Eggs or Anarchy

by William Sitwell, Simon and Schuster, £20

I once asked a Francophile friend what he thought of Napoleon. He replied, “He was an administrator of genius.” The same could be said of Lord Woolton, invited by Neville Chamberlain to become Minister of Food in 1940, when he was 58. His task was enormous: to feed a nation at war.

Woolton was an inspired choice. Earlier in his career he had become joint managing director of Lewis’s, aged 37, turning it from a provincial department store into a national institution. He brought formidable energy, toughness in negotiation and a quiet sense of humour to his new task. Already in 1939, at the Ministry of Supply, he had turned a highly inefficient office into a powerhouse: within four months he had increased the number of firms making army uniforms from five to 500.

As Minister of Food, Woolton’s greatest success was to persuade the British people that he cared for their welfare. If they disliked rationing, he reminded them that he had come from humble beginnings and had often eaten “this [simple] sort of food”.

Wanting to improve the nation’s nutrition and eliminate rickets, with his team of experts he devised a highly nutritious yet economical diet. As he stated in the House of Lords: “As a result … we can say that many people in this country are more adequately fed now than they were before the war started.”

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