Industry and agriculture in wartime Scotland

Jute production in Dundee

The jute industry, based in Dundee, collapsed after the war and thousands of people lost their jobs.

Jute is a plant grown mostly in Bangladesh, which at the time was part of India and the British Empire. The raw jute fibres were exported to Dundee and made into sacking cloth. However, before the war, some Dundee businessmen had started to develop the jute industry in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in India, cutting out Dundee’s part in the business.

During the war, demand for jute soared as the need for sandbags increased and the industry was protected by a government ban on jute products being processed in Calcutta.

After the war the ban was lifted, and businessmen moved production to Calcutta again where it was cheaper to produce jute. As world jute prices fell along with demand for jute products, Dundee suffered.

Farming in wartime Britain

The war effort required both sufficient food for people and fodder for animals. Britain depended on tens of thousands of horses for transportation, not only within Britain but also on the Western Front. When war broke out, Britain was not producing enough to feed its population.

In 1914 Britain produced 40 per cent of the food it consumed - enough to last for only three days per week. The other days depended on imported meat from Argentina, mutton and dairy produce from Australia and New Zealand and wheat from the USA and Canada.

Farming before the war

Before the war, farmers in Britain faced hard times as public demand for cheap food led to an increasing reliance on foreign imports. When war broke out these imports were threatened by Germany’s U-boat campaign which sought to starve Britain into submission.

By October 1915, when Germany called off her first U-boat campaign, 900,000 tons of British shipping had been sunk. British production, therefore, became more important.

At first, farmers profited from the increased demand. For example, in 1917 the government bought all wool sheared from sheep in Britain to produce uniforms and army blankets.

At the same time, the wages of skilled ploughmen and shepherds doubled. During the war years many farmers made money from rising demand for food and animals.

The main problems for farms were the loss of men to the army and also the loss of many horses, as they too were taken for military service.

These problems were overcome by increasing use of machinery such as early tractors. Women, boys, older men and even prisoners of war and conscientious objectors also replaced the men who had joined the army.