This Sunday, November 11, marks 100 years since the end of World War I, also called the Great War, an international conflict that in 1914–18 embroiled most of the nations of Europe along with Russia, the United States, the Middle East, and other regions. The war pitted the Central Powers - mainly Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey - against the Allies - mainly France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and, from 1917, the United States. It ended with the defeat of the Central Powers. The war was virtually unprecedented in the slaughter, carnage, and destruction it caused.

British farmers and growers played a significant role in the war effort during 1914-1918 to produce food for the nation.The war changed the face of British farming and farmers and growers were forced to change the way they produced food.

In The Scottish Farmer, issue November 16, 1918, the announcement of the end of the hostilities was marked by the following words.


Monday, November 11, 1918 is a memorable date in the history of the world. On that day at 5am the delegates representing the German Empire signed the conditions imposed upon them, as the vanquished, by Marshal Foch in name of the victorious Allied Powers. These conditions became operative at 11am on the same forenoon, when the last shots of the war, which has desolated Europe for four years and fully three months were fired. With grim remorseless irony the last town to be captured by British arms from the retreating Germans was Mons where, on August 23, 1914, the gallant British army made their historic retreat, fighting a rear-guard action against tremendous odds. Every man who was at Mons was a hero, and woe betide this Empire if it forgets the survivors of that resolute and heroic band.

The war has ended with the overthrow of all the dynasties which inspired or acquiesced in its aims and horrors. Grand Dukes, Kings and Emperors have passed away like fallen leaves, the last to go being the melodramatic Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mountebank son. A new Europe has arisen from the ashes of the Empires which sought to dominate the world.

Republics have been proclaimed in lands where tyrants ruled, and nationalities which have submitted age-long oppression are now in the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty. Those who embarked the nations on this Armageddon meant it not so, but One reigns who is mightier than the mightiest.

Depending from consideration of such exalted themes, we are called on to consider what duty now calls for at the hands of British farmers and the British public.

In a word it calls from a continuance of the regime of self-denial and control of which we have had more or less experience during these by past four years. Not for at least other two years can we hope to return to the comparative ease and freedom of the years immediately preceeding the war. The more immediate effects of Peace will be the gradual release of mercantile tonnage from military to civilian service. Nor for several months can this release effect any change in the volume of supplies of raw material. There is a world shortage of food and of feeding stuffs, and while release of tonnage will gradually ensure the freer transport of what supplies there may be, that release can do nothing to increase the volume of such supplies. Than can only be done according as the seasons revolve, and in carrying out an agrarian programme for 1919 the main effect of peace will be the release of men from military service. This release should be pressed forward as speedily as possible. Ploughmen and other key workers in the agricultural industry should be released with all speed.

The increased cultivation called for by the government must at all costs be brought into being. Difficulties due to scarcity of labour should rapidly be overcome, and the Boards of Agriculture and the National Service Department will be expected to see this thing through at the earliest opportunity.

Let no one suppose that as by magic the cessation of hostilities will mean the return of industry into its normal grooves. Our American friends are making preparations for the return of their troops to the homeland, but they calculate that the process will occupy the best of a period of two years from this date.

About one million of men associated with agriculture are amongst these American forces and by wise organisation the services of many of these might be utilised in agricultural work during the period of demobilisation.

Farm prospects

The all-absorbing interest connected with the signing of the armistice on this day in which I write is calculated to drive every other consideration to the background. The dark cloud which shadowed the world has passed away and left excited and cheering crowds. The Scottish capital is mad with irresponsible joy. The devout mind may breathe a prayer, the less staid and reverent are turning the streets into something like pandemonium.

The surrender of the enemy has been an essential preliminary to all that all which may follow. It has prepared the way for the intervention and activity of the Allied Statesmen. It is not yet known what the terms are which have been imposed on Germany.

They will be all the situation requires. A tremendous responsibility will rest on all those who are to sit at the peace conference table, and especially will that be so in the case of our own representatives. We have a great empire, the constituent parts of which have each their own proclivities. British statesmen will have the difficult task of reconciling every point of view.

They cannot barter away anything which our great autonomous dominions consider necessary for their well being and security, purchased by the blood of their best manhood. There is one of President Wilson’s fourteen points affecting the empire as a whole which cannot be conceded – that is, the freedom of the seas in peace and in war if it is to be understood at its face meaning.

To agree to it would be to show an overweening confidence in the effectiveness of the League of Nations as a peace preserver. But the very terms of the point postulates the possibility of wars in the future. We certainly cannot agree to it outside territorial limits. The idea is so impossible in our circumstances it may be dismissed as an impracticable issue. No British statesman in his senses would agree with it. Reasonable conditions we shall agree to, but absolute freedom in war time is out the question.

November 30, 1918

Release of key men

The government has announced the means whereby the release of soldiers who are regarded as key men in their various industries may be obtained. Ploughing is far in arrears, and, unless adequate assistance in farm labour be secured, an extended agricultural programme for 1919 will be impossible of attainment. Whether that programme be one of intensive cultivation of existing acreage, or of extended acreage, the key men are indispensable. The must be released now that the war crisis is over, but in order to obtain their release farmers must take trouble. That trouble, in the first instance, must take the form of application to the nearest employment exchange for a postcard on which must be written the full name of the man whose release is desired, the unit in which he is service, the regiment to which he belongs, his number and the theatre of war in which he is now engaged. The object of the release is to ensure that work will go ahead, and that food will be produced in abundance during 1919.

Farm prospects

None of us will ever live again through such a time as we have experienced during the last few years. It is, therefore, excusable that our emotions get a little space for expression. We are again breathing freely. “The tumult and shouting dies,” and the sense of security has come along with the acclamations. Our children till remote generations will read and learn about the Great War – by the way, is that to be its name, or what? The most satisfactory thing about the great struggle we have been engaged in, looked at from the best point of view, is not the issue in victory for us, that that we have fought in a righteous cause.

A day of great significance was taking place in out on the Firth of Forth. Powerful German battle ships were steaming up the firth, guarded on either side by our own and allied fleets. They had come to surrender, not to fight us. At the order of the British naval commander-in-chief, they dropped their anchors. The dusk of the afternoon deepened and gradually shrouded them in darkness.

They were no longer evident to the sense of sight or of danger. The idea is stupendous, almost miraculous, suggesting a mental chimera. And the poor misguided man who took such a pride in his great navy, and who has looked across the North Sea at its final extinction is the outcast of the earth. “How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished.” Who could have conceived it a few years ago? Again, we have lived through a great time; but there is still serious work to do, and we will look forward eagerly to the immediate future and what it holds for Europe and the world.

November 2, 1918

Nine days before the announcement

There is a food problem. It is necessary to emphasise this fact. Many appear to cherish the notion that in respect of food supply this nation is out of the wood and that all is well. All is not well. In so far as food for human beings Is concerned the crisis through we passed in April last may not be repeated, but there is no abundance and the need for economy in every household is as great as ever.

The plight of the pig breeder

Unless pig owners can find, among domestic food wastage, what will keep their stocks going, pigs must be slaughtered. After 25th January there will be no feeding stuff for them. The present small ration is only given because pig owners enlarged their stocks on official advice. In the circumstances, pig owners naturally feel very sore. They did their best to increase the pig population and succeeded.

The same difficulties confront the cattle feeder.

His cattle are being returned from the fat markets and he is bid restrain marketing. The cattle must, if possible, be held over until after Christmas. In the House of Commons it was urged that they should be slaughtered now, and the carcases put into cold storage. The action of the government is not regarded with favour in t agricultural circles. The council of the Central and Associated Chambers of Agriculture last week adopted a strong resolution on the subject. They characterise as “A breach of faith what the farmers at the recent action of the Ministry of Food in sending back from the markets fat cattle and sheep, and refusing to allow them to be sold although ripe for the butcher.”

The scarcity of hay aggravates the situation and application have been made for release of hay which has been commandeered by the war office.

What is written will, we think, show that there is a very real food problem. It admits of no easy solution; and, while famine is nowhere in sight, there will be great difficulty in carrying both the animal and the human population through the winter. Self denial and sacrifice must be the order of the day, and the operation of these graces will not be at all uniform.

The Scottish Farmer Ambulance Fleet Fund

The readers of the Scottish Farmer had one other way to support the war effort, and that was to contribute to the Scottish Farmer ambulance car fund. The fun was opened in March 1916.

The paper was unsure whether to launch the appeal as it had misgivings whether an appeal for £500 would be successful, not because of the ungenerosity, but of the generosity of farmers. “They have given so largely and to so many funds that some of us doubted the discretion of making one more call upon their pockets.”

“We are in some real sense, a large family, with many of our best and dearest sons serving the country at numerous posts of danger and it is right and becoming that, in our corporate capacity, as the most influential farming family in Scotland, we senda small gift to surrour those dear sons who have been wounded that we may live here in safety.”

By July 1919, the following final statement regarding the Scottish Farmer Ambulance Fleet Fund, was published:

Raised for ambulance fleet (12 motor ambulances, X-ray car, hutments for attendants), £9032 16s; raised for Scottish Women’s Hospitals (ambulance car), £322 14s 8d; raised for Wounded Horses Fund, £288 18s 9d. Total £9644 10s 2d.

War facts and figures:

  • UK farmers played a crucial part in producing food for the nation during World War one. The government had no choice but to turn to the UK’s farmers to feed the nation, as trade routes had been cut off by German U-boats.
  • With up to half a million farm horses being requisitioned for the war effort, farms faced a lack of labour, both human and equine. (More than 170,000 farmers fought in the trenches).
  • Just short of 100,000 women from the Women’s Land Army worked on farms to fill the void left by men. A further 66,000 soldiers returned from the frontline to help with the harvest. And, crucially, tractors began to do the work of many hands. In 1917, the Government bought 400 British Saunderson Tractors and a further $3.2million was invested in US models such as the Fordson.
  • By 1918, there were 6000 tractors in operation in Britain. The 'Ploughing Up' campaign of 1917 saw an extra 2.5 million acres of land used for growing cereals.
  • By the end of the war, an extra 915,000 tonnes of oats, 1.7million tonnes of potatoes and 830,000 tonnes of wheat were grown. And thanks to the work of British farmers and growers, the country avoided being starved into submission.