skill and ardour, enthusiasm and industry which the women of this country have thrown into the war.”

The experience of individual women during the war varied greatly, with much depending on locality, age, marital status and occupation.  Many women found work that directly helped the war effort in the munitions factories (as "munitionettes").  Many more found employment opportunities in the Civil Service and in administrative work, which likewise released men for the front.  Eventually, women could join the armed forces in non-combatant roles, such as nursing and cooking.  By the end of the War some 80,000 women had joined the armed forces in auxiliary roles.

Women’s Land Army Born  The British government wanted women to get more involved in the production of food and do their part to support the war effort.  One goal was to attract middle-class women to act as models for patriotic engagement in non-traditional duties.  Many farmers were resistant, so the Board of Agriculture set about encouraging farmers to accept women’s help on the farms.  In March 1917, the Women's Land Army was born; not in World War Two as popularly assumed.  By the end of that year there were over 250,000 women working as farm labourers, with 23,000 in the Land Army itself, performing chores such as milking cows and picking fruit.

Even this development was not without controversy.  The uniform of the Women's Land Army of male overalls and trousers sparked debate on the propriety of cross-dressing.  However odd this may seem today, the British government, desperate not to upset the social mores of the time, employed rhetoric to explicitly feminise the new roles with some success.  Pre-war, for example, it was generally accepted that secretaries were men.  Post-war, and in more recent times, secretarial roles are thought, rightly or wrongly, the preserve of women.

Women’s Suffrage  In the spirit of patriotism, the militant suffragette movement, epitomised by Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), suspended its “Votes for Women” campaign for the duration of the war.  Regardless, it is still much debated what impact the activities of the suffragist and suffragette movements and the Great War had on women's emancipation.  In the aftermath of the war, millions of soldiers returning home were still not entitled to vote, which posed a dilemma for politicians.  How could they be seen to withhold the vote from the very men who had just fought to preserve the British democratic political system.  The Representation of the People Act 1918 attempted to solve the problem.  When, on February 6th, the Act gave the right to vote to all adult males over 21 years old who were resident householders, it also gave the vote to women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications.  Until more recently, the enfranchisement of this latter group had been accepted as recognition of the contribution made by women defence workers.  It is more likely, however, that granting limited, age-restricted women’s suffrage was a by-product of giving the vote to millions of returning male soldiers rather than a reward for women’s participation in war work, or the suffrage campaigns.

In the post-war “land fit for heroes” of 1918 many of the social barriers that had pervaded Victorian and Edwardian Britain had been irrevocably broken.  Even so, it would take a further ten years before women in Britain finally achieved suffrage on the same terms as men.

Food and Rationing

In line with its wartime "business as usual" policy, the British government was initially reluctant to try to control the food markets.  It resisted efforts to introduce minimum prices in cereal production, though relenting on the control of essential imports such as sugar, meat and grains.  When changes were introduced, however, they had limited effect.  In 1916, it became illegal to consume more than two courses while lunching in a public eating place or more than three for dinner; fines were introduced for members of the public found feeding the pigeons or stray animals.

In January 1917, in yet another foretaste of World War Two, Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare programme began to sink ships bringing food to Britain.  Aimed at starving the country into surrender, Britain responded by introducing voluntary rationing the following month.  Bread was subsidised from September 1917, with compulsory rationing introduced in stages between December 1917 and February 1918, as Britain's stores of wheat dropped to just six weeks’ supply.

To assist with rationing, ration books were introduced on July 15th, 1918 for butter, margarine, lard, meat, and sugar.  The weekly ration on the Home Front in 1918 was:

Bread:

  

7 lb per head per week for male manual workers; 4 lb per head per week for women.

Oatmeal & Rice:


to be used with care.

Butter & Margarine:


4 oz weekly for an adult or child (total fats: ½ lb per week).

Cheese:


to be used with care.

Eggs:


no restrictions.

Meat:


2 lb, including bacon, ham, sausages, game, rabbits, poultry & tinned meat.

Fish:


no restrictions.

Potatoes:


use freely.

Vegetables:


use freely.  Prices soared leaving people with far fewer fruits and vegetables in their diet.

Fruit:


use freely (but see above).

Sugar:


½ lb weekly for an adult or child.

Tea:


to be used with care.

Cocoa & Coffee:


use freely (and in preference to tea).

As time permits, we will experiment with recipes from the Edwardian and Great War period.  The results will be shared on Tastes Of History's Blog in due course.