Did the War change farming?


In 1917, Government rules regarding how farmers provided the much-needed food, alongside problems created by the absence of blacksmiths, rick builders and mechanics, coupled with more assertive tribunal decisions, put farmers under considerable pressure. Further pressure to accept female labour caused some of the farming community to feel very disgruntled indeed.

By late 1917, early 1918, casualty figures continued to grow and the Army were determined to sign up enough men to enable another big push to take place. Following conscription in 1916, tribunals were established to decide the fate of those who refused to fight, and by 1917, these were becoming much less sympathetic to these arguments. Indeed, many earlier sympathetic decisions were reversed.

National campaigns to bring women into farming were set up and, in many parts of the country, had some success. In Devon, however, there was some reluctance to take women onto the land. These exercises enable students to explore the practical impact of the war on the farming community and encourage discussion regarding attitudes toward women working on the land.


This task encourages you to carry out an historical investigation of the impact of the War on farming. In particular the effect of recruitment and tribunal decisions upon the farmer’s capacity to keep up with the demand for food.

Making use of the context, contemporary and secondary sources, you are invited to write a short article (sympathetic or not) for the Devon press or an essay discussing this statement: The First World War had a minimal effect on Devon’s Farmers.


You could choose to write a short article (sympathetic or not) for the Devon press explaining how much or how little farming has changed because of the war and how farmers had or had not suffered.

Have a think about the probable impacts of the Government decision to use the Defence of the Realm Act to control farming output. Remember also the loss of horses, labourers and the increased demand on farmers, because of U boats sinking supply ships.

Teacher Notes

This task is intended to stretch students offering them the opportunity to discuss the impact of war issue. As you can see from the comprehensive context notes, it is important to recognise that farming in Devon had already changed considerably since the turn of the century. David Parker’s farming article provides useful information.

The resource section offers students a selection of images/texts that provide information about farming methods, animals and wartime expectations.


David Parker on Recruitment

David Parker’s Article on Farming