Written by Alex Langlands. An extract from Wartime Farm: The Book.
This was a battle conducted quietly, with no less courage, in which the stakes were just as high as any fought in the field of combat.
For Britain, losing the Battle for Food would have jeopardized the whole war effort and would very likely have led to the capitulation of the British people. The crux of the problem was that at the outbreak of war, 70 per cent of all food consumed in Britain was imported from abroad.
There therefore existed a very real risk of a German U-boat siege creating an impenetrable blockade around our shores and thus cutting the nation off from crucial food supplies.
In war there is no greater weapon than hunger, and if Britain were to avoid being starved into submission, it was going to have to, very quickly, make up for the shortfall in foreign imports by battling to produce as much food as possible in its own back yard.
Hitherto, the battle to feed the nation during the crisis of World War II has been largely an ignored topic.
When the importance of food supply during this period is considered, it is usually in the context of rationing or the “Dig for Victory” campaign (both covered in detail later in this book).
Whilst it may not be at the forefront of World War II histories, it was certainly on the minds of ministers and politicians in the 1930s, as Europe crept ever closer to war.
David Lloyd George, for example, remarked in a speech to the House of Commons on 10 March 1936 that “one of the most important elements in the defence of the realm … is the provision of food”, and as early as 1935 the Minister for Agriculture had set up a committee to consider the problems that another war might bring.
It wasn’t going to be easy to transform farming into an industry capable of feeding a population of nearly 50 million people. By 1938, 3.2 per cent of national income was derived from agriculture and fewer than
4 per cent of people worked on the land. Priority was being given to the championing of free trade, the growth of the financial sector and the increase in manufacture to serve a global market.
The countryside, with its economic redundancy, had become nothing more than a beautiful rural idyll, to be enjoyed by the masses on long summer weekends.
As war broke out, however, it was to rise from this purposeless position to play one of the most important roles in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Read more stories in Wartime Farm: The Book
We would love you to share your family stories and photos of wartime Britain. You can post them on our Facebook page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will publish the best ones on this website and, who knows, your story may even inspire a future programme idea. A sincere thanks from Alex, Ruth and Peter.