National Geographic : 1944 Jul
Britain Fights in the Fields But that production wasn't enough for their 47 million people. Even Iowa and Indiana can't feed nearly a third of the people of the United States. Britain had to import about half its meat, nearly three-fourths of its cheese and sugar, and an even larger share of its fruits and cereals and fats. Roughly two thirds of all the food eaten in Britain was imported. But imported food depends on two things: a source of supply and shipping. With the war England lost much of both. Continental Europe had been a major source of supply of England's bacon, eggs, evaporated milk, butter, fruit, and fish. Almost overnight, with the occupation of Europe by the Axis, most of that supply was shut off. At the same time, shipping disappeared; it was sunk, blockaded, or converted to naval purposes. The ships that remained were busy bringing in more munitions and less food, carrying troops and supplies to the Middle East. All were slowed down by convoy movements, damaged docks, longer routes. England was up against it. David Lloyd George had said, "The other war was de cided by shortages of food." The people re membered how near they had come to the bottom of the barrel in the other war. Two things were necessary. One was to eat less, and England has been on rigid food rationing for four years. The other was to produce more, whether they thought they could or not. From Deer and Rabbits to Potatoes They drove me past the estate of the Earl of S- , in Scotland. The old Earl had had some bad advice and had refused to plow up a deer park on his castle grounds. The land had last been plowed 61 years before. The Earl had said, "It wasn't needed in the last war, and I won't plow it now." The county farm committee moved in. They killed 15 tons of rabbits. They con centrated the Earl's Japanese deer and his purely ornamental Highland cattle into one forested corner. They plowed 327 acres of his park and put it in oats and potatoes. They paid the Earl an appraised rental. "This knoll is where the Earl used to sit to shoot partridges as they were driven past him," they told me. "Now this knoll you're standing on is a full mile of potato trench, 4/2 feet wide. There is a ton of potatoes for each eight feet, and they were all grown on this park land." At a near-by castle one of the most beau tifully landscaped approaches that I have ever seen, mellowed by generations of beau tifying, was plowed and farmed right up to the knob on the castle door. When they plow the golf courses in Scotland, they have gone all out for war. I visited a farm in Somerset. It had not been properly fertilized. Its pastures were weedy, its drains were out of repair, and more of it could have been plowed. The farmer was beset with the wartime difficulties of getting labor and machinery. But the philosophy of England at war is that a farmer's land has no more right to be idle than has his son or daughter of military age. It is not a private matter. So the county committee took over. They hired two Land Army girls and one man and were finishing sowing the last of 374 acres of wheat the day I was there. The farmer will get his rent, and England will get more food. In Kent County six members of the county committee had made over a thousand per sonal visits to farms that were not producing to the maximum, and 50,000 acres have been shifted from the control of those who did not farm those acres efficiently. Domesday Book Still a Farming Guide Official surveyors, assisted by 6,000 volun teer farmers, covered every field on 300,000 farms of over five acres, and recorded in de tail the condition of every farm, its equip ment, its crops, its livestock, its possibilities. This survey brought up to date the farm study made nearly 900 years ago by William the Conqueror, when the Anglo-Saxon Chron icle of that time reported: "The King had a very large meeting and a very deep consul tation with his council about this land and how it could be farmed out. The investi gations were recorded in a book called the Domesday Book." Incidentally, so well did the Conqueror's surveyors do their job that in some cases facsimile pages of the original Domesday Book were used as a guide. This detailed report of 300,000 farms is a blueprint to make sure that each farm does its part in the war effort. From that study a farm plan was made for each farmer. In most cases he followed in structions. If he refused, the county com mittee had the authority to operate the land itself or turn it over to a tenant who would conform. In practice, according to the chairman of the West Sussex Committee, drastic action is not taken except as a last resort, which is not often. Where advice is not accepted readily, detailed orders are given as to cultivation by certain dates, and the orders are policed by the district officers.