Not much to grumble at

The Governor of Reading Prison was defensive about complaints about the food put forward by one of the Irish internees.

Place of Internment
Reading
29 May 1918

W L Cole

1. The Commissioners’ instructions are – no letters in or out – no visits.

2. When formerly here, the Home Office allowed parcels of food &c. Now food is controlled & parcels mean letters to acknowledge.

3. By Commissioners’ orders these men were on Local Prison diet. This does not carry tea or coffee. Further as tea is rationed in Reading, 1 ½ oz per head per week, they could not buy it without coupons, and they cannot write [for it]. Now the diet has been altered – as for the remainder of the interned aliens – they can have tea for breakfast or coffee.

4. They receive 3 ½ oz a head a week, the same as other interned men – Reading maximum ration is 4 oz per week. They receive 14 oz of bread daily, the same as other men. Cereals are limited to 117 oz a head a week.

5. They receive potatoes daily and on most days of the week a second vegetable – leeks – or something else as well – where procurable.

I will give their food today – not much to grumble at. They can supplement that by purchasing non controlled articles.

Breakfast – 6 oz bread, 1 pint porridge, ¼ oz margarine, 1 pint coffee.

Dinner – 2 oz bread, 1 ½ oz salt pork, 4 oz haricot beans, 16 oz potatoes, 4 oz stewed rhubarb (fresh), 4 oz leeks (from garden).

Supper – 5 oz bread, 1 pint cocoa, ¼ oz margarine, 6 oz potatoes, 1 ½ oz salt pork (alternatively with cheese).

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

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Moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet

Sydney Spencer hosted a big dinner.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 16 May 1918

I was orderly officer today so that today’s diary means: Reporting B HQ at 8.45, inspecting billets from 9.30-11.30, censoring letters from 11.30 till 12.30, inspecting dinners. After lunch a lie down, a short read, mounting guard at 3.30. Dismounting old guard. 4 pm tea.

After tea preparation for dinner guest night. Dinner a huge success. Consisted of soup, choufleur au gratin [cauliflower cheese], salmon mayonaize (don’t know how to spell it!), pork with baked potatoes & cauliflower, and sweet of plum pudding & custard – savouries of hard boiled egg etc on toast, coffee, biscuits, chocolate & cheese, port, sherry, whiskey & lime juice, & smokes. Do not think, my dear old diary, that I am a gourmand! I hate remembering what I have eaten. But I just put it down as a curiosity in this year of the war 1918!

Took staff parade, visited guard. Mess crowded with officers & all company & when I got to bed they had a jolly time.

Percy Spencer
16 May 1918

Cash. I went to Beaucourt to draw cash. Met Anderson who asked to be remembered to WF [Percy’s sister Florence Image]. Spent day in moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

Avoid rationed ham becoming unfit for human consumption

Rationing could sometimes restrict sales beyond what was sensible, allowing food to go off because no one was allowed to buy it:

9th May 1918

An application for the sale of hams was allowed at the maximum retail price of 1s 9 ½ d per lb without coupons in order to avoid the same becoming unfit for human consumption.

Newbury Borough Council Food Control Sub-committee minutes (N/AC1/2/9)

Edible offal versus falling into a sewer

Food rationing had now hit the universities, accustomed to lavish tables. But if John Maxwell Image felt dismayed, he also knew of the privations at the front, and those suffered by French civilians, courtesy of his brothers in law.

29 Barton Road
5 May ‘18

My VDB

Your letter arrived on Friday, and I can’t tell you how it rejoiced me to find you writing in such good spirits. Cheltenham is the place for you, evidently… I am prostrated before… a Communal Kitchen that provides edible food. (So does NOT ours here.)
I am flooded with printed notices from Trinity “in consequence of a change in the Meat Control Regulations”. Butchers’ Meat will, from May 6 (tomorrow), be served in Hall only on Tuesdays and Saturdays. On which days a whole Coupon will be required from each diner.
If he dines without one, or is absent, sans notice, the Fellow incurs a fine of 5/-.

On Mondays and Thursdays, Poultry, Game, Bacon or “edible offal” (!!) will be served instead of Meat. (Note, every item headed with a capital, except “edible offal”.) “And on these days a half coupon only will be required.”

Anyhow, it is “for the period of the war”.

What is to be eaten on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday we are not informed. More “edible offal”?

But the word “Fish” is not mentioned once on these Bills of Fare!

Florence is a genius of a Food Provider. I don’t feel the pinch of hunger. Indeed she and Ruth (the Cook) dish up food that is distinctly “edible”. Salmon, Sole, Bloater, Woodpigeon, etc, and ‘made dishes’ that do the pair credit.

Florence’s two officer brothers write very cheerfully and much oftener than one would expect. Two of their epistles came with yours on Friday, both are in the middle of the great Push, and keep their tails up well.

One had difficulty in getting there. He and his men were stranded within 5 or 6 miles of the British line by the French “borrowing” their “train complete with kits and rations and half their men”.

“The climax (he went on) came when at 2 a.m. this morning one of the party pitched into a ditch which was really the outfall from a sewer. The proceedings were trying for the victim. However he’s quite scraped down now. We dried him in sections before some boilers, and if one keeps up-wind, he’s all right. The worst is, if his kit doesn’t turn up, he has nothing else in France to escape into”.

The other brother sent a very mixed bag. He had been out on a raid the night before. He spoke of cuckoos, housemartins, song birds – lying on his back in an orchard reading the Lady of Shalott, white and blue and tortoiseshell butterflies, – and “when the battery behind us ceased fire for the moment, chaffinches making melody on the trees above” (he must have read Chaucer as well as Tennyson) – then, more sadly, of a “poor old badly crippled woman” who sobbed, in patois, pouring out her troubles to him, and “pathetically asked me whether I would do her the kindness of shooting her! My Captain, who says that he is a well-seasoned soldier, was quite overcome by the incident, so you can imagine that I had to take very great care to preserve an outward calm.”

Most affec.
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Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“It is incredible the difficulty of getting food here” – are piglets the answer?

One way around savage food restrictions was to buy your own piglet, and fatten it up on table scraps. Florence Image (nee Spencer) was inspired.

29 Barton Road
15 April ‘18
Beloved Signor

The Signora’s ambitious soul now requires Pigs! She learns that ownership of the unclean animal will entitle you to his entire carcase – (at all events, my lord R[hondda] is said to have granted so much to your first pig. She is full of hope and daring, has already purchased 2 little beasts, one white and one black. I, who am of soberer anticipation, went one day to see them – 10 weeks old. How horrible to feed and pamper creatures, not for their good but for their early death! Callous man!

She is just now in from a cycle flurry, thro’ howling wind and drenching rain, to Comberton, 5 miles off – in search of wood for the finish off of her stye for these two little beasts. It appears that the Meddlesome Food Tyrant demands permission and tickets for any member of the Middle or Upper Classes who wants to buy such a commodity as wood – unless it be old tarred wood. She rode first to Barton, where she had no success, but was directed to Comberton 2 miles further away. Her purchase is promised for delivery tomorrow. We won’t boast till it has actually arrived. But it really was a spirited expedition on a day like this.

It is incredible the difficulty of getting food here. We are fresh from a week of it in this house. Two of Florrie’s brothers, hurriedly recalled to the front, have successively been staying here to say goodbye – sickly that! (The most affectionate letter came here from the Colonel of one: he wrote like a father to his son. And another letter to the other brother from his Brigadier, equally flattering. Alas, since that was written, the whole brigade staff has been wiped out, except the Brig.-General himself, who is recommended for the VC.).

Then there was a cousin and godchild of my own – and my sister is staying with us. Finally a friend and his wife from next door – a Fellow of Caius, going out as Botany Professor to Capetown – when their house, No. 31, was gutted of all furniture, spent 4 days with us…

Well, we have 4 one-and-threepenny cards, per week, for meat. You may guess how thorny our task to feed these numbers. Fish we could get, tho’ not good, but, for meat, we had to bow our pride and accept help from our guests…

With our love to you both.

Affec.
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Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

A horrible stench

Foraging for provisions in the French countryside could be challenging in unexpected ways.

Sunday 14 April 1918.

Rose at 8 am. Cozens Hardy not at all well. Has a high fever. Took working party with me to hangars again, a stiff job, which we completed by 1.15 pm after a struggle. I did not like the engineer chief under whom I was working. He was “naggy”.

After lunch had a sleep. Cozens Hardy gone into hospital. Capt. Dillon’s taken over company.

After tea went with Frost the Mess waiter & got 2 kilos of very good pork from a farm nearby. The farmer’s wife was cleaning offal, the most horrible stench emanating therefrom & she in polite French offered me a chair with her beady brown eyes sparkling.

Before dinner I wrote letters, & after dinner cleared up. Read In Memoriam to the accompaniment of the sound of shellfire & to sleep. In bed by 9 pm.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/15)

Meat rations begun today

Meat rationing was implemented at home.

7 April 1918

Things still going on. Germans not got through.

Meat rations begun today all over England. Only allowed 1/3 of butchers’ meat each a week.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“A Pacifist peace means Armageddon for our children”

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image struggled with the newly implemented food rationing. John Rawlinson, an Old Etoniam and alumnus of Image’s college, Trinity, was MP for Cambridge University (a constituency specifically to represent graduates across the country). A former international footballer, he was patriotically dieting.

29 Barton Road
25 March ‘18

This morning have arrived our Food Tickets. Oh, I gape! Florence professes to understand them. All I can utter is ‘Pests’. Cnspuez Rhondda!

Yesterday, in the Bowling Green, we met Rawlinson, MP, who vowed that he had for weeks been existing on a hebdomadal 1/3 of meat (so at least, he seems to say), and that he found the Fellows far too fat and well liking to have been loyal.

A Pacifist peace means Armageddon for our children. Who in honesty denies that?

Veni sancta Columbia.

And you prefer Margarine to Butter? I haven’t yet, to my knowledge, tried it. Devonshire Butter I count the noblest relish on earth. We can’t get Cheese, off which I regularly used to lunch.


Ever yours
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Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

Internees will get the same rations as civilians

Reading Prison (Place of Internment) was issued with new orders for food rationing.

[To] The Governor

The present & proposed dietary for Reading are both based on the ration schemes issued by the Ministry of Food for the general population.

Prisons have therefore been compulsorily rationed since March last, while until quite recently the general public have been able to purchase not only rationed foods in practically unlimited quantities, but other foods to which prisoners have not access. Thus the meat allowance in the present dietary of 2 ½ lbs per head per week is in conformity with the Devonport scale and the proposed dietary 1 ¼ lbs in conformity with the rationing scheme already in operation in the London area & shortly to be applied to the country generally. The quantities of meat shown in the attached scale are uncooked.

As regards the butcher difficulties, he should supply to the P of I meat in proportion to the available supplies: that is, if he is obtaining half his usual supplies he should satisfy your demands up to 50%, or if 8 oz only is available then 8 oz per interned prisoner. When the rationing scheme is applied to the Reading Area on the 25th prox:, prisoners will receive the equivalent of 20 oz meat in common with the general population. As regards the other rationed foods, they are also strictly in accordance with the rationing scheme for the general population.

One result of this will be to reduce materially the canteen privileges. With reference to your remark that the tea ration in Reading is one oz per week, it is assumed that this applies to all members of a family, and that therefore the adult ration is in practice more than one oz. Unless you have any further observations to offer, please proceed as in Min: 1 & submit the dietary as you propose to issue it.

FNI 28.2.18

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Happier news all round

Florence Vansittart Neale anxiously awaited rationing at Bisham.

26 February 1918

Seems happier news all round….

Our meat & butter to begin March 18th.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

The necessity of an equal distribution of all foodstuffs

Newbury was preparing to implement food rationing.

Meetings of the [Food Control] Committee and Sub-Committee were held on the 22nd December 1917, the 7th, 16th, 23rd, 25th, 28th and 31st of January last, and the 11th, 15th and 19th of February inst.

A meeting of Representatives of the Food Control Committee for the Borough of Newbury and the adjoining Rural Districts was held on the 21st of December, 1917, at which meeting a resolution was passed that it was desirable that a general rationing scheme for the Areas should be prepared, which was accordingly done, and approved by the Food Control Committee. At a further meeting of the Representative bodies on the 31st January last, it was resolved that steps be taken to obtain immediate official sanction of the scheme, which it was proposed should be brought into operation on the 25th March next.

Subsequently, the Divisional Commissioner having declined to approve the scheme on the ground that it was now proposed to bring in a general scheme for the whole of the South West Division, based on the London and Home Counties Food Scheme, to come into operation on the 25th March next, the Committee decided not to press forward the local scheme, but to make the necessary arrangements for bringing into operation the Divisional Scheme on the above mentioned date, and appointed a sub-committee consisting of the Mayor, Alderman Lucas, Councillor Geater, Mr Godding, and Mr Draper, with power to add to their number, to consider and take such steps as might be necessary with regard to the matter. The Committee at their meetings had also under their consideration the following matters:

1. The distribution of margarine based on the sugar card system, and the arrangement made by the sub-committee in charge of the distribution have now been effectual in preventing the assembly of any queues.

2. A fair and equal distribution of the meat supply, which presented very considerable difficulties, having regard to the quantity which the retail butchers were permitted to sell per week, and to the large numbers of people from areas outside the Borough, but who now come into Newbury for their meat supply. The difficulty has been more or less overcome by the retail butchers being permitted to supply only 3/4 lbs of meat per person per week, and on production of sugar cards, which were to be marked; it is apparent, however, that a satisfactory distribution can only be obtained by means of the introduction of rationing cards.

A Deputation of the National Union of Railwaymen, on behalf of their Society and the general working men, attended the meeting of the Committee on the 11th February last and urged upon them the necessity of an equal distribution of all foodstuffs, including cheese, and other kindred matters, which were fully discussed with the deputation, who were informed as to the exact position of the meat and margarine supplies, and assured that everything was being done by the Committee to bring about the desired end, and they expressed themselves satisfied with their interview.

The Enforcement Officer of the Committee reported from time to time upon the work undertaken by him, and prosecutions were ordered for breaches of the Orders issued by the Ministry of Food.

The Sub-committee appointed to take charge of the arrangements in connection with the rationing scheme, decided as follows:

Application forms to be delivered to every householder in the Borough, by a sufficient staff of volunteer helpers, who will at the same time bring away the application forms completed, and where necessary, assist the applicant to fill up the forms.

This to be done by the 5th March.

Each Volunteer will then apply to the Local Food Office for ration cards, for the applicants in his district, and after filling up the same, will deliver same to the Food Office for stamping.

After the ration cards are stamped, the same will be distributed to the applicants, on production of their sugar cards, at the Corn Exchange, at a date to be publicly announced: –

And have issued a public notice to the above effect; they propose to follow the same course as was adopted in 1915 for the distribution of the National Registration papers, and have approached the Education Committee for the enlistment of the services of the teaching staffs in the schools, with whose co-operation they have no doubt of being able to carry through the necessary arrangements to a successful conclusion.

Report of Food Control Committee to Newbury Borough Council meeting, 26 February 1918 (N/AC1/2/9)

Meat and butter tickets

As rationing began to kick in, wounded soldiers visiting Bisham Abbey for a day out considerately brought their own refreshments.

25 February 1918

Soldiers came in afternoon,bringing their tea, sugar & margarine.

Meat & butter tickets in London & Home Counties.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Food control has been in force for many weeks in Reading – but at Henley or Windsor one can buy anything one wants

Workers at Reading Prison were annoyed that the internees got more food than they could get themselves under the new rationing regime.

23rd Feby 1918
Subject Interned Aliens diets

Before issuing instructions as to these diets I think it desirable to point out that they are considerably in excess of those allowed by the Local Food Controller for everyone in the Boro of Reading, and that the Wardens have strongly resented the great excess, especially of meat, which these Aliens and Undesirables have been given in the past over the amount they have been allowed to obtain for themselves and families foe the last four or six weeks. People outside have also expressed their opinion freely – for the present Diet Scale just received the meat ration is:

15 oz meat – presumably cooked
2 ½ oz preserved meat
½ oz bacon (uncooked) – we use pork (salt) in place of bacon

The ration allowed here to be purchased by Wardens and others, is 8 oz uncooked meat with bone per head per week, and this I am today informed is to continue for next three weeks – after that he cannot say. Children half this amount. Bacon – unobtainable.

Tea: ration allowed for the prisoners is 1 1/6 oz per week. Everyone else in Reading, 1 oz per week.

I do not know if the Prison is in the Boro or not, but believe not – at any rate it is the County Coroner who holds inquests and I was informed by Mr Friend who was chaplain here for over 40 years that the Prison was not in the Boro, also non-Parochial – this affected him sometimes, as regarded his preaching in various churches, which he could not otherwise have done – also no officers in quarters have municipal votes. My reason for raising this point is that the butcher states that if he supply excess meat to the Prison, and it is in the Boro, he renders himself liable to prosecution for breaking the local food laws. On the other hand if the Prison is not in the Boro, though he might be called to account for selling meat, he is not supplying it to anyone in the Boro.

Each District appears to make its own laws quite independent of any law issued by the Food Control as managed by Lord Rhondda – & Reading appears to be badly served. I believe the London Scheme begins Monday – here food control has been in force for many weeks. Again, at Henley or Windsor one can buy anything one wants. I think it proper for me to report all this to the Commissioners, who can then give me instructions. If of course the Prison is not in the Boro – it would, I suppose, as a Home Office institution be in the London District, and the Local Food Controls would not apply as regards the Prison receiving – but might and probably would as regards the contractors’ supplying, but it would clear the Prison from legal action.

C M Morgan
Gov
[To] The Commissioners

I would suggest that the Aliens receive the same rations of meat, tea and whatever may be rationed, as the remainder of Reading receives – if it increases this would increase up to the amount of the Rhondda fixed scale. If it decreases this would do so accordingly.

CMM

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Many anti-submarine proposals have been received

An internee’s proposals for trapping enemy submarines were greeted with a signal lack of enthusiasm, while the imposition of rationing meant the Place of Internment (aka Reading Prison) had to revamp menus.


Board of Invention & Research
Victory House
Cockspur St
SW1

21-2-18

Sir

I am directed by the Board of Invention & Research to thank you for your letter of the 14th inst: transmitting particulars of anti-submarine proposals put forward by alien C. Slingeneyer, interned at Reading.

In reply, I beg to inform you that many similar proposals have already been received from various sources. If however the Inventor will be good enough to furnish a full description of the device to which he calls attention, the matter will receive careful consideration; and I am to ask that, if no objection be seen, alien C. Slingeneyer may be informed accordingly.

I am, sir,
Your obedient servant
Walter J. James

21-2-18
The Gov. P of I Reading

With ref: to the system of rationing which will shortly come into operation, the enclosed scale of dietary will be taken into use at your Establishment – as soon as you can make the necessary arrangements. The Commission desire to leave you a free hand as to the manner in which the ingredients shall be prepared and the Con: Pn: dietary is enclosed for your information. This, together with the present dietary for interned prisoners will be a guide as to the distribution of the various articles.

Fresh fish will be issued alternately with salt fish. The Commission are arranging for the supply of fresh fish to all Establishments and instructions will shortly reach you on this point.

The dietary cards at present in use will be withdrawn when the new dietary is introduced. On the introduction of the new dietary, no prisoner will be permitted to purchase rationed articles, or articles containing ingredients which are rationed. The rationed articles are bread, cereals (including flour, oatmeal, rice, tapioca, barley, beans, peas etc), meat, sugar, margarine or butter, fats, oils etc.

Signed Alfred Wall, Sec:

Breakfast Bread 6 oz
Porridge 1 pint
Margarine 1 oz
Tea or Coffee

Dinners

Sunday Bread 2 oz
[Illegible] Meat 2 ½ oz
Potatoes 16 oz
Rice 3 oz (uncooked)
Jam 2 oz

Monday Bread 2 oz
Soup 1 pint (containing 3 oz clods, 4 oz peas, 2 oz vegetables, 2 oz onions)
Potatoes 16 oz

Tuesday Bread 2 oz
Fish 12 oz uncooked
Potatoes 16 oz
Rice 3 oz uncooked made into puddings

Wednesdays Bread 2 oz
Salt Pork 13 oz
Haricot Beans [1 ½ oz?]
Potatoes 16 oz
Apple rings or fresh fruit

Thursday Bread 2 oz
Beef 6 oz uncooked
Potatoes 16 oz

Friday Bread 2 oz
Vegetable soup 1 pint consisting of 2 oz vegetables, 1 oz onions, ¼ oz fish, 5 oz peas
[Illegible]

Saturday Bread 2 oz
Fish 12 oz uncooked
Potatoes 16 oz
Tapioca 3 oz
Jam 2 oz

Suppers Bread 6 oz
Cocoa or Tea 1 pint
Margarine ¼ oz
Potatoes 6 oz
Cheese 1 oz

Fish – fresh and salt alternate days.

As the meat ration increases, the vegetable soup on Fridays will contain clods.

Fresh vegetables for part ration potatoes when obtainable.

These men can of course buy at the canteen or elsewhere such things as eggs, fruit, tinned fish &c: in fact anything that can be bought outside, not rationed, as in the past.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“A horse flesh shop has opened here now but I notice a good many more people were outside than in”

Food shortages had led to an attempt to sell horsemeat to the British – who were not keen.

15th February 1918

Down to Ship to pay A.S.E. then got our meat – a piece of pork. 5lbs to last us all the week. A horse flesh shop has opened here now but I notice a good many more people were outside than in.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)