It has been impossible looking across our lovely country in all its August glory – and glorious indeed it is this year, not a sea of mud, as two years ago, or a desert of dust as in 1911, but green and gold, bright in the sunshine, the harvest teams carrying the well-got crops to the stack – it has been impossible to realise that not two hundred miles from our coast, the biggest war in history is in progress, and that Britain is one of the combatants. At noontide the harvest field presents the usual scene of industry, without any apparent diminution, and we should forget, if such a thing were possible, the task to which Britain had put her hand, until from the grey old church tower, rising from the cluster of trees, among whose greenery brown patches of stone and thatch marks the village homes, comes a few strokes of the church bell. It is the “Peace bell” which has been adopted in many of our rural parishes, and rings at noon to remind the workers and others who enjoy the blessings of peace in the midst of war of the need of their prayers for those fighting that peace may be preserved.
If we enter the harvest field we are not greatly struck by any difference to other years. There are apparent here and there a volunteer or two. In one Oxfordshire village, the schoolmaster was seen hard at work, enjoying his holiday in helping to carry his neighbour’s corn, and in others grooms and gardeners have turned out to take the places of men who have been called out on military service. There are very few of our villages that have not furnished their quota, but in no case has it been sufficient to interfere with the general work of the harvest, although an individual farmer may have been hit rather hard, in which case his friends and neighbours, as above, show an admirable spirit of help. It is similarly so with the horses. In almost all villages, the remount officers have been and drawn what they have required. In some cases a certain amount of inconvenience has been reported, but the class of horse usually required for agricultural purposes has not been required, and the sales made have generally been at satisfactory prices to the sellers. An inquiry in the local villages does not confirm the rumours heard a week or two ago of local tradesmen and farmers being crippled by the loss of horses. That these were not confined to our locality is shown by the statement which the Board of Agriculture has thought it desirable to issue, which shows that only slightly over one per cent of the total heavy draught horses used for agriculture have been taken by the military authorities. Obviously there is a sufficiency of horses for military purposes without interfering with agriculture. Such a conclusion is borne out by our local inquiries. In Banbury and Bloxham Petty Sessional Division the number of horses returned in the Board of Agriculture statistics for 1913 was 2,389; in the Brailes district, 1,450; Kineton, 1,616; Brackley, 2,841.
While dealing with the question of horse supply, we might draw attention to official notice which appear in our advertising columns from the remount authorities for this district, giving the names of the gentlemen authorised to purchase the county. Local farmers and tradesmen should see therein named.
Leaving the fields and entering the villages, at the present moment we see a wonderful spirit prevailing, and the reports printed below show that this spirit is general. The heart of the country is thoroughly sound, and one thinks that it is probably so throughout the whole of the kingdom one realises the tremendous moral force created by the war.
As one enters a village at the present moment, one is met by a great anxiety to know the latest news, meagre as it has been up to now, and one is conscious of a barely concealed excitement, especially among the older people who are more oppressed than the young by the dreadful suspense which accompanies waiting for tidings fraught with so much. One thing that strikes one, as you look round the village and inquire what is being done, and that is the wonderful unanimity which this miserable war has produced. It is not only at Westminster that ranks have been closed. In the least-known village the spirit prevails. Religion, politics, local petty and personal jealousies, which in normal times divide up even the smallest village communities, have disappeared and a wonderful industry has taken the place of contemplating their neighbours’ differences from themselves. In all the villages the women have set themselves hard at work making garments destined for the fighting line, or the sick and wounded, and this in a spirit of concord and common interest for their dear country’s sake which has revealed a feeling too little seen in village life. It has been quite touching to see some of the very old doing beautiful work, even at hard labour to themselves. There is a true love breathed in our village labours today, and it has burst through the rubbish which for so many years has obscured it. In the Te Deum which in God’s good time we hope to sing, let us not forget this revelation as one of the blessings for which we return thanks.
The hunger scare which beset the country as well as the town has subsided during the past fortnight. Instances have been reported to us of those with the means laying up food for months ahead, and also of village tradesmen charging the villagers a higher price for foodstuffs. A look round the fields, rickyards, gardens and pigstyes tends to convince us that there is foodstuffs in the country for many months to come. A well-known agriculturalist of prudent mind, however, remarked to us that the more thoughtful were wondering what it would be like when the east wind blows at Lady Day, and said that the best advice he could give us was, “Trust in God and waste nothing,” a motto for the moment from the country which deserves to be given as wide a circulation as the “Business as usual,” which is resounding from the towns. Another farmer told us that the price of many articles of consumption has been met to a great extent by the increased wages paid during harvest, and he also informed us – and we were grateful to hear it – that an excellent good feeling is existing between employers and employed.
Turning to the harvest itself we have much to be thankful for. In the first place the glorious harvest weather bestowed by a bountiful Providence, which enables us to gather well the fruits of the earth at a time when they are of exceptional importance. In many places the crops are cut and safely in the rick, dry, and ready for use another day. The crop itself is a good one, on the whole quite up to the average, and comparing favourably with any we have had since 1908. Wheat is over the average and barley a full average. Oats and beans vary considerably, and the former have been stated as under average in Oxfordshire, while an agriculturalist on the Warwickshire side said there were some considerable good prices, and he did not think they were the minority. The spring sown crop in many cases is almost a failure, while winter oats and winter beans are unusually good. In Banbury market on Thursday the official average for wheat was 35s 5½d per quarter against 45s 6½d a fortnight ago. Cattle and sheep are now selling at satisfactory prices to the stock-breeder, the sheep being particularly dear.
On the question of military service our inquiries have shown, as stated above, that there are few of our local villages which have not furnished men for service. On the other hand recruiting does not seem to have been brisk in many of the agricultural villages. This may be explained by the fact that few eligible young men now remain in their native place to find employment in agriculture, and also there is not in the village the same impetus that is found in the town where the young man has his patriotism excited to action by the examples of his comrades and fellow workmen.
Finally, there is the deeper aspect of the national crisis. There is no doubt that it has produced a religious spirit among all classes of the people, and this is quite as perceptible in the villages as in the towns. In churches and chapels throughout the district special services of intercession are held and are well attended. That such large congregations have been secured in the middle of harvest as have been seen at some of the village services evidences the quality of the spirit in which the situation is faced. The generosity shown to the collections is very striking. The country people are giving liberally if their means, and many of the collections would do credit to a larger place. In nearly all the villages intercession services are being held daily or weekly.
Banbury Guardian, August 1914