February 23, 1917

Food, or rather the shortage of it, was a recurring theme in the columns of the Ashbourne Telegraph in early 1917, reflecting the national picture which had seen the Government appoint a Food Controller.

Lord Devonport, officially the Minister of Food Control was appointed in December of 2016 as the continued sinking of merchant shipping restricted imports, which amounted to 60 per cent of England’s food supplies.

Among the news items on the subject this week was a report which stated the Roman Catholic Cardinal Bourne declaring that it was the duty of Catholics to abstain from meat, although clergy were granted wide ranging powers to give dispensations to munitions workers and others ‘not able to obtain suitable abstinence food’.

Elsewhere it was reported that the Yorkshire Wild Birds’ Protection Society had urged Lord Devonport to commandeer all gulls’ eggs laid n 2017.

“In the course of two or three months there will be millions of eggs, and they can be collected with such facility on Farne island, The Scilly Isles, in the Lincolnshire and Lancashire gulleries and in Scotland.”

The society suggested the eggs could be sold at markets for 1d each.

Other imaginative ways of making food go further were being explored:

“With the food shortage, café carvers are studying how to cut the joint so that it will make more portions, but they have a long way to go before they can equal the experts who cut the ham at Vauxhall Gardens, who were able to produce slices so miraculously thin that enough to cover the whole of the gardens could be cut from one single ham.”

Other snippets included news that Welsh schoolboys were to grow potatoes, with the intention of producing them at half the cost of buying them; that pupils at Eton School had been told they were to go on ‘war rations’ for bread meat and sugar and that ‘tuck shops’ had ben requested not to supply the boys with food in breach of these rules – such as cakes, biscuits, rolls, and scones. Only chocolate and fruit were to be permitted.

Such was the concern over food waste that the editor had decided to publish the first of a ‘series of short articles’ at the request of the Food Controller on ‘Food and How to Save It’. The front page editorial slot was taken by a lengthy explanation of the role of food in human physiology and suggestions on how to plan menus.

“We are asked by the food controller not to use more than 212 pounds [of meat] per head per week on average. This will mean more for a man, less for a child. An ordinary man, not doing heavy muscular work, will keep within his share if he takes 4 ounces of butcher’s meat or less a day, and 2 ounces of bacon at breakfast, these quantities being before cooking. At a third meal he may take fish or cheese instead of meat. Again he may save bread or flour by taking porridge at breakfast, potato with his meat at dinner and using as much rice pudding or similar as possible.”

Shrovetide Football was played for the third year under war conditions, and the Ashbourne Telegraph had a ‘full report of two days’ play’.

“There were many familiar faces absent, those who have rarely failed to attend a ‘turn up’ of the first ball of the season. The majority of the regular players are serving their country and are engaged in a more serious game than the one they love so well and many thoughts on their behalf were expressed during the progress of the play.”

Despite missing the men serving overseas, and the agricultural workers unable to leave their roles, due to the shortage of labour, the game was played ‘in much the same way as in previous years’.

The reporter noted that after the ball moved at a ‘merry pace’ along Compton in the hands of the Downwards, the Upwards turned it around and a ‘short but stern struggle ensued’.

“Amongst those in the thick of it were noticed Messrs J Harrison, W Barnes, WC Tomlinson, WH Wibberley, J Northwood, W Marsden, Sergt W Wibberley (who had got leave from Bordon Camp to be present), Private C Howard, S Sowter, J Sowter, H Sowter, C Ward, C Grime, Purdy ‘China’ Wibberley, J Hoptroff, Private T Fearn &c.”

This list presumably came to an end as: “Suddenly the play opened out and ball was played swiftly up Compton and around into Station Street.”

And it was here that it was picked up by Herbert Sowter “known to his chums as ‘Peter’”.

“He made off with it and gaining the railway lines ran with it to Clifton, where he goaled it thirty-five minutes after it was turned up – a record.”

‘Considerable interest’ was being aroused by the building of a German prisoner of war camp in the Peak District, which the paper stated would ‘resemble a village’.

“An extensive area of land has been acquired on which an army of workmen are now engaged in the erection of a camp for German prisoners of war. The buildings will be timber erections with every convenience, and the extent of the camp may be imagined when it is stated that about two hundred men are to be interred there. Work will be found for them in the adjoining extensive stone quarries.”

Although no location was given – it would have been prohibited under the Defence of the Realm Act – there is little doubt that any such development would have been a poorly kept secret in the locality.

  • My fellow researcher and former De Montfort University colleague John Dilley is conducting a similar real-time project with the Market Harborough Advertiser. Check out his Newspapers and the Great War blog
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