Saturday, 17 December 2011

Bread or stones: life on the Home Front, 1915

This poster is full of menace. Derived from Glasgow (and found with a selection of flyers and other leaflets that illustrate that Glasgow women meant business), it illustrates the power of  'Red Clydeside' – a hotbed of dissident activity during the First War. As confirmed by the Glasgow Museums Service, these documents most probably relate to the Women's day of action that was called by the Glasgow Women's Housing Association on 17 November 1915. The Association was set up to contest profiteering by landlords, who were taking advantage of the situation to hike up rent costs in this already overcrowded and under-housed city. With the flyers promising Glasgow that its native women 'would set the city ablaze', they clearly meant business. Their protests let ultimately to the Rent Restriction Act of 1915, with rents held at lower rates. But with pressure on food reserves growing - with the action of German submarines deeply affecting wheat supplies from overseas - the anger of these Glaswegian women was clearly not just focussed upon landlords. There was deep antagonism against anyone who was profligate with their food, the King himself issuing a Proclamation later in the war, in 1917, asking his subjects to reduce their bread intake. With many people in Britain close to poverty, reducing bread intake was less than practical - bread filling in for other, nutritious foods. Anger over bread waste was clearly deep seated - and strongly felt. Could people reading this letterpress poster expect to receive a stone through their window if they ignored its warning?

Peter Doyle's new book on the Home Front during the Great War First World War Britain will be published next year, part of the Shire Living History Series. Advance copies can be ordered here.

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