The European powers involved in World War One made great sacrifices. Not only were battles fought on home soil with horrible death tolls, but citizens were punished by enemy attack, supply shortages and starvation.
This harsh reality of war affected everyone, combatant or not, and compounded wartime misery.
Food rationing for troops began with the start of the war. Rations varied widely. British soldiers, for example, were provided with 1.25 pounds of fresh meat or 1 pound of salted meat daily. They were also provided with vegetables, bread, cheese, sugar, tea, condiments and tobacco. A German soldier was provided with 13 ounces of meat daily. He also received bread, vegetables (mostly potatoes), coffee, sugar and tobacco.
A year into the war, German citizens were surviving on Ersatz products. These products used potato to replace commonly used foodstuffs. Food lines and soup kitchens became commonplace during the colder months.
In Austria-Hungary, rations were reduced to .8 ounces of meat and 2.5 ounces of potatoes daily per person in 1918.
Rationing was also put into place in the United Kingdom and other Allied nations, but it wasn’t meant to prevent famine, instead it was intended to curtail food hoarding.
Even nations not directly affected by food shortages encouraged their citizenry to conserve food for the troops and for victory.
The Turnip Winter
The Central Powers felt food shortages more intensely than Allied nations, with the exception of Russia.
The Turnip Winter occurred during 1916-17 in Germany. Many factors led to its cause: the shortage of farm employees, a failed harvest and an Allied blockade.
People were forced to eat turnips and the nation was gripped in the arms of famine. The weekly ration was one egg and 3.5 ounces of meat per person. The rich could afford to buy food on the thriving black market while the poor suffered from malnutrition.
By the war’s end, the average caloric intake in Germany was less than half what it was in 1914.
Unrest at Home
Famine, food shortages and inflation caused social unrest. The crime rate increased as people searched for any way to feed their families.
The Russian Revolution was sparked, in part, because of these conditions.
But food rations weren’t the only shortages people faced. There were fuel shortages, compounding the food-shortage problem. Homes could not be warmed in the winter.
Rents increased and so did the length of the work week, but workers’ salaries stayed stagnant. Strikes were common in all the combatant countries.
The Allies could afford to control the populous and avoid political disaster, but in Germany and Austria-Hungary the tide of discontent was so high, it was clear revolution was coming, and perhaps, necessary for the people to have their voices heard.
How do you think the starving people of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia found the will to get up each day? Leave a comment below.
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