As war rumbled on it became clear that Britain’s resources were finite and was in danger of running out if war would continue for more years.  The nation would not be able to feed itself unless the Government stepped in so local War Agricultural Committees were created, usually run by local councils, with the aim of managing local farming.  Brandon’s committee typically met to discuss how to encourage farmers to sow and harvest their land, combine resources for manpower and machines, control pests, discuss maintaining the river.  The committee was made up of Brandon Parish Council members, usually meeting at the Guildhall, in Thetford.  The reports below come from the Thetford & Watton Times, now the Thetford & Brandon Times, during WW1.


March – Under the presidency of Mr A.W. Hale, a meeting of the Brandon War Agricultural Committee was held at the Town Hall, Thetford, on Tuesday 20th March.

“The Hon. Secretary (Mr W.J. Haywood) produced a letter from the County Committee, in which reference was made to the destruction of rats, and explained that a letter had been sent from the Rural District Council to the Local Government Board urging steps to be taken for the extermination of these pests.  Colonel Spragge said he heard only the previous day at Bury that nearly three hundred rats were killed out of one stack.  The Chairman was of the opinion they could do nothing until they got compulsory powers.”

“A letter was received from the County Committee stating that the tractor ploughs which were being sent into the district would be charged at a flat rate of 15s per acre.  Mr Jones enquired if this 15s included driver and petrol.
The Chairman – “It includes everything.”
The Secretary said it had been decided to have three tractors in this district and the meeting would have to appoint someone to be responsible for them.  It was decided that each member should be responsible for the plough when working in his district and also to apply for two ploughs for use in the district instead of three.”

“When producing various circulars relative to agriculture, the Secretary mentioned that celery growing was prohibited in the Mildenhall district except by licence.”

“A letter urging farmers to grow linseed was read by the Secretary, who explained that any farmer who wished to grow this would be supplied with a limited quantity of seed free.”

“With reference to the importation of soldier labour for agricultural work in the villages Mr Durrant said applications were made from his parish for some of these men, but they could get no one to board and lodge them.  People at this place would not make any sacrifice to try and make it convenient, and consequently they could not have any man down, because accommodation could not be found for them.  Mr Johnstone said when he made enquiries for accommodation for these men he was asked why their own boys had been taken away from the work and then they were asked to accommodate others to do it.  On the proposition of Mr Durrant the Secretary was asked to communicate with the authorities with a view to getting soldiers billeted in the parishes in which they were sent to assist farmers.”

“Colonel Spragge asked if the potatoes ordered by the committee were on their way, as the people at Bandon were getting very uneasy about them.  The Chairman said he understood there were a hundred tons on their way. They would get them all right.”

“The question of cultivation of Brandon farms was discussed, when it was reported that the Brick Kiln Farm, attached to Brandon Hall, was lying derelict, and on the farm occupied by Mr P Crocker last year’s crops had not been reaped, the reason given being that his two sons had been taken for service and he had no one to do the work.  It was decided that Mr Crocker should be written to very strongly on the subject and with regard to the Brick Kiln Farm, as Brandon Hall property was up for sale next week, the matter was deferred.”

May – At a meeting of the West Suffolk War Agricultural Committee, held at Bury St. Edmunds

“The Chairman (Mr. R Bilsland – Lakenheath), discussed the condition of the waterways in the country, directing attention to the condition of hundreds of acres of land at Brandon and Lakenheath. He pointed out what with neglect of cleaning out and weed cutting valuable grass land and other land which could be used for agricultural purposes was flooded at Santon Downham and Brandon.  Further down the river matters were far worse, both at Lakenheath and Hockwold.  The washes and hundreds of acres of grazing land was flooded all last summer, entailing serious loss to farmers and others.  This was, to a very large extent, avoidable, as the cause of this loss was the holding up of the water to a certain level owing to an Act of Parliament. It was unanimously resolved to write to the President of the Local Government Board on the matter, and ask for an enquiry.”

June – The Brandon War Agricultural Committee, at their meeting at the Guildhall, Thetford, on Thursday 21st June, decided to suggest to the Executive Committee that German prisoners should be used for cleaning out the rivers.

“The Secretary (Mr W.J. Haywood) stated that six men from the Royal Fusiliers were engaged in cleaning the weeds out of the Little Ouse.  Mr Durrant remarked that the river Fakenham way badly needed cleaning out. It was choked up with weeds.
Mr W.R. Johnstone – “Yes, it wants mudding out.”
A letter was subsequently produced, which pointed out that no objection would be raised to letting out batches of prisoners of war for agricultural work.
The Chairman (Mr A.W. Hale) said he could see no reason why these prisoners could not cleanse the rivers.
Mr W.R. Johnstone – “Yes, we keep talk, talk, and nothing is done. It must be cleaned out in the summer, and time is getting away.
The aforementioned decision was agreed to.”

July – The Brandon Agricultural Committee met at the Guildhall, the Chairman (Mr A.W. Hale) presiding.

“The Clerk (Mr W.J. Haywood) produced a letter from the West Suffolk War Agricultural Committee, suggesting that merchants and dealers should be approached in order to ascertain whether they were willing to be recognised by the Food Production Department as ‘approved agents’ for the supply of commodities including fertilisers, root seeds, seed potatoes, bine twine and land drain pipes.  The Sub-Commissioner (Mr Pratt) pointed out the need of impressing upon farmers of placing their orders early, otherwise there was the chance that they would not get them.  A communication was received from the Military Authorities at bury St Edmunds, stating that they had 550 soldiers available for agricultural work, pointing out that applications should be sent to them at once if any labour was required.”

“The Secretary (Mr W.J. Haywood) reported that four men had arrived to clean out the Lennet at Euston and had commenced the work.  The six men working on the Little Ouse returned to their depot last week, but he had since got an extension for them to continue the work, and they started again on Monday.  He understood the Norfolk executive Committee were about to issue notices to all property owners on the Little Ouse requiring them to keep half the rivers clean, and he took it that in due time the Suffolk Committee would issue similar notices.  Mr W.R. Johnstone said provided they had the labour they were willing to do that. The labour question was the cause of them not cutting at Euston last year.  The Chairman said through the weeds being neglected the rivers had got into the state they had.  A gentleman had remarked, said the Secretary, that there were only three effective ways in which the rivers could be dealt with. One was to dredge them, which would cost thousands of pounds, another was to keep the course clear, and the third way was to serve notices on all owners requiring them to keep their portion of the river clear. This latter course, remarked the Secretary, is the line of action taken by the Executive Committee.
The Chairman – “Two men would be no earthly good on the Little Ouse!
Mr Johnstone – “No. We should lose them. (Laughter) What is wanted is the roots of the weed got out.
The Chairman – “Yes, the river wants properly cleaning out the weeds kept down.”

Captain Betts, from the Agricultural Distribution Centre, Bury St. Edmunds, attended the meeting, and pointed out there was a number of soldiers available for agricultural work if any were required in the district.  The chairman enquired if they were men he could recommend.
Captain Betts – “Yes, I am a farmer myself. I have examined a good many of these men, and they know their job.” He added that there were now farms upon which application could be made for men. If a farmer knew a man and wanted him, and providing he was in England, and not category ‘A’, they could apply for him. They could get these men for a month at a time.”

November – 5,000 MORE ACRES TO BE BROKEN UP IN WEST SUFFOLK.  The Chairman, Mr A.W. Hale, presided at a meeting if the Brandon War Agricultural Committee, held at the Guildhall, Thetford.  Mr Frederick Gentle drew the attention of the committee to the quality of land near Brandon that was laying derelict, and after discussion the committee decided to write to the Executive on the matter.

“SUPPLY OF SEED POTATOES – Arrangements had been made, it was stated, by the West Suffolk War Agricultural Committee with the Food Production Department for the supply of seed potatoes, and the following were appointed to receive the application in the various villages –
Barnham – Mr J.S. Newdick,  Brandon – Dr Trotter,  Coney Weston – Mr Cox,  Euston – Mr W.R. Johnston,  Fakenham –  Mr Notley,  Hepworth – Mr Wood,  Honington – Mr A.J. Cackett,  Hopton – Mr Haywood,  Knettishall – Mr L Gooding,  Sapiston – Mr J Balaam,  Santon – the Rev. Williams,  Thelnetham – Mr Mills,  Market Weston – Mr Durrant.”

The Secretary produced a warning which stated that wheat and barley fit for milling purposes was prohibited for use as food for fowls.


March –

“POTATO SPRAYING – In connection with the campaign now being conducted by the Board of Agriculture on Food production, a lecture was given at the Council Schools on Monday evening.  The subject treated was mainly the cultivation of the potato, and the spraying of the same.  An instructive lecture was given at the Schools on Monday evening by Mr James Macdonald, F.R.H.S. (Organiser to the Food Production Department of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries) on the spraying of potatoes as a preventative of ‘Late Blight’.  The subject was illustrated with diagrams and lantern pictures, and was exceedingly interesting and keenly followed by the audience.”

June – WORK ON THE FARM, WAGES FOR BOYS AND GIRLS.  Many important subjects came before the Agricultural Wages Board at its meetings in London last week.   The Committee on Rates for Women and Girls submitted the following –

“That the principle of a descending scale at the rate of ½d and hour less than the minimum rate fixed for women should be adopted for girl workers for each of the years from 18 to 14. On this principle, in cases where the rate for women of 18 years and over is 5d an hour, the rate for girls of 17 and under 18 would be 4½d an hour, for girls of 16 and under 17 4d an hour and so on.”

As to minimum rates for boys, the following was laid before the board –

“Boys of under 14 years of age, in all cases 10s per week; for boys between 14 and 18, on a scale providing as far as possible for equal increments in the rate in each successive year up to the minimum fixed for male workers of 18 years and over. Overtime rates based on time and a quarter on week days and time and a half on Sundays, the actual rates to be calculated on the basis of summer hours.”

In each case the recommendations will be preferred to the District Wages Committee, with a suggestion provision that the minimum rate payable to a boy under 18 during the first two months of his employment in agriculture should be 20 per cent less than the rate otherwise applicable to him under the above mentioned scales.

July – BRANDON WAR AGRICULTURAL COMMITTEE..  The Chairman, Mr A.W. Hale, presided at a meeting of the Brandon War Agricultural Sub-Committee, held at the Guildhall, Thetford, on Thursday week.   The Secretary (Mr W.J. Haywwod) reported that the sub-committee, consisting of Messrs A.W. Hale, W Durrant and J.S. Newdick, had prepared a report with reference to the Executive Committee to deal with.  Mr Durrant said he had not yet heard what action was to be taken in the matter, and time was getting away and the work wanted doing badly.

“The matter of cleaning out the river was again discussed by the committee, when the Secretary stated that he had received a letter from Mr Davis, of Norwich, who stated that certain prisoners of war would be available for this work, and enquiring if the committee could suggest any suitable building where they could be housed.  He wired to Mr Davis that morning, and enquired what part of the river it was proposed cleaning, and the number of prisoners likely to be available.  Mr Davis replied between Gasthorpe and Wilton Bridge, and that it was proposed to have 50 prisoners, but he could not say how many would be available.
The Chairman – “We keep considering and considering the matter, and it is as far as we get. We want the work done.”
Mr W.R. Johnstone – “Is the idea to cut the weeds or clear out the mud?
The Secretary – “That is the point. It was thought, however, I think that they could not do much cleaning out on a big scale at present.”
Mr A.W. Rought-Rought – “Fifty prisoners would not be much good for cleaning the river out.
The Chairman – “The weeds want cutting badly.”
The Secretary – “I don’t know if you would start cutting the upper part of the river, or go in for a bigger scheme down the river.
Mr Rought-Rought – “You must begin at the bottom, otherwise the water wont get away.
Mr Johnstone – “Is this proposed scheme to mud out the river free of cost?
The Secretary – “Yes, I take it so.

The committee decided to recommend that application should be made for prisoners of war for this work, at the same time pointing out that they could be accommodated in the district.  The County Executive Committee wrote enquiring what honorarium the committee proposed paying their Secretary up to 30th June last, and it was decided to recommend that he be paid the sum of £30 for his services to that date, which covered a period of 15 months.”