Armistice 100: White bread favouritism and reports of poverty in Germany

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Dateline: August 17, 1918: War was everything.

It consumed almost every aspect of life. Aside from the almost Orwellian reports from the front about Allied victories and the routine failures of the enemy, there was not one aspect of everyday life the war did not touch.

On this day a century ago, concerns were expressed over alleged preferential treatment of some customers in relation to “white bread”. A recent release of white flour to wholesalers across the country meant bakeries could bake a better loaf. However, this in turn led to complaints from some that certain people were benefiting more than others, as bakers used the extra flour to reward their friends, or else benefit themselves in some way.

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Meanwhile, on the Continent, reports came in from recently released prisoners of war. One such, speaking from Holland, said poverty in the German cities was rife, with some “refined ladies” being forced to wear skirts made of paper, their shoes made of old rags. Nothing of rubber or leather could be found. The prisoner himself was repeatedly asked for soap and bread and even had people offering to buy his clothes.

There was also the tragic tale of the murder of a well-liked Pontefract shop owner. Mrs Walker ran a jewellery shop at Ropergate End, following her husband’s death four years earlier. She was hit on the head and arm violently, causing her to lose consciousness, which she never regained. Police found the attacker washed their hands in the sink before calmly leaving. The most puzzling aspect was that nothing was stolen, despite cash and jewels being within easy reach.

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