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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Food Supply

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During the World War of 1914-8 practically all the belligerent and neutral countries of Europe experienced a shortage in the supply of food and other necessaries. The shortage was traceable to three distinct causes: first, the diversion of productive power to destruction or to making the means of destruction; second, the increased rate of consumption of those who were fighting or were undertaking harder physical labour than usual in the production of munitions; third, the deliberate blockades which with varying success the belligerents directed against one another and against neutrals. The blockades had as one feature a destruction of shipping which is perhaps sufficiently important to be reckoned as a fourth cause of shortage, additional to the other three. These causes of reduced supply or increased demand applied more or less to all useful artscles; they naturally produced their most sensible effects in the case of necessary articles and above all in that of food. There, the failure of the ordinary channels of supply to meet the demand sooner or later became in every European country so serious as to call for direct intervention by the Government and to make " food control " one of the features of the war. Every country had its succession of food controllers.

The degree of the food shortage and the methods available or adopted for dealing with it naturally varied from one country to another. In all of them it may be said that the food controller had three main problems to consider, namely, the maintenance of supplies, the regulation of prices, and the control of consumption by distribution and rationing. The three problems are naturally connected. A solution of the first of them so complete as to keep supplies up to or above the pre-war standard would prevent the other two from arising at all or at least in any serious form; this happened with bread-stuffs in the United Kingdom. On the other hand an attempt to fix prices without controlling supplies would lead either to a disappearance of supplies or to their distribution in an unjust and wasteful manner. While the problems are thus connected, the third of them - distribution and rationing - can to some extent be described separately and is so described under the heading of Rationing. The present article will deal mainly with the action taken in respect to supplies and prices and will touch on distribution and rationing only to indicate points of contact. No attempt can be made here to describe, even in outline, food control in all countries. All that can be attempted is to give some account of what was necessary and what was accomplished in the United Kingdom, and to mention the salient points of similarity or difference in the experience of other countries.

For the first two years of the war questions of food control attained little prominence in the United Kingdom. The cutting off of the Central European sources of sugar supply led to the anticipation of a considerable shortage of that particular food, and a Royal Commission was established in Aug. 1914, which undertook on Government account the purchase and importation of all supplies from that time onwards. A special organization for securing army meat from abroad was also found necessary from the beginning; this involved control of refrigerated tonnage under the Board of Trade. A system for obtaining weekly reports on retail prices (mainly through the staff of the Labour Exchanges) was put into action at the outbreak of the war; these reports yielded material for subsequent estimates of the increase of the cost of living. The use of cereals and sugar for brewing was limited by an Output of Beer Restriction Act, coming into force on April i 1916. Apart from this, food supplies were allowed for two years and more to take their course.

By the autumn of 1916, prices, which had risen more or less steadily from the beginning of the war, reached a level which began to evoke acute discontent, and the prospects of an intensified submarine campaign caused anxieties for the future. Two important steps were taken. The first was the establishment in Oct. 1916 of a Royal Commission on wheat supplies, parallel to that on the sugar supplies. This Commission almost immediately took on an international character through the signing in Nov. 1916 of the " Wheat Executive Agreement " between Great Britain, France and Italy, under which the purchase, importation, distribution and shipping not only of wheat but of all cereals was arranged on a common basis for the three Allies, the administrative work being undertaken in London. The Wheat Executive gradually extended its activities to other allies and even to neutrals. The Wheat Commission and the Sugar Commission retained their existence as separate bodies even after the appointment of the food controller, but the latter in practice decided questions of policy and became responsible for supplies of cereals and sugar as of all other foods.

The second step was the making of an Order in Council under the Defence of the Realm Act (Nov. 16) which practically empowered the Board of Trade to introduce a complete system of food control, by regulating the importation, production, distribution, prices and quality of all kinds of food or articles necessary for the production of food. Food control actually began under this Order in Council, immediate steps being taken to lengthen compulsorily the extraction of flour (i.e. increase the proportion of the wheat berry which was made into flour, and so into human consumption, as against that which was left as " offals " to be used as feeding-stuffs for animals), to fix milk prices and to restrain extravagance in public meals. The Government of the day at the same time announced their intention to appoint some person with adequate authority to exercise these extended powers, in other words a " Food Controller." Before a suitable candidate for the post could be prevailed upon to accept it, the Government itself fell. The new Coalition Government of Dec. 1916 included among its novelties a food controller to whom full powers were given under a " New Ministries Act." The first holder of the new post, Lord Devonport, gave valuable support to the Wheat Commission in securing adequate tonnage and foreign credits, and carried a stage further the policy of conservation of cereals already embodied in the Output of Beer Restriction Act and the order lengthening the extraction of flour. To facilitate this the whole of the flour-mills were taken over and run on Government account as from April 1917. An appeal to the public to ration themselves voluntarily on the basis of 4 lb. of bread per head per week, 22 lb. of meat and 4 lb. of sugar was issued in Feb. 1917, and, backed by an extensive advertising campaign, produced a definite though limited effect on the bread consumption, particularly of wealthy and middle-class households who were better able to obtain alternative foods; for the working-classes alike in industry and in agriculture the suggested ration of 4 lb. a head was impracticably low and among them the appeal met with little response. The failure of the potato crop gave trouble and a first illustration of the dangers of price fixing. Considerable thought was expended by successive committees in devising better methods for the distribution of sugar, but before any could be adopted Lord Devonport resigned (June 1917).

During the spring of 1917, the submarine menace was growing. The very possibility of feeding the people seemed to be threatened. Meanwhile, the people themselves were mainly disturbed by the rise of prices and the bad distribution of sugar. The re ports of the Commissioners on Industrial Unrest, received in June 1917, emphasized these two points above all as the causes of unrest. With the coming of the second food controller, Lord Rhondda, the food problem had reached a more serious stage and was met by far more serious measures.

Lord Rhondda prepared himself and the Ministry of Food to deal thoroughly with all three aspects of supplies, prices and distribution. First he attacked prices. In Sept. 1917 the price of bread was lowered from is. or is. id. to 9d. for the quartern loaf, the difference being paid by the Government as a subsidy. At about the same time there was fixed a scale of prices for meat and for live stock, descending month by month from 74s. per cwt. in Sept. 1917 to 60s. in the following January. The fixing of meat and live-stock prices needed to be and was intended to be accompanied by measures for regulating slaughter and marketing, but for various reasons the latter measures did not become effective till the end of 1917. The scale of prices standing by itself gave the farmers a strong inducement to hurry on their beasts to market, so as to profit by the early high prices and avoid the later low ones; too many beasts were thrown on the market before Christmas and too few were kept for the new year; how the ensuing shortage, aggravated by large purchases of home-grown meat for the army and by other circumstances, was dealt with by rationing in the early part of 1918 is described elsewhere.

On the general principle of controlling supplies of all essential foods as a condition of fixing prices Lord Rhondda never hesitated. This policy was carried out most completely in the case of imports. Cereals and sugar were already being imported by the two commissions. Under Lord Rhondda all bacon, ham, lard, cheese, butter and similar provisions, all oils and fats (edible and otherwise), condensed milk, canned meat and fish, eggs, tea and even such extras as apples, oranges, jam and dried fruits, brought into this country, came to be directly imported by the Ministry of Food or requisitioned on arrival. All home-produced meat and cheese and most of the butter passed through the hands of the Ministry as also, through the control of flour-mills, did all the wheat and most of the barley. Even the whole potato crop of 1918 was taken over under a scheme framed in the time of Lord Rhondda, though not put into force till after his death. Ultimately 85% of all the food consumed by civilians in Great Britain was actually bought and sold by the Ministry of Food. The only important exceptions were milk, fresh fish and fresh vegetables. The total turnover of the Ministry's trading (including the two Royal Commissions) was nearly goo,000,000 a year.

Lord Rhondda made a budget of the food required for the country as a whole, and then took steps to see that that amount of food was available. This was partly a matter of securing imports; for this was needed, on the one hand tonnage, and on the other finance, that is to say, foreign credits; the Ministry of Food acting through or with the Governments concerned made bargains with the producers for the whole exportable surplus of Canadian cheese or Australian wheat or American bacon. It was partly a matter of encouraging food production at home.

A vigorous food production campaign was started under the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Food cooperated with the agricultural departments, in fixing only such prices as appeared likely to secure adequate supplies. In effect, in fixing prices for home produce, it made bargains with the farmers as to the prices at which, with whatever show of reluctance or grumbling, they would be able and willing to produce and to deliver their produce to the Ministry or its agents. The legal power of the Ministry to fix any prices it thought good was absolute; the prices for home produce were actually fixed only after apparently interminable consultations, and were prices which could be expected to produce the required supplies, and did.

The largest single source of imported supplies was the United States. Here a special department of the Ministry was established (Oct. 1917), to purchase on its behalf all food-stuffs other than cereals, for which an organization already existed in the Wheat Export Co.; a branch in Toronto dealt with Canadian supplies. The department speedily grew into an international organization of vast scope; the " Allied Export Provisions Com mission " purchased between Oct. 1917 and Feb. 1919 nearly 2: million tons of food valued at £267,000,000, at a cost for administration amounting to about i'r of i % on this turnover. All these figures exclude cereals and sugar.

The success of this policy of ensuring supplies by direct purchase abroad and consultation at home was unquestionable. The United Kingdom came nearer than any other European country to maintaining during the war a pre-war standard of supplies, and at the same time achieved a far more equitable distribution. This was due to the fact that there was a single national authority making itself responsible for looking after food supplies as a whole, and for using such influence with other departments as would secure that they were forthcoming.

Upon control of supplies was founded an even more extensive control of prices. Once goods were in the hands of the Ministry, it only remained to fix the margins of profit to be allowed to the various classes of distributors and the resulting prices to the public. This was done on the basis of " costings - " that is to say, investigation of the actual costs incurred and margins of profit required by typical distributors; effect was given to the recommendations of the Costing Department of the Ministry by statutory orders fixing the prices or the profits to be allowed at each stage. Ultimately out of everything consumed in the United Kingdom by way of food and drink, 94% was subject to fixed maximum prices. Almost the only articles untouched were fresh vegetables, canned fruits, honey, salt, vinegar, spices, aerated waters and meals in restaurants. Many of these but barely escaped, and only the Armistice prevented the Ministry of Food from fixing prices for soap and candles. It did regulate the prices of tallow, beehive sections, horsemeat and desiccated coco-nut as well as those of oil cakes and other feeding-stuffs. At the time of Lord Rhondda's appointment, many authorities were inclined to say that any fixing of maximum prices must check supply and lead to the disappearance of the article in question. Lord Rhondda secured himself against this by controlling the supply to start with and only fixing the price when the supply was assured. In one or two cases alone, of which beer and the " disappearing rabbit " are the most familiar, did he depart from this policy; he then did so more or less deliberately because it seemed more important to give the public the comfort of protection against profiteering than to ensure them the food.

Lord Rhondda died in July 1918, after a year of office as food controller and nine months of active work. His successor (from July to Dec. 1918) was Mr. J. R. Clynes, who had previously held the post of Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry and, amongst other matters, had taken an active part in the formation and work of the " Consumers' Council "; this was an advisory body, consisting mainly of representatives of trade unions and cooperative societies, which did a great deal to keep the Ministry in touch with the feelings and grievances of working-class consumers. Mr. Clynes naturally made no great changes from the policy of Lord Rhondda. The most marked feature of his tenure of office was the development of international action, following upon a visit to Europe of the American food controller, Mr. Hoover. An Allied Food Council, consisting of the four food controllers of Britain, France, Italy and the United States, with a standing " Committee of Representatives," was established in Aug. 1918. There was thus extended to food generally the plan already in force in respect of cereals (and to a less extent sugar and one or two other articles), of making international instead of merely national programmes of food requirements, and presenting these international programmes to the financial authorities and the shipping authorities for supply if possible of the necessary foreign credit and tonnage.

By the latter part of 1918, the submarine menace had been practically mastered by the convoy system, and the limits of the food problem had been defined by the success of rationing. The greatest pinch of all, however, was apparently still to come. Considerations of shipping dictated a concentration of traffic on the shortest route - the N. Atlantic - and the abandonment so far as possible of any attempt to get supplies from the Far South and the Far East. Financial considerations by a natural reaction dictated the exact opposite; the British Treasury had relatively ample sterling credit for purchases in Australia, very few pesos. in S. America and hardly a cent to spare in the United States or Canada. The Ministry of Food, and other supply departments, constantly found themselves being offered ships only where they could not get credit, and credit only where they could not get ships. On top of this standing or rather gradually growing difficulty came in Sept. 1918 the necessity, as it then appeared, of hastening the transport of the American army so as to deliver a decisive blow in the coming spring. The framing of shipping programmes had by that time reduced itself to a division of two lions' shares between the Ministry of Munitions and the Ministry of Food (or their international extensions), with a few scraps for import of raw cotton or fertilizers and the like; each of these departments was compelled to accept for the winter of 1918-9 a. provisional import programme totally inadequate for its needs: and to hope that the war would end before its stocks ran out.

This hope was realized. The Armistice of Nov. 11 put an end to hostilities though not to food control, or food shortage in the United Kingdom or other countries. The Ministry of Food, under two more food controllers - Mr. G. H. Roberts (from Jan. to Feb. 1920) and Mr. C. A. McCurdy (from March 1920 to March 1921), lived longer after the end of hostilities than it had done during them, and after its formal demise on March 31 1921, left a substantial legacy of work and staff to be transferred as a " Food Department " to the Board of Trade. The winding up of a business so vastly beyond the scope of any private concern and the adjustment of accounts with the accuracy required of public departments inevitably took much time. The problem of judicious de-control, that is to say of handing back to private traders the responsibility for maintaining food supplies, without risking any failure of supplies or any excessive rise of price, proved exceedingly difficult; it was complicated by more than one change of view as to the speed with which and the extent to which de-control should be accomplished. A reason for not hastening the end of food control appeared in the disturbed condition of industry and the perpetual threat of paralysis in the essential services of coal or transport. The success with which, during the railway strike of Oct. 1918, the supplies and distribution even of perishable foods were maintained by the Ministry of Food shed lustre on its declining years.

At the end of 1918 the Ministry of Food issued a short memorandum with tables and diagrams illustrating its work under the four main heads of supplies, stocks, prices and rationing.

United Kingdom

Germany

Holland

Pre-war

1918

Pre-war

1918

Pre-war

1918

lb.

lb.

lb.

lb.

lb.

lb.

Bread and flour

6.12

6.57

6.44

4' 06

7.2 5

3.06

Meats. .

2.50

1.54

2.25

0.49

1.50

0.44

Sugar .

-

.50

-

0.33

-

0.52

Fats.. 0.5r

0.45

56

0.15

0.70

0.37

In respect of supplies a comparison is made in the accompanying table of the amounts of the principal food-stuffs available per head for consumption in 1918 and before the war, in the United'Kingdom, Germany and Holland: Weekly Domestic Consumption of Bread, Meat, Fats and Sugar per Head per Week in the United Kingdom, Germany and Holland. Pre-war and 1918. The consumption during 1918 is based on the rations, except in the case of bread in the United Kingdom, where the actual consumption is taken. In the case of sugar no figure of pre-war domestic consumption is given by the Ministry of Food; it is commonly estimated at about 1 lb. per head per week.

It appears from the table that in 1918 the United Kingdom " had half as much bread again as Germany, three times as much meat and fat, and substantially more sugar. As compared with Holland, the United Kingdom had twice as much bread, three times as much meat, more fats, and practically the same amount of sugar." In comparison with pre-war consumption, the bread consumption per head in the United Kingdom had actually increased slightly in 1918; fats had fallen very little; meat had fallen by a little over a third; sugar had fallen somewhat, but an exact comparison was impossible. In all cases the deficiency in 1918 on pre-was figures was far greater, both for Germany and for Holland. In respect of stocks, the figures show how at Sept.

191 wheat, fats, meat and sugar were near the pre-war level, " a dangerous point in war, having regard to the uncertainties of transport," and by Sept. 1918 had been built up to a level ensuring safety for the coming winter.

July

1917

Oct.

1917

July

1918

Oct.

1918

Average monthly 1

increase between

July 1 14

July 1917

Jul n1d917

Oct.1918

Principal controlled

foods.. .

Principal controlled

foods assuming

no subsidy on

bread.. .

205

205

194

205

202

208

216

232

2.92

2.92

0.73

1.86

Principal u n c o n-

trolled foods .

186

229

3 11

347

2'39

10.73

All principal foods

Textiles, leather,

203

198

213

229

2.87

1.73

etc... .

2 34

2 45

2 94

3 1 3

3.72

5.27

Coal.. .

1 35

1 35

16 3

1 77

0.97

2.80

Soap.. .

133

150

2 33

2 33

0.92

6.67

Candles.. .

184

184

3 2 9

34 8

2.33

10.93

Household oils .

215

286

319

319

3.20

6.93

July

Oct.

July

Oct.

Average monthly 1

increase between

1917

1917

1918

1918

July 1914

July 1917

and

and

July 1917

Oct. 1918

United Kingdom

185

179

179

195

2.36

0.67

France. .

170

160

203

220

1

94

3'33

Italy. .

1 49

1 54

2 55

26 4

I.36

7.67

United States .

140

148

153

161

1.11

1.40

Sweden .

160

178

268

305

1.66

9.67

Switzerland .

180

187

213

215

2.22

2.33

Germany. .

181

201

249

228

2.25

3.13

„Austria .

318

367

502

622

6

05

20.27

The course of prices is shown in two stages; one from July 1914 to July 1917, when the main development of food control in the United Kingdom began, and the other from July 1917 to Oct. 1918. For each of these periods the course of British food prices is contrasted (a) with that of the prices of certain other staple articles (textiles, coal and soap) in the United Kingdom; (b) with that of food prices in France, Germany and Sweden, respectively: Rise in Price of Food and Other Necessary Articles in United Kingdom. (Price in July 1914 = zoo.) Comparison between Prices of Bread, Beef, Butter and Milk, in the United Kingdom and in Other Countries. (Price in July 191,4= zoo.) The following comments from the memorandum of the Ministry of Food are interesting: " The effect of the introduction of price control from July 1917 onwards is very marked. The rate of increase for controlled food since that date is one-quarter of the rate before then and is also very much less than the rate for other articles and for other countries. If the prices of such food had continued after July 1917 to rise at the same rate as before, they would in Oct. 1918 have stood not 115% but 150% above the pre-war level. If they had continued after July 1917 at the same rate as textiles, they would have reached 185%. The controlled foods cover 94% of the total food expenditure.

" The keeping down of food prices is of course to some extent due to the introduction of the bread subsidy. Though with this allowance the effect of control in slowing down the rise of prices is naturally less, it is still clearly marked. The rate of increase in food prices after July 1917 remains little more than half the rate before then, and less than the rate of increase for any of the other articles shown. To this result two distinct factors have contributed-one, the fixing of prices and margins by the Ministry of Food on a costing basis in this country; the other, the action of the Government of the United States and other exporting countries in controlling the prices paid to the producers there.

" It is probably no exaggeration to say that a large part of the population have been better fed during the war than at any previous period, because for the first time they have been assured of regular work and wages. A number of luxuries and subsidiary foods-fruit, canned fish, sweets, etc.-have been cut off. The supply of essential foods, though reduced as a whole, has been sufficient for all because it has been fairly distributed among rich and poor." The Ministry of Food in the United Kingdom accomplished, with a reasonable minimum of mistakes, the work for which it was established. The rationing system adopted is dealt with separately under Rationing. Two cautions or criticisms are not out of place. First, the administrative machinery required was very extensive. The staff directly employed by the Ministry, either at headquarters or in the offices of the Divisional Food Commissioners and Livestock Commissioners, numbered at its. maximum over 8,000. In addition the local food control committees employed varying numbers, rising at times of exceptional pressure to as many as 25,000 persons. The printing and stationery bill for a single year exceeded r,50o,000. The expenditure was no doubt fully justified by results, and under the arrangements made it did not fall on the taxes but was covered by a trifling percentage on the price of the articles in which the Ministry dealt. Second, while the profits and margins secured by distributors were undoubtedly lower than they would have been in a time of scarcity without control, they were probably not as low as in a time of plenty without control but with competition. The policy was adopted, indeed no other policy was possible, of preserving the normal channels of trade. This meant that the margin at each stage of distribution, i.e. the difference between the price at which the distributor received his supplies and that at which he was compelled to pass them on, had to be fixed at a point which would afford a living to the distributor of average or less than average efficiency. The more efficient distributor could still make very large profits and did so; he had no motive for cutting prices in order to increase business, since his share of the total business was stereotyped.

If the position of the United Kingdom be briefly compared with that of other countries, it is seen that the central fact facilitating food control in the former was that it had to look to imports rather than to home production for the bulk of its supplies. This simplified the problem of the British food controller (till he was driven to rationing) by making it largely a question of how much shipping he could extort from the shipping controller and how much foreign credit from the Treasury. Both Italy and France produced a larger proportion of their cereals at home, and required less meat. In Italy even sugar was mainly home grown. For the food controllers of Central Powers, questions of importation hardly arose. Their main problem-and one which they solved only to a limited degree-was that of inducing the farmer to give up a fair proportion of his produce at the official price to the public authorities. They seem, indeed, to have been considerably less successful than the British food controllers in getting agreement with the agricultural population on production and prices; sometimes, at least, prices were fixed which the farmers regarded as arbitrary and which they evaded systematically by contraband sales. Two minor features may be mentioned as having simplified the British task. One is the concentration of the great bulk of flour-milling in the United Kingdom in a small number of important mills (less than 700), which could be readily controlled and which furnished the only easy market to the farmer and the corn merchant; in most other countries mills are more numerous and smaller, and it is common for the farmer to grind his own corn. The other is the limited power of the British municipal authorities. In Germany it was the natural thing for the separate municipal councils to act as independent organs of food control, making their own contracts with neighbouring rural districts for the supply of food to their citizens, fixing prices in their markets, and rationing when need arose. This made possible competition, confusion and difference of standard between the authorities, and made difficult a survey of the nation's needs and resources as a whole. In the United Kingdom, Lord Rhondda, as housekeeper for a family of forty millions, made a single bargain with each group of producers, put all the supplies from different sources into one pool, and distributed them fairly at standardized prices.

In the United States (see p. 98) the problem was different. That country in itself experienced no shortage of any essential food, but became the great source of supply to all the Allies in. Europe, and gained in importance as shipping was concentrated on the shortest and most defensible N. Atlantic route. To perform this function it applied (i) a great food production campaign, (2) a campaign for voluntary food saving in order to leave a surplus for the Allies. It had then to face the administrative problems of getting these supplies along the railways and through the ports in competition with munitions, and with its own army. (W. H. B.) Feeding Of The British Army During The War The feeding of any army is a feature of the Supply Department, the term " supplies," from a military point of view, being applied to all stores and articles required for the maintenance of an army in the way of food or fuel for men, forage for beasts, or fuel, petrol and oil for aircraft or mechanical transport, hospital requirements in the way of food, medical comforts, etc., with the exception of medicines, drugs or surgical appliances (see generally Supply And Transport).

For a proper understanding of the problem of feeding a modern army, and of what was done in this connexion by Great Britain during the World War, it is necessary to recall how armies were fed in the past. In primitive times, when one nation or tribe invaded another, the subsistence of an invading army depended upon indiscriminate individual plunder. The process was so wasteful that this individual plunder was soon supplanted by a more economical system of gathering the spoil into heaps or magazines; but accumulation is but a means to the end of distribution, and in return for such distribution of victuals a deduction or stoppage was soon made from the pay of the soldier. This was the beginning of the financial control of the department of supply. The third stage was to organize plunder more thoroughly by compelling inhabitants to form magazines, or in other words, by recourse to requisition. The fourth stage was speedily reached by its being discovered that such magazines were more readily and effectively created if the inhabitants were paid instead of compelled to fill them; thus for robbery was substituted purchase, and instead of the military hand was substituted the financial hand, and the hold of the Treasury over the province of supply was strengthened. As the means of communication improved, the mobility of armies called for a better organization of supply. It became imperative to import foodstuffs from a distance, as, owing to the growth of armies, the theatre of war was no longer able to maintain them from its local resources. To bring food from a distance requires transport., and consequently the Treasury or civil side were gradually obliged to organize a transport as well as a supply system. In military operations, the maintenance of order on roads, and means of communication, are of first importance, and order cannot be maintained without discipline. Transport therefore very early passed under the military or semi-military control, whereas supplies remained much longer under civilian or Treasury control, with the result that there was constant friction.

For two long centuries in Great Britain the Treasury struggled against the concession of any financial powers to any military department, and as a consequence, untold millions of money were wasted; only in 1888 the two Departments of Transport and Supplies were blended into one and placed upon a military footing by the creation of the Army Service Corps, thus bringing these two important services completely and entirely under the commander-in-chief, or as it is to-day under the Army Council.

What might be described as the first systematized endeavour to feed British troops in the field was introduced during the wars in the Low Countries. The Treasury appointed a commissary, who was invested with supreme financial control, and was responsible for the maintenance of the army. His system of going to work was to make a contract with some individual to supply the army with bread and bread waggons, and with the supply of this article his responsibility for the feeding of the army came to an end; all other provisions were a regimental matter and were furnished by private speculators, namely, vintners, sutlers and butchers. This system of contracting practically continued, with slight if any modification, right down to the outbreak of the World War, with considerable modifica tions, of course, as the centuries and years passed, so far as the soldier's ration was concerned; meat was added first, and bread and meat formed the sole ration issued free to the troops in England up till towards the end of the 19th century, when during peace-times a soldier got a money allowance in addition, for the purpose of buying the remaining portion of his rations.

During the ordinary peace-times, and before the outbreak of the World War in 1914, the system in force in Great Britain as regards the feeding of the army was by means of contracts. The General Officers holding the chief commands made arrangements by periodical contracts, varying in duration from anything to 3, 6 or 12 months, for the supply of commodities required.

The soldier was supplied with his bread ration r lb., his meat ration ,1 of a lb. He was credited personally with 3d. per diem. This sum was supplemented in a well-run unit by an additional grant of 2d. or so from the canteen funds; the money was expended in the Regimental Institute on the remaining portion of the soldier's food, i.e. groceries, vegetables, extra dishes, etc.

In war-time the entire maintenance of the soldier became the duty of the State, so that from providing only two articles, bread and meat, the State was faced with the problem of providing a complete and full diet, consisting of a very large number of articles and other requirements.

In order to fulfil these duties, the system in the past had been for the War Office to enter into a number of contracts with numerous army contractors for the supply of the various goods required. The contractors would undertake to supply so much biscuit, cheese, jam or any other of the many and various articles, either delivered at the base of operations abroad, or more frequently on board ship at a port of departure in this country. In order to insure that the requisite quality of the goods was kept up, a number of (generally speaking, retired) officers were appointed to carry out periodic inspections at the factories or other places of production. It will be readily seen that such a system was bound to lead to grave abuses, and at the termination of every war up to that of 1914-8, there had always been either grave complaints or scandals, necessitating an enquiry as to why the troops were supplied with bad food, and frequently as to why the State was swindled.

In the event of a general mobilization, the laid-down scheme or plan was that so far as the Expeditionary Force was concerned, the War Office would enter into contracts for the supply of the necessary articles required; the supply of meat being insured by employing contractors to drive live cattle behind our army in the field, and all other supplies to be obtained as explained above For the feeding of the troops mobilizing or being trained at home, general officers and commanders-in-chief were to make their own arrangements in the way of entering into contracts to meet the requirements of their troops, and this system was practically the same as had been approved and agreed on ever since any proposal for general national defence had ever been considered.

Early in 1909, the British War Office, having received information as to the rapid mobilization plans for the German army, decided that it would be necessary to increase the rapidity of British mobilization, and with this end in view, instructions were issued for considerable acceleration. Up to that time it had always been considered that it would be quite impossible for any Expeditionary Force to leave Great Britain in under three weeks, whereas under the new proposed scheme it was suggested that the larger portion could be in a position to depart almost in as many days. In order to carry out these proposals, it was of course necessary to accelerate considerably the supply mobilization machinery. There was at Woolwich Dockyard an accumulation of preserved meat, biscuit, tea, coffee, sugar, jam, salt, medical comforts, etc., sufficient for the requirements of the Expeditionary Force for a few days. The proposal then was that, by means of urgent priority telegrams, army contractors would be got into touch with, and arrangements made for all supply requirements at the earliest possible moment.

In July 1909, Col. (later Maj.-Gen.) S. S. Long (b. 1863), on vacating the position of Commdt. of the A.S.C. Training Establishment at Aldershot, was posted as Assistant-Director of Supplies at Woolwich Dockyard, and on assuming'charge there he found that the total written instructions as regards supply mobilization in the event of war were embodied in some three or four typewritten sheets of foolscap, the bulk of the instructions being little more than pious hopes. Up to that period, Col. Long (who, having been through the S. African War, had in that war become D.A.A.G. and then A.A.G. for transport) had been looked upon at the War Office as a leading transport authority, he having compiled the official t. xt-book upon this importan t subject. He proceeded to make a close study of the whole supply problem, with the result that he gradually evolved a new system for the feeding of the British Expeditionary Force. This system was put into operation from the outbreak of the World War to its termination, without being in any way materially altered. Instead of the costly and wasteful way of obtaining and driving live cattle for the purpose of meat supply, behind the armies, he proposed that frozen-meat ships, loaded up with tens of thousands of carcasses of sheep or quarters of beef, be placed at convenient ports, and from these ships the fresh meat supply would be absolutely guaranteed, and at a cost very slightly above the usual price pertaining during peace-times, and much less than half what it had cost in any previous war. The frozen meat ships not only fulfilled the purpose of insuring the meat supply, providing an adequate reserve of from 50 to 60 days at a time, but they also served a further purpose of acting as cold storage for quantities of hospital supplies, such as fish, poultry and many other commodities required for the invalid feeding of the many sick and wounded.

The original supply mobilization proposals presupposed army bakery companies, moving immediately behind the troops and baking bread to meet the requirements. In the S. African War of 1899-1902, similar arrangements had been made, but actual practice had proved that it was impossible of fulfilment, and the bulk of the British troops were then almost entirely fed upon the much-disliked army biscuit. Col. Long now suggested that the more feasible and sound plan was to locate the army bakeries a long distance in the rear of the fighting troops; that the loaves of bread as baked should be put 50 at a time into the cheap, loosely woven sacks which are readily and plentifully to be obtained in the trade at comparatively small cost, known as offal sacks, and by this means they would be readily handled and railed forward daily to the troops right into the fighting line. His recommendations and their adoption were proved quite correct, with the result that for the first time in its history, the British troops were during the World War fed largely on tread instead of biscuit, in spite of the vast numbers under arms. Instead of the old system of contractors putting the goods they had contracted to supply on board ship, or delivering overseas, Col. Long suggested that a definite home port should be selected as the spot from which all supply requirements for the army would be despatched, to be known as " The Home Base Supply Port," and after consultation with the Admiralty it was finally agreed that Newhaven should be earmarked for this purpose. It was then arranged that directly on the outbreak of war, an already earmarked staff in the way of Naval Embarkation Officer and officer in charge of the Supply Depot, with all the necessary staffs, etc., would instantly proceed to this port, taking over all the available stores, and generally carrying out the duties of such a port, whilst all contractors would consign their goods to that port, where they would be thoroughly examined and passed as sound and fit to be embarked on the various supply ships. In order further to protect the public and the soldier's interests, arrangements were made with the Public Analytical Department of Somerset House, for that department to send a staff of chemists down to Newhaven to analyze the goods on the spot, so as to save time; and it is only right to emphasize the debt of gratitude due to the Analytical Department for insuring not only that the goods were of the proper quality, but also that the fighting soldiers were adequately fed.

During the years that followed from the end of 1909 onward to 1912, the schemes and plans to be adopted in the event of a general mobilization and the despatch of the B.E.F. were gradually elaborated and extended, until at the end of 1912 all supply requirements had been most fully thought out and provided for, together with complete instructions for the Home Base Depot, the overseas depots, etc. Nothing remained to be done in the event of mobilization beyond putting the scheme in force.

Meantime, Col. Long had been evolving schemes for the modernizing of the feeding of a nation in arms, which he foresaw must result in the event of a great European war, involving general mobilization. However, at this period - although directly under the War Office, not being a member of the War Office staff - he found little opportunity of ventilating his opinions or successfully bringing his suggestions to notice. In Jan. 1913, Gen. Long moved from Woolwich Dockyard into the War Office becoming Director of Supplies. He then set to work to inaugurate an entirely new system, the essence of which was the complete elimination of contractors with the British forces either in the field or at home. Except in a very minor degree as regards home forces, everything required for the forces would thus be obtained direct from the factories, so that the middleman's opportunity had disappeared.

Up to this time it had been left to individual generals, commanders-in-chief, commanders of district or coast defence, to make their own arrangements and contracts, so far as feeding and forage were concerned, with the result that in the event of war occurring, there would have been a very large number of authorities going on the general markets of the country, and purchasing not only against the public, but against each other. This old system, in circumstances such as those at the outbreak of the World War of 1914, would have undoubtedly created a veritable Eldorado for the unscrupulous contractor, who would thus have been enabled to make vast fortunes; and there is very little doubt that, had the old system continued, a very much worse question would have arisen owing to the uncontrolled purchasing by a large number of authorities, since in addition to those named above, the War Office itself and the Admiralty would also have been heavy buyers, and a panic would undoubtedly have occurred on the market. Furthermore, under such a system, it would be absolutely impossible to move troops in large bodies from one part of the country to another.

Gen. Long pointed out that only one system was possible or would insure safety, and that was for one Government department under one individual alone to be responsible for all army maintenance. According to his proposals, it was suggested that three great base depots be formed, one in London, one at Bristol and one at Liverpool, and that in addition, a number of main depots be created, one at Glasgow for the supply of Scotland, one in Dublin to meet the requirements of troops in Ireland, and three down through the centre of England, at Leeds, Northampton and Reading; the idea being that at each of these great depots - at which cold storage was available - would be accumulated sufficient reserves of rations of all kinds to meet the requirements of so many hundred thousand men for a given number of days, so that when it became necessary to move large bodies of troops in any direction desired, all that it was necessary to do was to increase automatically the reserves of the depot affected by the number of troops based thereon; the War Office being entirely responsible for the provision of these depots. The general proposal was that each of these proposed depots should be very carefully surveyed, all plans and arrangements drawn out, together with the necessary establishment of officers and other personnel. Standing orders and full instructions would be prepared for each depot, so that, in the event of being required, everyone connected therewith could step into their place with the minimum of confusion. Then, should occasion arise, for the first 10 days after mobilization was ordered the depot would not be called upon to perform any duties other than organizing itself and receiving the supplies which would be poured into it, under arrangements to be made centrally by the War Office. Meanwhile at the War Office itself would be kept not only full details of each depot, but a consolidated return showing the total requirements, so that directly mobilization was ordered the Contract Branch of the War Office, working under the instructions of the Director of Supplies, would at once proceed to make the necessary contracts to purchase the supplies required to meet the needs of each particular depot. Under the old system it was, of course, obvious that, in the event of a general mobilization, the ordinary contract system of feeding the troops in the United Kingdom would necessarily break down, owing to the fact that at many of the stations the contractor would possibly be only a small butcher or baker, supplying depots of possibly one or two hundred men in number, whereas on mobilization that same depot at once expanded into several thousand, entirely beyond the ordinary small contractor.

Gen. Long's proposal for dealing with this matter was that on mobilization, as all contracts failed, and owing to popular excitement, possible inflation of prices, etc., it would not be possible to make other satisfactory contracts, every commanding officer would be authorized to take credit in his regimental messing accounts for 2S. for every man present with or joining the unit under his command, and similarly the sum of is. 9d. per diem per horse, and that he was then to make the best local arrangements he could with the money in question for the feeding of his men and animals. This system would go on for 10 days. At the end of that period the great depots throughout the country would be stocked and in working order and ready to take up the whole army supply throughout the United Kingdom.

These ideas were so novel and completely at variance with the general accepted ideas of the past, that when Gen. Long first made these proposals, they met with determined opposition from the finance side of the War Office. It was not indeed till July 1914 that he succeeded in getting his way and forcing the civil side of the War Office to accept his proposals, and it was not until towards the end of that month that the final instructions to all commands went out, directing exactly what was to be done in the way of feeding men and animals on mobilization. Similarly he met with strong opposition to his proposals for the formation of the great depots, not only from the civil side of the War Office, but also from the military as well.

Incidentally this complete change of system of army supply, and entire departure from all the laid-down rules of army feeding of the past, successful as it was from an army point of view, was if possible of even greater importance to the nation at large. Had the old system continued and been in operation when the war broke out, every army contractor, and every trader who aspired to be such, would instantly have proceeded to buy up the market and corner the various commodities, in the hopes of selling them at a great profit under contract to the various generals seeking to make contracts for the feeding of the troops under their command. As a matter of fact, in a measure this did happen on the outbreak of the war, so far that holders of goods and commodities withheld their stocks and ceased to put them on the market. Immediately after the outbreak of the war, it suddenly became impossible to buy a number of household requirements in the way of sugar, bacon, etc., owing to there being none on the market; well-to-do people, in a panic, began to lay in stocks at exorbitant prices, and from many large towns came the sounds of ominous murmurings from the poorer population who were unable to obtain their daily food. This continued for some three or four days; and it was not generally realized that it was the adoption of Gen. Long's system that suddenly restored an absolutely free market, with commodities little if anything above the prices prevailing at the end of July 1914. The reason for this was that the War Office being the sole buyers, and finding that importers, manufacturers and holders of goods were refusing to sell, Gen. Long, without waiting for authority, and taking the law into his own hands, proceeded to requisition certain requirements urgently wanted by the Expeditionary Force. He thereby forced the Government to pass immediately a requisitioning Act, and within 24 hours the holders of commodities were throwing their goods on the market, fearing to hold lest they should be requisitioned. Also, the War Office being the only buyers of meat other than the ordinary public, they were in the position of forcing the meat market to continue reasonable prices under the threat of requisition if they failed to do so. This close control over the meat market was practically maintained right up to the middle of 1916, when the price of good average quality frozen meat to the Government landed in England was only a decimal point or two over 6d. per pound, and to the public at large only some couple of pence more.

During peace-time, in order to insure that the quality of supplies composing the soldier's ration should be kept up to a good sound standard, all A.S.C. officers were carefully trained so as to be good judges in this respect, and in addition, some exceptionally well-qualified officers were appointed special inspectors. On the outbreak of war, of course, all such officers were necessarily required for the fighting formations or for other almost equally important duties in connexion with the mobilized armies, and consequently the general inspection of supplies as to quality had to be relegated to a number of retired officers. The result of this in the past had been that, although such officers did their best, many of them had been retired for a great number of years, and were entirely out of touch with modern requirements, or, owing to age or infirmity, the work required was beyond their capabilities. The day following the outbreak of the World War, Dr. MacFadden, the medical head of the Public Health Department of the Local Government Board, went to Gen. Long at the War Office, to know if he could be of any assistance to him. Gen. Long at once replied that there was no one who could do more for the country and the soldier than the Local Government Board if they would undertake the duties; he was well aware that, under the procedure adopted by great Government departments, opposition would be raised by the Military Medical Authorities and the War Office, to the idea that the Local Government Board should in any way be allowed to interfere with the food of the soldier or the methods of its supply, etc.; but he for his part could not devise any system for a proper inspection, whereas the Local Government Board had all machinery ready to its hand, which could be turned over for the protection of public interests, and also the soldier's, without it costing one single penny. Gen. Long therefore proposed to Dr. MacFadden that he (Dr. MacFadden) should undertake the entire responsibility of seeing that all foodstuff supplied for use of the soldier should be of unexceptional quality, thoroughly sound and good, and fully complying with all the conditions of purchase; that he himself (Gen. Long) would supply Dr. MacFadden with copies giving specifications of everything in the way of food-stuffs; he would also supply Dr. MacFadden with a list of every factory, warehouse or other persons supplying the War Office with food-stuffs throughout the United Kingdom, and keep him so supplied; and then, if Dr. MacFadden would supply to each Health Officer a copy of the specifications and a list of the premises where food was being stored or manufactured for the War Office within that Health Officer's area, and request him to keep the closest watch upon the same, and immediately to take action under the Public Health Acts, if any wrong were committed or attempted - then a perfect system of inspection would be attained.

All these duties Dr. MacFadden readily undertook, and the result exceeded the most sanguine expectations. The prosecutions were singularly few, but this undoubtedly was largely due to the closeness of the inspection. Medical Officers of Health threw themselves whole-heartedly into the scheme, and not only visited factories daily, but posted their inspectors of nuisance almost continuously on the premises. As a result of the first prosecution, a letter was sent to the Medical Officer of Health for the district in question, by Gen. Long on behalf of the Army Council, thanking him for his public services in safeguarding the interests of the country and more particularly the interests of our fighting men. The result of this was that every Medical Officer of Health throughout the United Kingdom redoubled his efforts to insure the best of quality, in the hopes that, could he catch a supplier slipping, he would then have the good fortune to obtain a similar letter. It is a well-known fact in official life that one Govt. Dept. objects to giving credit to another department for any work which it may do, and consequently it is not to be wondered at that little or no acknowledgment was made by the War Office for the services which were performed for them by the Local Government Board in general, and Dr. MacFadden and all his officers in particular. The Local Government Board also undertook to send specially qualified Health Officers abroad to see that the quality of preserved meat being manufactured in both the United States and S. America was kept up to the highest possible standard.

It is unnecessary to go in detail into the very slow but gradual improvement of the soldier's ration in war. The appalling mistakes and lack of suitable feeding for the British armies during the various modern campaigns from the Napoleonic wars down to the outbreak of the World War can in a large measure be read in the various histories of those wars. The starvation and neglect of the armies in the Crimea are well dealt with by Kinglake; but although Great Britain had been involved in a great number of minor wars, the authorities still seemed to lack the power of organizing our supply service upon a proper basis. To take only two campaigns to exemplify the fact: - the Egyptian War caused many complaints and grumblings as to the unsuitability or lack of proper food, and the heavy cost of the same, although at that period the improvement of the soldier's diet was greatly in advance of previous campaigns; S. Africa showed still more improvement, but owing to the lack of system it was a frequent complaint that the supplies on arrival at the front were in a rotten and putrid condition - there were many instances of their arriving in that condition at the base of operations at Cape Town or other ports. The cost was out of all proportion to what it should have been. Great fortunes were made by unprincipled contractors, and at the end of that war a lengthy enquiry was held into many grave irregularities.

Shortly before the outbreak of the World War, some experiments in food values had been carried out in America, and under War Office orders similar experiments were carried out in England. A special committee was appointed by the War Office to go into the whole question, and to recommend a suitable " active service " diet for the soldier. The result of this committee's labours was that a very carefully balanced diet was got out, which would be not only palatable, but also would contain all the necessary calories or energy units sufficient to maintain the normal man exposed to the rigours of a bad climate on active service. The recommended daily ration for the soldier on active service was as follows: Bread - I lb. or biscuit r lb. or flour r lb. Meat Fresh, if obtainable r lb.

Preserved r " Bacon

4 oz.

Meat extract (part of iron ration)

r " Cheese .

Fresh Vegetables, when available .

Or peas, or beans, or potatoes, dried. 2 " Tea 4 " Sugar. 3 " Salt Mustard 1/20 " Pepper .

Limej uice Rum .

Tobacco This ration undoubt


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Food Supply'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/bri/f/food-supply.html. 1910.

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the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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