I saw my first WWI embroidered flour sack a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the present owner only knew that it was in her family and her family was from Nova Scotia.
I was thrilled! I’d heard of these flour sacks but, in 20 years as an appraiser, I’ve never seen one! Here’s the explanation.
In the early days of the First World War, France allied herself with Russia; Germany, at war with Russia, then declared war on France. In order to invade France, Germany occupied Belgium and confiscated all of the Belgian’s food; as Belgium was an ally of England, England then declared war on Germany.
In an attempt to starve the Germans out of Belgium, England blockaded Belgium. This blockade had the unfortunate consequence of limiting food to the Belgian people and it is estimated that over the course of the war 7 million Belgians and French experienced significant hunger.
Under the guidance of future president Herbert Hoover, then living in London, the Commission for Relief in Belgium was established. This commission relied entirely on donations and volunteers. Hoover was able to organize fundraising and grain purchases in the US; he managed to find ships to carry the grain to Rotterdam where it was unloaded; he persuaded warring countries not to intercept the four, sugar and grain that was essential to feed 10 million people every day. He successfully lobbied for families in the US to reduce waste and began the “Food Will Win the War” campaign.In addition to the food itself, the cotton sacks were carefully monitored. Germans needed cotton to produce munitions so, even empty, the sacks could not be allowed to fall into the German hands. The sacks were distributed to schools, convents and small businesses, employing thousands of Belgians who produced clothing, pillows and bags. These items were sold to produce income but many were embroidered with notes of thank you and returned to the US.
This bag is a wonderful and tangible reminder of a time when individuals could band together outside the structures of governments to help restore and retain humanity in the world. Historically and morally they are precious; monetarily they bring $300-500 when sold.