Farming in WWII
by Simon Mortimore, from Meon Matters 2011
Do you get annoyed with form filling, and do you wonder if this paperwork has been of benefit to anybody apart from the bureaucrats? Well read on, and learn how some of this paperwork not only played a major part in helping to defend our freedom, but has also left us with a fascinating historical insight into our community during World War II.
In 1940 these islands, with our commonwealth allies and various free forces elements, stood as the sole bastion against the Nazi’s. Germany had abandoned operation Sealion (Unternehmen Seelöw), the invasion of the UK following the military and psychological victory of the Battle of Britain, but the situation was still very grim.
However, they were still rampaging across the Continent, as the war became the first truly global conflict. In 1941 Hitler initiated operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. The blitz was also continuing across this country, there was fierce fighting in North Africa, and the “official” entry of the United States was still to come in December with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.
Cut off from Continental supplies and the Battle of the Atlantic at full intensity with wolf pack U-Boats operating in the Northern Atlantic (over 1000 ships were sunk during 1940, 1300 in 1941, peaking at over 1600 in 1942), food and fertiliser supplies were severely restricted. Therefore it became imperative to maximise food production, or face the real possibility of not being able to continue the fight. In fact the German High Command estimated that if they sank 150 merchant ships a month they would starve us into submission.
To survive we had to know what the land was or could produce. This led to the ‘Agriculture Survey of 1941 – 1943’. Not only did this play a major role in feeding the nation during those trying times, but now provides a unique insight into our community during the war years.
Starting in 1940, the survey was controlled by the ‘County War Agricultural Executive Committees’, and these Committees were far from toothless pen pushers. They could and did; direct what was grown, take over land, and even order the termination of tenancies if they felt the farm was not being run correctly.
The immediate aim of the survey was to dramatically increase food production. To do this around 85% of farms were surveyed between June 1940 and the early months of 1941, each being giving a rating of A, B, or C, primarily focusing on the productivity of the land. This led to much land that had not been under the plough since the Middle Ages being brought back into production.
Once the initial challenge was over, a more structured survey took place from 1941 until 1943 to create a comprehensive picture of the nation’s agricultural capabilities, and which could form the basis of the post war planning.
Every farm of 5 or more acres would be surveyed, some 300,000 establishments. However this time the surveys, carried out by local farmers, would focus more on the management capabilities of the farmer rather than what was being produced. To do this the survey gathered information around; quality of the land, labour used, type of power supplies, tenancy details, and if there were there any infestations!
So what does the survey for the parish of East Meon tell us? Below are some selections from the documents held at the National Records Office (NRO) Kew, reference ‘MAF 32’ for those of you familiar with the NRO. My selection is purely random!
South Farm is noted as having 378 acres and an additional 150 acres of “rough grazing” to which the farm had sole grazing rights.
The land is split around 140 acres growing very mixed crops and the rest for grazing. In terms of livestock, the farm had 126 cattle and calves and 439 sheep and lambs, 430 total poultry, 6 horses, as well as 8 employees.
Oxenbourne Farm had 533 acres plus 354 of rough grazing. 257 acres was set aside for growing mixed crops. In terms of livestock the survey lists 88 cattle and calves, 287 sheep and lambs, 1 pig, and 45 poultry, 1 goat, and 8 horses, with 10 people employed.
Coombe Cross Farm had 167 acres plus 112 acres of rough grazing. Again the Farm is split with some 111 acres for growing crops. Livestock was again mixed with 51 cattle and calves, no sheep, 21 pigs, 400 poultry, 5 horses, with 3 workers listed.
Duncombe Farm had 64 acres with an additional 6 rough grazing, some 24 acres being put aside for crops. The farm had 22 cattle and calves, 8 poultry, and 2 horses. No workers are listed as working there.
Lower House Farm had 166 acres with no rough grazing. 18 acres were set aside for crops, 92 cattle and calves, 20 pigs, 341 poultry, and 5 horses are listed, with 9 people shown as working on the farm.
Lower Bordean Farm had 526 acres plus 46 for rough grazing, with around 173 acres growing crops. Cattle and calves totalled 132, 684 sheep, 7 pigs, 60 poultry, and 2 horses. 11 workers are employed.
Lower Farm had 279 acres plus 340 rough grazing in addition, with around 170 growing crops. 92 Cattle and calves, 362 sheep, 4 pigs, 1370 poultry, and 3 horses are listed with 7 employees.
Garston Farm; 255 acres with an additional 61 for rough grazing, 95 being used to grow crops, 79 cattle and calves, 175 sheep and lambs, and 5 horses. Employees amounted to 4 people.
When the process moved on to focus more on the capabilities of the farmer themselves, it still rated them A, B, or C. However, if it was not A rated, then the assessor had to enter a reason and select from; old age, lack of capital, or personal failings, the later requiring even further explanation! To save any blushes I will not name the farm where the entry reads; “works very hard but does not organise his labour as he should”. This can seem quite absurd now, and I am sure that present day civil servants would face some stiff remarks, or even a solicitor’s letter, if they made such a comment, you need to remember that observations such as this could have serious consequences for the person and farm concerned.
I have to confess that I have no knowledge of how agriculture has changed since those dark days. Perhaps you could let us know your memories of the period and the changes since, particularly how much more productive modern farms are? However, looking at the farm survey it strikes me that the farms were much more mixed in nature and appeared to be much more labour intensive.
Finally, I would like to use this piece to ask for some help on another local history project that I am working on. I came across this unique resource whilst researching the background to the deaths of the members of our community listed on the War Memorial. Whilst I have been able to obtain much information about those who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War 2, one person has remained a mystery. That person is James Butler, if you have any information regarding him I would appreciate it if you could contact me. Please feel free to call on 823068, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope that you have found this unique picture on the history of our community interesting and if you would like to contact me, please feel free to do so.