Farms At The Front

Two teams of Canadian Cavalry ploughing and harrowing ground on Vimy Ridge where potatoes are to be planted. April, 1918.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-003810.
Troops were instructed to assist French farmers where possible if a battalion was unable to manage its own field of produce. Here two Canadians help a group of French women.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-000768.

Starting in 1918, while occupying defensive lines around Vimy, the Canadian Corps carried out perhaps the most unaggressive, yet official, military order on the Western Front – farming.

Faced with ever increasing challenges of maintaining food supplies, the British Government ordered that the “English Armies undertake the growing of certain foodstuffs in the way of green vegetables and potatoes” using the land they currently occupied as a fighting force (NAC RG 9, Vol.4044, Radnor, “Statement of the policy to be adopted by Army, Corps, Area and Divisional Officers under the Directorate of Agricultural Production,” 7 February 1918).

Surprisingly, many of the Canadian Battalions took great interest in the project and its positive effects were two-fold; alleviating the strain on food supplies and providing an outlet for the burdened men. Farmers-turned-soldiers proved their worth providing expertise in planting and harvesting. As one unit rotated back into the frontline, those being relieved were expected to take over the farming plot. By the summer of 1918, the farming scheme was such a success that the addition of pig farms was considered, albeit briefly.