John's real-time WW1 blog: Harborough’s farmers and gardeners urged to pick up their pitchforks and win the war

John Dilley
John Dilley

April 2, 1918

Every man, woman and child in Market Harborough are being urged to do vital work to win the war: by growing potatoes.

The potato deficit

The potato deficit

The front page of the April 2, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser is dominated by a HUGE advertisement outlining the perilous state of the country. And the ad is personal: it doesn’t just talk about the broader Britain – it hits hard at the reader by cataloguing the cold, hard LOCAL facts.

In Leicestershire last year just 15,900 tons of potatoes were produced compared to nearly three times as many consumed. The problem is hammered home in bold capital letters – A DEFICIT OF 30,100 TONS.

There is a solution it appears, at least according to the unlikely pairing of the Government’s Food Minister Lord Rhondda and local businessman and garage owner Mr Prothero. Their message in the ad says: “We appeal to every man who has a farm, a garden, or an allotment to plant more potatoes and make the county self supporting.”

Elsewhere in the paper there is an article about National Service Minister Sir Auckland Geddes calling on schoolboys to help bring in the summer harvest of potatoes.

The headline covering the accident on stage

The headline covering the accident on stage

Sir Auckland says: “We have to face the fact that, in the matter of food supply, the position of our country is critical; and it is the clear duty of everyone to devote all the time that he can possibly spare to the work which will make it secure.

“August and September are the months in which the demand for labour on the land will be the greatest and I am, therefore, appealing to every boy who is physically fit for the work to give up at least three weeks of his summer holidays to help in getting in the harvest.”

The Minister underlines his message by reminding readers that victory is ‘the one object upon which the will of the whole nation is set’.

He adds: “An appeal to the patriotism of Englishmen has never been known to fail and once English schoolboys have realised that the call of the country for their services is clear and urgent there can be no question of the readiness of their response.”

There is also news from the annual meeting of the National Federation of the Fruit and Potatoes Trades Association where angry farmers were assured they would be guaranteed a price of £5 15s per ton when bought by the Government.

The meeting also heard that using potatoes to make bread ‘would not be compulsory and was to be a matter of a local option’. This was because not every area had the machinery to make bread with potatoes as an ingredient.

And finally there is a bizarre story of bloodshed – not from the battle front but the stage of the Wood Green Empire in London.

Apparently conjuror Chung Ling Soo died after a trick involving him deflecting bullets with a china plate went disastrously wrong.

His assistant Mr F Karelaro said: “On receiving the cue from him, I gave the order to fire. He usually staggered after the gun fire and when he fell to the ground we thought it was part of the performance.”

Ching Ling Soo – who was actually an American of Scottish extraction and named William Robinson – died in hospital a few hours after the accident.

- This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.

- My fellow researcher and De Montfort University lecturer David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.

- Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.