Abstracts for papers submitted to the conference in April 2014.

Dr Ian Miller

Dr. Ian Miller is a Lecturer in Medical History from the university of Ulster, having completed his PhD at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Manchester University in 2009. His research interests focus on British and Irish history in the nineteenth and twentieth century including the history of medicine, food and medical ethics. His work Reforming Food in post Famine Ireland: Medicine, Science and Improvement 1845 – 1922 is scheduled for publishing by Manchester University Press in 2014.

Did Ireland nearly starve during the First World War?

This paper explores issues of hunger in First World War Ireland to demonstrate that the health of the wartime Irish body transformed into a contentious social and political issue. As war loomed, whether Ireland was at risk of starving became a live question. Prior to war, the Irish Homestead had produced numerous articles, almost weekly, looking back on the development of a post-Famine economy whereby the poor depended increasingly on consuming large quantities of imported tea and cheap meats. Exports, meanwhile, had become ever more dominated by the transit of nutritious meat products – particularly beef – produced by wealthier graziers and landowners. What seemed to be in place was a system where Ireland exported the most nutritious foods that it produced while consuming less nutritious imported goods. Critics wondered what was to happen should war disrupt the flow of imports into Ireland and if producers persisted in exporting to England. To some, mass starvation was something that seemed tangible, realistic and immediate. Yet responses to food shortages were more than just knee-jerk responses to wartime exigencies. For some, they rendered visible a long history of adverse British influence in Ireland; a highly resonant idea in a period leading up to independence.

I begin by exploring how the campaign for ‘productive thrift’; a multilayered concept that sought to ensure that the poor bought foodstuffs that provided them with sufficient nutritional intake despite food shortages. Yet this moralistic intervention scarcely compared to the state’s vigour in maximising agricultural productivity. Some wondered if those actions primarily benefitted British consumers given that little was done to curb Ireland’s lively food export trade to that country. That issue antagonised those who fretted over the question of what Ireland itself was expected to eat. Trinity College Dublin physiologist W.H. Thompson warned of dangerously low levels of fat intake among manual workers due to the import/export situation. Many went further by invoking ‘starvation’ as an emotive rallying call. Predictably, debates about the import/export system offered nationalists a rich resource from which they cast dispersions on the influence of British rule in Ireland. They routinely deployed the memory of the Famine as a touching rhetorical device that would, it was hoped, disclose what they saw as the genuine nature of British policy in both the past and present. At worst, Irish starvation was construed as a problematic replaying of the past; a rerun of events that had caused Ireland to starve some seventy years earlier. The vulnerable Irish body, threatened by poor nutrition and physiological decline at the best of times, transformed into a powerful tool of political and social critique.

Chris Phillips

Chris Phillips is a PhD student and postgraduate tutor from Leeds University. He received a BA in Economic and Social History from the University of Birmingham in 2007; following this he obtained a MA in British First World War Studies from the University of Birmingham in 2009. His PhD research examines the influence of civilian business methods upon the logistical and supply practices of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front during the Great War.

A question of capacity: managing the expansion of the British Expeditionary Force, 1914 – 15.

The First World War was huge. This basic truth, however, belies the complexity of the industrial systems required simply to enable the armies engaged in the conflict to continue fighting, let alone to fight successfully. If the old adage about armies and stomachs is to be believed, then the adequate supply of food to the troops – the quantity of which far overwhelmed the locally available stocks – was critical to the British Army’s war effort.

This paper will focus upon the largest of those fronts, examining how the British Expeditionary Force [BEF] on the Western Front was able to manage the expansion of their commitment to the war from roughly 85,000 men in August 1914 to over two million at its peak in 1917. It will demonstrate how the BEF coped with the unprecedented challenges of an immense growth in the demand for food from its troops and the difficulties faced in the provision of adequate production, supply and storage facilities for foodstuffs on the territory of a foreign, albeit allied, nation.

Concentrating in the main upon 1915, the year in which the BEF first grappled with the administrative implications of raising a mass, ‘continental’ army, the paper will demonstrate that the BEF – far from the insular, stubborn, backward-looking stereotype – was open to the input of civilian experts with specialist skills. However, the scale of the war, the attitudes of her coalition partners, and an imperfect understanding of the potential duration of the ongoing conflict meant that the expansion of the BEF, rather than being subject to a long-term, thoroughly planned expansion, was in fact to experience a number of ad hoc alterations with long-lasting implications for the efficiency of its supply operations.

Dr Nick Mansfield

Dr Nick Mansfield is a Senior Research Fellow in History at the University of Central Lancashire, he received his BA (Hons) in Politics and Modern History from Manchester University in 1973, a B.Phil in Social Administration from the University of Exeter in 1975 and a PhD from the University of Wolverhampton in 1997. As a Labour historian his research focuses on early twentieth century farm workers and rural culture, having published widely on patriotic labour in the Great War and post 1918 political allegiances. He is currently working on a book discussing work, class, politics and the nineteenth century military.

Farming, farmworkers, food and politics, 1914-1923

In 1914 British agriculture was in a reasonable shape, though much food was imported from overseas. But most of those that grew British produce rarely ate well.  Farmworkers were amongst the most poorly paid and unorganised workers in the country. Though disruptions – mainly through the requisitioning of horses – occurred in 1914, for most farmers it was ‘business as usual’, and with food imports cut off, prices rose and farm incomes soared. 250,000 younger farmworkers, eager to escape poverty, joined the regiments of Kitcheners’ New Armies. They ate well and sent money home. They were often officered by the local gentry. Farmers stayed at home and made money, whilst the rural poor found it hard to survive with the high food prices.

The farmers’ biggest problem was a shortage of labour which they solved with returning women workers and through the curtailing of village children’s education. After the introduction of conscription for the armed forces in 1916, farmers also successfully argued that their sons were needed on the farm. The labour shortages though also saw the growth of farmworkers’ unions and farm wages increased for the older employees still at home.

By 1917 German U boats caused an acute food crisis which resulted in major government intervention with guaranteed farm prices and minimum wage legislation.  As the war ended large scale trades unionism was able to force wages to a new high and at the same time wealthier farmers were able to purchase their tenancies. But the 1921 economic slump caused a fall in prices, government legislation was repealed and farmworkers’ wages were reduced. Though a series of bitter strikes in 1923 stabilised wages, and the rural poor began to support the Labour Party, British agriculture entered a period of stagnation not ended until 1939.

Dr John Martin

Dr John Martin is a Reader in Agrarian History at the De Montford University in Leicester, his research has focused primarily on the impact of and legacy of the state sponsored agricultural revolution which occurred during the Second World War. He appeared in an interview with John Craven on the BBC’s Countryfile in 2011 about his research into food security; and was appointed Series Consultant for Wartime Farm in 2012.

The Heroic Age of Food Control 1917-18: sinners and Saints A reappraisal

The wartime reduction in food imports eventually forced Britain to implement a variety of measures including the introduction of guaranteed prices for wheat and oats in an effort to stimulate domestic production as well as to intervene with the food distribution system via the appointment in December 1916 of Lord Devonport as Food Controller. His efforts to introduce a compulsory system of food rationing were not only denigrated by the War Cabinet but led to him being replaced by Lord Rhondda in June 1917.

In contrast, contemporaries have eulogised the efforts and achievements of his successor Lord Rhondda, who was in charge until July 1918. According to Edward Begie, Rhondda was credited with being very successful in introducing an efficient system of rationing, while William Beveridge acclaimed his achievements as constituting the ‘heroic age of food control’. The aim of this presentation is to reassess this prevailing interpretation.

Leanne Green

Leanne Green is a graduate student who is currently working for an AHRC Collaborate Doctoral Award in the Art Department at the Imperial War Museum London. Her research uses a collection of war publicity and posters to explore the relationships between state, media and wartime society.

‘Save Your Bread and Your Bread Will Save You’: Food Advertising in the First World War

Mass produced war publicity is one of the familiar representations of the home front. From 1914 to 1918 it was one of the primary modes of public address on international events. Exhibited, reproduced, adapted and adjusted; today, imagery and information taken from this material contributes to a narrative of the British home front that continues to pervade western society.

In collaboration with Imperial War Museum London (IWM), my research engages with a collection of First World War publicity, including posters, press advertisements and official proclamations employed in official, charitable and commercial marketing campaigns. Conceived as a ‘chamber of memories’ for future researchers by the museum’s second Director General, Leslie Bradley, the collection is a reflection of the museum’s original aims, acting as a visual record of the impact of ‘total’ war on people’s everyday lives and self-understandings.

Through a selection of case studies drawn from IWM collections this paper will examine how advertisers used rationing and images of war to promote their products, and the role that food advertising played in promoting the notion of the ‘healthy body’ in First World War Britain.

Public health was a recurring theme in British advertising during the First World War. As familiar food items were restricted due to rationing, a demand was created for food that was available, nourishing and inexpensive. Food advertising became infused with a wartime rhetoric that aligned what we ate with our support for the war. To eat less bread was to ‘sacrifice’, to waste was ‘pro-German’. Similarly, the notion that certain products were ‘healthy’ was used by both commercial organisations and government officials to support the sale of readily available items. Drawing on Foucault’s concept of Biopower it will seek to explore how the relationship between advertisers, government and society was played out in the developing mass media (Foucault, 1990; Foucault, 2007).


Foucault, Michel (1990). The History of Sexuality: Volume One. New York: Routledge.

Foucault, Michel (2007). The Birth of Biopolitics. London: Picador.

Josh Sutton

Josh Sutton is a member of the Guild of Food Writers and a freelance food and travel writer. He has a degree in Arabic with Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies and a Masters in Professional Housing Studies. His first book, Guyrope Gourmet (a camping cookbook) was published in 2013 and he is currently writing his second book entitled Food Worth Fighting For, due for publication in 2015.

Ration or Riot?

The sight of large crowds gathering in the streets and demanding food was a familiar one towards the end of the First World War.  Whilst these gatherings were perhaps of a much more orderly nature than those which had occurred in previous centuries, government concern for potential unrest, as well as fears over productivity in a time of national crisis, were such that food itself became a weapon of war.  A system of rationing was developed to prevent the growth of food queues, which in some areas of the country were so bad that men engaged in the manufacture of munitions were leaving work to take the places of their wives in the line for food.  Serious and growing discontent was reported from all industrial districts of the country.[1]

We tend to think of rationing merely as a response to the success of the German U Boat campaign in the North Atlantic, which did much to diminish the supply of food to British citizens and troops during the First World War.

Rationing, which began in the UK in 1917, is a military term and carries with it connotations of equality and discipline, as a limited supply of goods is divided in an orderly manor, among those who need them.  This paper looks at rationing as a means of crowd control, and will argue that lessons learned from the experience of ‘food riots’ during previous centuries were instrumental in pressing forward the need for the introduction of food control measures.

[1] Beveridge, W, H. British Food Control, (Oxford University Press, London, 1928) p.196

Annemarie McAllister  

Dr. Annemarie McAllister is a Senior Research Fellow in History at the University of Central Lancashire. Dr. McAllister’s current work concerns Temperance history, with focus on the Band of Hope.

‘A foe far worse than the Germans’: the work of the Lancashire & Cheshire Band of Hope and Temperance Union in the Great War.

The Band of Hope began, and is best known, as a movement for children, but from 1902 the Lancashire and Cheshire regional Union had incorporated the region’s main organisation for adult temperance.  Work with children was nevertheless seen as most fruitful, at least before and after 1914-18.  However, with the outbreak of war the organisation reviewed its identity and purpose, maintaining its work with children in the North West but also undertaking an heroic effort to influence national policy and, above all, win adults, whether home front workers or in the services, for the temperance cause.  In the first five months of the war, for example, the Union printed and sent out a million and a half ‘War’ leaflets, 550,000 ‘Service’ and 137,000 ‘civilian’ temperance pledges, 300,000 medical manifestos, and over 12,000 posters and pictorial placards.  This dual focus and effort was maintained throughout the war, despite losing many of the male volunteer workers, and this paper will illustrate and examine the many innovative strategies the organisation developed between 1914 and 1918.  The argument will draw on minutes and reports as well as publicity material, photographs, and periodicals designed for volunteer workers to present a case study of a remarkable period in which this north west Union inscribed  its identity as the most influential Band of Hope group in the UK.


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