In 1918, food rationing was introduced by the British Government and a Committee set up to look at ways to utilise natural resources due to crop failures in the same year.
Rural schools were encouraged to ‘employ their children in the gathering of blackberries during school hours’ for a Government jam making scheme. Local food control committees were appointed to take in all the blackberries collected, with some schools in Britain collecting over 2000 lbs during the weeks they were picking.
It was estimated at the time that the British Forces were consuming 1.5 million pounds of jam a day across the various parts of the world where they were involved in conflict. As well as being a food source, the jam was considered to be valuable for its high vitamin content.
Within Teesdale, the Head Teacher for Lynesack CofE Mixed and Infants School recorded their blackberry picking activities in the School Log Book.
He writes on Wednesday 11th September 1918 that under the ‘Gathering of Blackberries Scheme’, thirty-one of the older children were taken out of school that afternoon to go blackberry gathering. He also records the same children again being taken out of school to pick fruit for two further afternoons the following week.
There is no record of payments in the School Log Book for Lynesack, but in other areas of the country, Head Teachers received cheques from the Government in payment for their blackberry crops, and the money was shared out among the pupils who had harvested the blackberries.
Interestingly, the humble blackberry features in letters home written by Reverend Canon Cyril Lomax, Army Chaplain with the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry. Towards the final stages of the Battle of the Somme, he writes on the 7th September 1916 that among the devastation he had witnessed, one simple pleasure came to him in the form of blackberrying.
“The other day the doctor and I went out to gather blackberries to make what our miner cook calls a pudden. It is one of the contrasts of war. Overhead, balloons and planes; the incessant thud and thunder of the evening strafe; and the quiet hedge”
And while two years separated those blackberry collections on the Somme, and in Lynesack, it was still an activity that connected those serving the war effort, be they chaplains or children.
By Jane Wilson