By the spring of 1918 essential foods had become subject to rationing, with controls being extended to heating and lighting. That resulted in a contributor under the initials C.E.M. submitting a poem to The Luton News (March 28th) that took a satirical look at a future in which all that was left to ration was air! And his poem was what he envisaged he might telling his grandchildren about the Great War by the time he was a grandfather in 1970 - the year mentioned in an accompanying headline.
You want me to tell you a story, dears,
Of the world's great war with its blood and tears.
But instead you shall have a tale most weird
Of a State Controller, hated and feared.
You have no doubt read in your history book
How the State controlled us in every look.
Our lives, our money, our food it took
And Freedom lay slain, in her favourite nook.
The Britisher bold was strictly controlled
In all that he ate and all that he sold.
'Twas only in dreams when he lay down to rest
That visions of Freedom his memory blest
Fain would he lengthen those hours of delight
But Government time woke him up in a fright.
We might not waste water, we dare not use light.
We hardly could tell the wrong from the right
If we had a red herring an ounce overweight
'Twas more than we dared put on our plate
For hoarding restrictions and fines were in sight,
So we sorrowfully eyes it, too frightened to bite.
But now I must hasten my story to tell
How all this iniquity perished and fell.
Lord Air Denuder sat up in his chair,
With brow perturbed and eyes full of care.
He had quite a host of relations and heirs
Who all wanted posts in the Government wares.
But none now were vacant and where, oh where,
Could he find them a place in a Government chair?
Meat, fish and rabbits, birds and swift hare,
Bread and all vegetables, not one to spare;
Thread, pepper and sparrows, and rats not too rare,
Each had its Controller and lady clerks fair.
He ransacked his brains, which were somewhat scarce,
For brilliant means to fill up their purse,
When one most momentous flashed into his mind.
"The air! Why, it's monstrous, the waste that I find".
Just 15lbs weight on a square inch of flesh,
Controllers are wanted in that spot, I guess.
My relatives many, my name they shall bless,
I'm Prince of the Air, as all gladly confess.
So promptly to Whitehall, Denuder he went,
And Orders in Council were instantly sent,
On every square inch but 6ozs of weight
Was Government ration for everyone's rate.
The mayor and officials of all the big towns
Installed air exhausters on suitable mounds;
'Twas only the sceptical village folk who
Refused to be rationed in fresh air too.
'Twas a sunny day in the month of May
When Lord Air Denuder began his sway;
And with many a groan and snort on the way,
The pumping machines began the display.
The air around Whitehall grew suddenly hot,
And Lord Air Denuder began to feel flopped.
With a glance of uneasiness, out he popped,
"I must add to the weight of the air, eh, what?"
But, alas and alack, he rose with a bump,
And out of the ceiling he knocked a great lump;
And straight through the hole, with a cry of despair,
He disappeared somewhere, in space or mid air.
The villagers stood in open-mouthed awe,
To see all the townsfolk beginning to soar;
Soldiers in khaki and ladies in lace,
Officials and judges began a mad race,
Bobbing and bumping all over the place.
They popped through the windows, they rose from the floors,
No more to be ruled by gravity's laws.
They clutched at the chimneys, the steeples, the trees,
But still they rose higher, borne up by the breeze.
They floated o'er river and mountain and sea,
But where they descended could nobody see.
'Twas reverently hoped they found a quiet rest
On a far-away planet or star of the west
At length in a village remote from the town,
A chastened War Cabinet gathered around,
And passed a decree of statesmanship sound,
That no more Controllers in England be found.
And now we have banished for ever from sight
Controllers of Food and Water and Light.
Hurrah! Now we're free, and have broken the snare
Of all the Controllers of Land and of Air.