“We were very pleased that we spent those four terrible years in England”

The Van Hoof family, who had spent the war as refugees in Maidenhead, returned home.

OUR BELGIAN REFUGEE FRIENDS.

41, Kapelstraat, Boom,
Prov. (Anvers), Belgie,

March 8th.

Dear Mrs. Lewis,-

I am very sorry I have not been able to write before, but we have been so busy that we have not found time to do anything but arrange things at home. We spent nearly a week travelling before we were home. Before going on the boat we had to stay two days in London, which we spent in sight seeing.

We went on the boat about one o’clock on Friday, 28th, and started to sail about 4 o’clock the same day. The weather was glorious all through the sea journey, so that we arrived in Antwerp on Sunday morning about 12 o’clock. Before we were off the boat nearly an hour had passed. One of my uncles was there to meet us, so that it was quite 5 o’clock before we got home. You can imagine our relatives’ joy at meeting us again. We spent the whole of that day in talking, talking, talking.

Our home was quite alright, but the furniture and many other things that were in it have been stolen or else much damaged. The blankets you gave us have come in very useful, for they are things of the past here. The people have suffered very much, and the clothing has been so dear that they used to have all spare blankets dyed (for garments). The food is now much cheaper, about the same as in England, except the meat and bread. That is nearly twice the price as that in England.

We were very pleased that we spent those four terrible years in England, and by the help of the Committee we suffered nothing to complain of. Thanking you for your goodness towards us, and hoping to receive an answer from you,

I remain, yours faithfully,

J. VAN HOOF

Think of that from a little Belgian girl, who did not know a word of English when she came to Maidenhead!

Maidenhead Congregational magazine, April 1919 (D/N33/12/1/5)

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A question of damsons

It was sometimes tricky to establish what should be rationed.

23rd September

The Milk (Winter) Prices Order was considered, and it was decided that for the present, until information was obtained as to maximum retail prices fixed in the adjoining districts, the maximum retail price of milk delivered to purchasers for the month of October should be three shillings per imperial gallon.

The report of the Enforcement Officer with reference to the sale by retailers of damsons was considered, and having regard to the fact that it was doubtful whether the fruit in question were damsons or damson plums within the meaning of the Damsons (Sales) Order 1918 the Committee decided that no action be taken.

A further report of the Enforcement Officer with regard to the slaughter of certain calves in contravention of the provisions of the Calves (Sales) Order 1918 was considered, and the Divisional Ministry was requested to take up the matter. The Enforcement Officer also reported certain facts with regard to the slaughter and disposal of a pig under circumstances which the Committee did not consider warranted further action.

Newbury Borough Council Food Control Committee minutes (N/AC1/2/9)

Statements about food prices not calculated to make people less irritable in these trying times

Rising food prices were a big problem.

Matters of Public Interest

I hear rumours that [the paper] will have to stop publication because of the shortage of paper and the resulting increased cost of production. I understand that the cost has more than doubled, and that the charge of 1d per copy has somewhat decreased sales…

We are informed that it is quite essential that the price of meat should be raised, yet farmers are saying that butchers are making exceedingly large profits at their expense, and there was some rather strong talk only a month or two ago that the price of meat ought to have been two or three pence per pound less, and that bacon could be sold at 1s per pound to 1s 6d and still make a fair profit. These statements, whether true or false, are not calculated to make people less irritable in these trying times, and all tend to justify the dissatisfaction that is felt by workers at the exorbitant prices they have to pay…

Prices soar, and in order to pay them the workers struggle to obtain higher wages, and are abused for so doing, whilst the profiteer goes on his way rejoicing, because in spite of increases of wages, the relative position of the wage earner in this town, whatever may be the case in munitions areas, remains much the same on the average, in spite of increases and war bonuses which have been obtained. The old economic law of Capitalism, supply and demand, continues to operate in spite of the restriction imposed by Acts of Parliament and Departmental Orders, and owing to the comparative shortage of labour, the workers have found their struggle to force wages to some degree of equality with the increase of prices a little easier than in normal times. Still the old class war continues, as in the nature of things it is bound to do as long as the two classes of wage payers and wage receivers continues to exist. There can be only one ending, i.e. the abolition of the wages system in its entirety….

There is no doubt that during this war it would have been better for the workers as a whole (and a higher real wages [sic] would have been obtained) if they had devoted most of their efforts to keeping down prices and reducing profits rather than to securing higher wages and war bonuses.

The Reading Worker: The Official Journal of Organised Labour in Reading and District, no. 21, September 1918 (D/EX1485/10/1/2)

Seditious articles to be censored from Irish newspapers

A series of short exchanges reveals internees’ complaints about prison food – and their captors’ conscerns about censoring Irish news.

HM Prison
Reading
Sep. 6 1918

From the MO to the Governor

Concerning the remarks of F. Thorton, J. McDonagh and P. C. O’Mahony.

As far as I am concerned they appear to relate to complaints about the food.

I agree with your remarks. I believe the porridge to be nourishing and that it is of the same quality as is obtainable outside the prison.

I have satisfied myself from time to time as to the condition and quality of the meat. It has appeared to me to be as good as I can get at my own house.

W T Freeman, MD.

Prison Commission
HO
6-9-18
[to] The Gov
P of I Reading

Please note that correspondence between the Irish Internees in your custody and those at other prisons is forbidden: no written communication should therefore be allowed to pass between them.

Sgd W J Pond
For Sec:

Noted.
C M Morgan
The letters are not read here, but a notice to this effect has been posted in the hall where the Irish are located.
9.9.18

Prison Comm.
HO
SW1
6-9-18
[to] The Gov
P of I Reading

In the event of a copy of the “Waterford News” reaching your prison for the use of any of the Irish internees, care should be exercised that its columns are duly examined, with a view to seeing whether articles having seditious tendency appear prior to the delivery of the paper to the prisoners concerned.

Sgd A J Wall
Sec:

Noted.
C M Morgan
Gov 9/9/18

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

The future calling up of men engaged in food production work

Under the Food Control system, people were required to use their ration cards at specific retailers.

4th July 1918

The Committee decided that all applications by consumers to change their registered retailer might be granted.

The Committee had under consideration certain facts with regard to a sale of bacon at a price exceeding the maximum retail price to a customer outside the district, and having regard to the circumstances, the Divisional Commissioner was requested to initiate a prosecution.

A warning was to be addressed to a retailer of sugar with regard to the deficiency which had occurred to her stock in hand.

The Committee considered it desirable, having regard to the calling up of persons employed in the distribution of food, particularly butchers, that there should be a consultation between the Local Food Control Committee, the National Service representative and a representative of the Divisional Food Ministry with reference to the future calling up of men engaged in this work.

Newbury Borough Council Food Control Committee minutes (N/AC1/2/9)

Dispose of bacon before the meat became unsound

Meat which might go off was allowed to be sold without ration cards.

28th June 1918

An application by a retailer to sell bacon and hams without coupons in order to dispose of same before the meat became unsound, at a maximum price of 1s 6d per lb, was sanctioned.

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

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)

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.
Bild

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.
Bild

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)