The Hungry Home Front: Prior to this year's commemoration of the end of the 1914-18 war, Roger Bingham looks back at food difficulties in 1917.

WAR-TIME food shortages were at their worst in 1917. Rationing did not come in until 1916, so better-off folk had coped with price rises, when, for instance, sugar went up in 1914, from 2d to 3d a pound.

But, in 1917 rations were cut. Locally, a 50 per cent reduction of the sugar allowance was regretted because fruit from 'one of the best ever damson crop' could not be sweetened.

By 1917 German U boat attacks on ships importing grain had slackened. Even so, the drift of agricultural workers into the forces led to a drop in home production.

Regrettably, the newly formed Women's Land Army, failed to fill gaps left by enlisted men, perhaps, because 'land girls' received only 15 shillings a week compared to £5 paid to female munitions workers.

To replace imported wheat, a barley and rice loaf was proposed, although as Westmorland had no paddy fields, the rice would have required shopping space.

Maize, another imported substitute, made equally unsatisfactory loaves because they needed more flour and had an unpleasant taste, which was not alleviated by the suggested disguise of a spoonful of vinegar.

Other hardships included two meat free days per week for which the Ministry of Food proffered such gastronomic alternatives as haricot and tapioca pie and carrot croquettes.

On the other hand Birds Custard Powder, promoted to reduce demands for fresh eggs, was popular. Also, new treats like Rowntree's Cocoa 'makes a biscuit into a meal' advertised as a convenience food for women war workers, were also appreciated.

A 'grow your own vegetables' campaign, championed by the Kendal horticulturalist Clarence Webb, took some time to get on the ground because of the shortage of allotments; even the agent for the super patriotic Earl of Lonsdale 'resolutely refused' to allow His Lordship's pastures to be ploughed up.

But, elsewhere the Flemings of Rydal Hall and the Bagots of Levens Hall provided plots for potatoes, which did so well that prices dropped.

Nevertheless, 1917 was a bad year for food production. Late frosts decimated lambing, and spring deluges reduced the hay crop by a quarter.

Moreover, 'plagues' of caterpillars and rabbits hit garden produce so hard that at a Red Cross effort to provide funds for Soldiers Christmas parcels an 'unblemished Cabbage' was sold for fifteen shillings.

Yet, though no one knew it, the 'hungry year of 1917' would be the last full year of the war.