Feeding a Nation During Wartime

18 October 2019

History | Politics | War and Conflict

To celebrate the release of Food and Drink in History: Module I, a Wartime Food Survey Report (1941-1943), is available to view until 15th November 2019. Click on the image at the end of this post for access to this document for free.

The newly published Food and Drink in History: Module I is a real treasure trove of content for students and researchers, from a vast range of cookbooks, to documents charting the development and influence of staple brands, to anthropological research into African food cultures. A highlight that I’ve found particularly fascinating to delve into is the collection of MAF files (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries – then known as Ministry of Food) sourced from The National Archives, UK.


These government documents from both the First and Second World Wars give a rich insight into food governance during wartime through reports, minutes, correspondence, statistics tables, maps and plans, political agreements and more. Files discuss everything from securing imports and exports, rationing and legislation, to food prices, advice for consumers and producers, and distribution and storage.

Correspondence from MAF 286/17: Prime Minister's Correspondence: shipping reports. Images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

Being able to compare food governance and choices made during each war is particularly interesting. We can see that, during World War I, governance was minimal and reactive, whereas World War II saw a huge increase in governance around food supply and control, having learned from their previous experiences. Planning began in the mid-1930s and by the time World War II broke out Britain was well prepared, which is evident from the creation of numerous sub-divisions within the Ministry of Food that had not existed during World War I. This is well-reflected in the physical documents, with there being an incredible amount of documentation available for World War II compared to that of World War I.


MAF 60/97: Potato Control: minutes and memoranda (WWI). Images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

 

MAF 74/206: Reports of meetings about control of potatoes (WWII). Images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

Through these documents you can trace key commodities such as wheat, sugar, bacon, milk and potatoes in files discussing supply/production, rationing, distribution and marketing as well as global supply chains. During World War II, records were also kept relating to the consumers’ experience of food during wartime through the introduction of The National War Time Food Survey. These surveys are extremely rich and include details not just about what food was being eaten, but who was eating it and where, where they bought it and what they missed.


MAF 156/742: Wartime Food Survey: reports (1941-1943). Images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. This document will be available open access until 16th November 2019.

This collection of documents provides a fascinating and valuable insight into not only the governance of food and experience of consumers but also of the influence of wartime on a nation's overall health and nutrition.

To find out more about Food and Drink in History: Module I (available now), including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

All images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

About the Author

Nikki Morgan

Nikki Morgan

Since joining Adam Matthew in February 2016 I have enjoyed working on a range of projects including Gender: Identity and Social Change, Service Newspapers of World War Two and East India Company. My academic background is in literature and philosophy and my main interest is 20th century American literature and culture, particularly Sylvia Plath.

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