Throughout WW1 German U boats were taking a terrible toll on allied merchant shipping at a time when 80% of our grain was imported from North America and Canada and 40% of sugar came from abroad plus munitions and machinery. With nearly all young men in the services there was a great shortage of labour in agricultural and some land was even falling out of use food production. This situation quickly led to nation wide food shortages, particularly in towns and cities.
The Women’s Land Army was formed in 1917 to help address the problem of chronic food shortage during WW1. It was reformed in 1939 and operated through the second world war and until the 1940’s when it was employing over 200,000 younger women to work on farms and in forestry throughout the UK.
Although food rationing was not implemented until the end of WW1, food was strictly controlled all through the war by government legislation and the appointment of a Minister for Food. The restrictions were not popular because it led to long queues outside shops. Women frequently had to wait for hours until the retailer to received his next allocation of supplies which was then often quickly gone before the queue was exhausted. The cost of some food increased by eight times increasing the hardship for families on already reduced incomes.
The general public saw the rich and more affluent of society as not having these problems and being able to obtain plenty of food by paying over the going rate and without queuing. Such was the unrest over the inequality that the government finally introduced rationing and ration books to everyone in 1918.