DURING WORLD WAR ONE - "YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS ......acorns" ???

A curiosity found in the Ware U.D.C. Minute Book

By Terry Askew

Ware U.D.C. Minute Book
Terry Askew
Entries in the Ware U.D.C. Minute Book
Terry Askew

Rearching into the minute book of Ware U.D.C. covering the years 1914 to 1918, I was looking for entries and anecdotes to illustrate how the Great War impacted upon a small market town.

Much has been found, some very interesting, some mundane and some intriguing, but so far the following has proved to be the strangest.

MEETING DATED 10TH OCTOBER 1917

A letter from the Honoury Director for Acorn Collection in Bucks and Herts was read, appealing for assistance in conjunction with the collection of acorns for the Admiralty, the remuneration for which being 2/6d per cwt.

It was resolved that copies of the circular be sent to the schools in the Town.

I don’t think that the mystery of why the Admiralty should require so many acorns will ever be solved. People I have consulted have suggested – pig food, making ersatz coffee and even a resource for making explosives (the latter suggestion appears to have some foundation as ‘conkers’ have been said to yield a chemical useful for ordnance.

Could the “Honoury Director for Acorn Collection for Bucks and Herts” have been for real ? If so, were his efforts towards the struggle for final victory recognised at the war’s end ? We shall probably never know.

Can any reader offer any helpful suggestions ?

This page was added on 01/12/2013.

Comments about this page

  • The War Office collected conkers for the production of acetone in 1917, paying 7s 6d per hundredweight. (See this BBC History Magazine articlehttp://www.historyextra.com/conker) So perhaps acorns were a less good substitute, hence the price differential. The reason Ware UDC would not say why these were being collected is that it was a secret, lest other nations believe the UK was losing the capacity to produce munitions.

    By Martin Butcher (18/01/2014)
  • Now ‘fruit stones’. Although, by now, the word “peace” is beginning to appear in the minutes in July of 1918, a circular letter from the Local Government Board was received and tabled stating that “all fruit stones, including date stones and hard nut shells are immediately required for an urgent war purpose and asking the Council to arrange for the collection of these materials”. Now we know what for.

    By Terry Askew (19/12/2013)
  • Conundrum solved – They were needed in the production of cordite, the propellant for shells and bullets. Chaim Weizmann of Manchester University discovered how to produce acetone, an essential ingredient, from various natural sources including maize from the U.S.A. By 1917 German U-Boats were taking a heavy toll of shipping and a ‘home’ alternative had to be found. The search was successful as a source was found in horse-chestnuts and acorns, which gave school children all over the Country an opportunity to make a contribution to the war effort, by collecting many tons from the countryside. Pity the Ware UDC did not see fit to explain the situation. I am indebted to Jennifer Ayto, a colleague volunteer at Hertfordshire Archives for bringing this to my attention.

    By Terry Askew (11/12/2013)

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