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Remembered Today:

Reserved Occupation


Holmeboy
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Hi,

Can anyone help me. The village I live in (Holme upon Spalding Moor) is still a very rural community, but back in the war that was the biggest employer. i'm now coming across newspaper reports saying how bad the fields were round the Parish and how poor the crops were. So far we've found around 280 who served from the Parish, in the 1911 census Parish Population was around 1600. So that's a large proportion of the men away. Why? I always thought farming was a Reserved Occupation?

Chris

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There were few if any reserved occupations as there were in WW2.

Effectively after conscription was introduced in mid 1916 farmers would have to try to justify keeping fit male workers of military age before a local military service tribunal (with a possible appeal to a county appeal tribunal.

Even if an exemption were granted they usually were time limited (some a matter of weeks) and subject to review.

There were eventually theoretical staffing levels, but even then farmers were often required to try to substitute (with over age, under age, unfit men or women).

Exemptions became more difficult to get later in the war. Also if I understand one order correctly all agricultural exemptions were cancelled in the spring of 1918 and everyone had to start obtaining an exemption from scratch.

You can find booklets and forms in MH47/142 at TNA. They are downloadable free - but there is a lot to read!

Of course many of the men may also have been territorials, special reservists or simply joined up in 1914.

You'll find a number of other discussions of military service tribunals on this site.

R.

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I would add that until conscription was instituted in March 1916, there was no way an employer could prevent young employees from volunteering, and, indeed, there was much governmental and social pressure for such men to do so.

When conscription was introduced, employers could make applications for certain employees to be exempted.

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The state of the fields might have been the result of other war related factors - for example the pressure on the availability of (nitrate) fertilisers from the munitions industry.

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Ironically, considering what's been said already it might have been caused by unsuitable overcropping since the farmers were under pressure to produce crops.

R

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To answer the question why so many volunteered? While there are no simple answers the main reason was economic:-

In 1914 the UK was coming out of a severe agricultural depression, in the previous decade the cost of living had risen by 10% whereas farm wages had only risen by 3%. By comparison the Army was offering generous pay and separation allowances for dependants for relatively little effort or as one ag lab, after four months in the Army realised, for the first time in my life ' I'd done no strenuous work'. The money was regular, if it rained a farm labourer did not get paid and they lived in virtual serfdom, in the Army it was 'all found ' and as for the threat of death or wounding if it happened at all then it would be to the 'other bloke'. The horror of mechanised warfare was not readily apparent in 1914 and they were 'glad to get off the farm'.

In Dorset, by April 1915 40% of eligible men had volunteered, the numbers were similar in other agricultural counties on the other hand workers in the industrial towns enjoyed a boom created by the demands of the war and therefore a smaller proportion volunteered.

In addition the countryside was a much closer-knit community. For example, the daughters of the gentry, lampooned in Punch, encouraged theses 'big strapping lads' to volunteer as did the landowners. Here in Sussex a wealthy local landowner raised three Battalions (about 3000 men) of 'Lowther's Lambs', of course not all were farm workers but a fair proportion were. Flint, another agricultural county where a similar proportion to Dorset enlisted (39.6%) had a very strong Territorial Association led by the local worthies.

By 1915 certain farm workers were 'starred' but were still actively recruited. With conscription and the MSA the farmer could claim exemption but not a farm labourer (many farmers turned their farms over to their sons to avoid them being conscripted). As the war progressed and the demand for food and forage increased those working on the land included schoolchildren, POWs and women as well as soldiers returned from the front in the Labour Corps and the Non-Combatant Corps and other work schemes. A large number of farmers did not want the women who were in any event very poorly paid even by comparison to the men who had left for the Front..

Your quoted figures show about 17.5% of the total population enlisted but to make it more meaningful you would need to compare the 280 who did against those of eligible age who could have.

As to why the fields were 'bad', during the pre-war agricultural depression much arable land had been turned to pasture. This was then dug up by the Army for their camps, and farmers were encouraged to turn it back to the plough, in 1914 the UK only produced 20% of the wheat the country needed and farmers needed to be encouraged to grow food rather than produce meat.

In 1914 War was declared around harvest and the Army descended on the farms and took the horses in their thousands further hampering agricultural productivity. In 1915 soldiers in training were released to help with the harvest when it was realised how vital agricultural production was to the war effort.

However production always lagged behind demand and crops were poor. Among other reasons apart from shortage of labour and the weather, as noted above fertiliser was in short supply; the wheat fields had to be weeded by hand which was back breaking work; there were few horses and fewer fit men to work in the fields.

The problems were recognised by Government and there were various Committees and legislation implemented to tackle the problem though despite this the problems in 'the cornfields and potato lands' where in 1916 the President of the Board of Agriculture declared 'victory in the Great War could be won or lost' continued unresolved.

Ken

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I always thought i had a fairly good knowledge of the WW1 but you guys are amazing, as is this site.

Thank you to you all

Chris

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Some men were sent back to England to help with the harvest.

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Some men were sent back to England to help with the harvest.

All armies had "harvest leave" and had had for "time immemorial" however by 1918 the pressure on all sides was so great that there wasn't much of it.

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What year did harvest leave start?

I doubt men would have been sent from India for example.

Wasn;t the great war the first time that so many men were in the services that a shortage in the Uk nessecitated women to take over some the jobs.

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What year did harvest leave start?

I doubt men would have been sent from India for example.

Wasn;t the great war the first time that so many men were in the services that a shortage in the Uk nessecitated women to take over some the jobs.

Men went on harvest leave in Marlborough;s time, more in the continental armies that in the British but it was a fairly universal practice.

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Wasn't the great war the first time that so many men were in the services that a shortage in the UK necessitated women taking over some of the jobs.

Yes, much is often made of the WW2 Women's Land Army, but the hard labour of the Land Army of the Great War is more or less forgotten.

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What year did harvest leave start?

I doubt men would have been sent from India for example.

Wasn;t the great war the first time that so many men were in the services that a shortage in the Uk nessecitated women to take over some the jobs.

No this is an incorrect interpretation. In 1914 Britain had a very small agricultural sector compared to Germany (although British productivity in it exceeded that of Germany by about 35 % - a British agricultural worker produced about a third more than a German one). Because of this mobilisation and the expansion of the army had a much smaller impact on Britain's agricuture than it did on Germany

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As the war progressed it was necessary to increase domestic production of food to compensate for reduced availability of shipping (losses from U boats and diversion to carrying war material) This was achieved by a number of ways

  • better farming methods (with land being forcibly removed from inefficient farmers and given to more efficient ones) and increases in productivity.
  • bringing into production of hitherto marginal land
  • increased mechanisation (introduction of tractors and larger field sizes that made their use much more effective)
  • moving of people from the service sector into agriculture (and also into industry)

As the proportion of women in the service sector was much larger than in other sectors this inevitably led to women workers moving into both industry and agriculture in significant number

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  • 3 weeks later...

I know this isn't the men but the Scouts were also used to work on the fields:

http://www.tynemouthscouts.org.uk/latest_event/ww1/national_photos/18.jpg

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