This study shows the role of the police in helping the population in crisis. In
my 2019 book  I show that policemen were released to plough the fields from
across Britain in the severe food shortages of 1917-1918. One estimate 
shows that between 500-600 policemen were released from March/April for approximately
six weeks to help to increase home food production through ploughing to
increase arable land. Estimates  showed that four times more people could be
fed from arable crops than by grazing cattle, therefore urgent action was
needed to prevent the population from starvation.The Derby Scheme 
identified that many policemen had previous occupations in farming and were
experienced ploughmen. Although farmers were willing to plough up their
grassland, many experienced ploughmen had left the land, therefore substitution
was urgently needed. The police were one of the first groups to provide
substitution through Neville Chamberlain’s Department of National Service .
The food crisis due to Germany's submarine warfare on shipping from December
1916 sunk disproportionately more British ships. Britain relied on 80% of grain
imports, furthermore, the long harsh winter rotted the potato crop, leaving
poorer families nearing starvation unless urgent action was taken. Therefore,
it is reasonable to say that policemen helped to save the nation from
starvation in early 1917, before the army was sufficiently mobilised to help
and the women’s land army developed; the release of prisoners of war to help
farming was also a later development.
To write a national study of police as ploughmen.
References and bibliography
 Fraser, M. (2019) Policing the Home Front, 1914-1918: The control of the
British population at war. Abingdon: Routledge Chapter 10, The police as
ploughmen and farm workers, pp. 192-212.
 Current Topics: The Scottish Farmer, March 31st 1917 p. 231 shows J Harling
Turner, Director of Agriculture, Department for National Service claiming that
500-600 men across Britain were released in response to an "appeal for the
temporary release for agricultural work of employees of municipalities who were
at one time ploughmen."
 The 1915 Milner Committee Report showed "growing crops directly for
human food could support many more people per acre than if devoted to
animals" Dewey, P.E. (1989) British Agriculture in the First World War.
London; Routledge p. 92. Also Middleton, T.H. (1923) Food Production in War.
Oxford: The Clarendon Press pp. 83-84.
 The National Register (National Registration Act, 1915 [5 & 6
Geo.5.CH60]) required everyone aged 15 and 65 who remained in civilian life to
submit data on their marital status, address, date of birth, number of
dependents, current employment and whether they had other skills than their
 Fraser, M. (2020) 70, (5), 58-65 "Police as Ploughmen: Neville
Chamberlain’s success in 1917" History Today
Initial searches of The
Police Review and Parade Gossip, the Organ of the British Constabulary, the
most popular weekly journal read by policemen on the beat during 1914-1918
showed many columns headed "Police as Ploughmen" or "Police to
the Plough" in March/April 1917. These identified the initial locations.
Searches of the British Newspaper Archive developed and confirmed these
locations. Further searches of local archives for police and local authority
reports added to the picture. During searches a further 2 locations for the
release of policemen were uncovered and added to the known locations. It also
became evident that some locations had been asked for further help from the
police in autumn 1917, records show that Scotland responded by doubling the
number released, however, no composite records were found for England.
Furthermore, some locations, such as Birmingham, lent policemen to farmers from
March/April 1917 until at least June 1918.
You can see an initial analysis of my findings at
Fraser, M. "Police as Ploughmen": temporary release to help farmers
in the food crisis of First World War Britain. Cultural & Social History.
Published online 5 August 2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/14780038.2021.1958443
Fraser, M. (2020) Policing the Ploughs. History Today. Vol 70, Issue 5, May pp.
Fraser, M. (2020) Food
Control in the First World War: Another role for the police. British Police
History Journal. Issue VI, Spring 2020
British Crime Historians symposium, 2021. Police as Ploughmen in 1917/18: How
Britain’s policemen helped local populations by temporary release into
agriculture. University of Leeds 2-3 September 2021.
Police as Ploughmen in 1917/18: How Britian’s policemen helped localpopulations by temporary release into agriculture. Lecture to the British
Agricultural History Society, Spring Seminars, 12 April 2021.
Police as Ploughmen in 1917-1918. Labour, Gender and Consumption in Historic
perspective. Department of History, University of Essex 13-14 September 2019.