Prebendal Farm, Bedford [PU246/90]
Friday 5th March 1915: Farmers across the country are experiencing difficulties due to a shortage of agricultural labour. Usually there are men who are out of work who are available to follow the threshing machine at whatever daily wage was offered. In recent years they have been able to ask for what they wanted, but this year there have been very few casual labourers available and farmers have had to borrow men from each other when they go threshing. Some farmers have applied for Belgian peasants to work for them, but there are nowhere near enough Belgians available to meet the need. In market gardening areas there has been a move to import Dutch labourers. To try to retain their existing labourers most local farmers have increased their wages, and in some cases they have been allowed to work shorter hours on Saturdays.
Another popular suggestion is the use of child labour as a solution for this labour shortage. Farmers would find boys of 12 and over very useful and their earnings would be very welcome to their families. In January it was reported that the Bedfordshire County Council Education Committee had agreed not to enforce school attendance bye-laws, but it now seems doubtful that the Board of Education would sanction the relaxation of local bye-laws. Educationalists are certainly firmly against such a move and it has to be admitted that in many cases boys would be unable to make up their lost education. The extra earnings would be useful to many families but so far only a few have tried to take their boys away from school.