Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Reconstruction in Northern France

We're now moving on to see what happened when the shooting stopped and the brewers returned to their wrecked breweries.

1,000 brewers were in the territory occupied by the Germans. All had seen their breweries stripped of copper and many of the buildings were damaged. But some had been able to re-equip with iron equipment and brewed a low-quality beer called "tiszane" from a little grain and some sugar.

The French government was already thinking about how to reconstruct industry in the occupied and war-damaged areas even before the end of hostilities. They decided the quickest and cheapest way to get the brewing industry back on its feet was to provide off-the-shelf standard brewhouses.

"All authorities agreed that great benefits in regard to cost and rapidity of rebuilding would arise through the previous preparation of standardised plants, but, again, the wishes of the 1,000 brewers most concerned who were in the invaded districts could not be consulted, and the uncertainty of how the war would end made it impossible to come to definite decisions. If the majority of the buildings should ultimately remain intact, it would be impossible to ask their owners to expend the large sums necessary above and beyond those covered by their indemnities to instale standard plant. Brewers could justly claim plant similar to that destroyed, but could hardly rely on their indemnity to cover the cost of the improved, and perhaps larger, and certainly more modern, plant contemplated in any plan of standardisation. If, on the other hand, further hostilities resulted in more complete destruction, it would be a simpler matter to envisage the rebuilding with standard plant."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 2, February 1921, pages 58 - 59.

The complicating factor was the compensation that the brewers would receive for their war losses. In many cases, it wouldn't have covered buying one of the new standard breweries.

They did eventually decide to go ahead with producing standard breweries:

"Finally, it was decided to commence with a programme that should not represent more than 15—20 per cent, of the pre-war production, and involving the construction of 40 brewhouse installations of 50,000 hectols. (30,000 barrels) and 25,000 hectols. annual capacity. In order that the small brewers of under 20,000 hectols. annual capacity should not be left out of consideration, a number of these plants were to be reserved for amalgamated groups of those small breweries, which, before the war, produced half the beer. Authorisation for this programme was obtained from the Office of Reconstruction in August, 1918."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 2, February 1921, page 59.

There was a similar situation in Belgium, where there were a large number of very small breweries. There, too, many of these little concerns grouped together to share a brewhouse. Which led to a big reduction in the number of operating breweries. The number of breweries in Belgium fell from 3,349 in 1910 to 2,013 in 1920*. That's a 40% reduction in the number of breweries. While beer production in Belgium had fallen from 16 million hectolitres in 1910 to 10.4 million hectolitres in 1920*. Though the average output per brewery did increase a little after the war:

Belgian breweries 1910 - 1920
1910 1920
beer output 16,019,000 10,408,000
no. breweries 3,349 2,013
average output per brewery 4,783 5,170
"Het Brouwersblad" June 2004, pages 6 - 7.

The war had a massive impact on beer production in Belgium and France:

Beer production 1912 - 1922
France Belgium
1912 12,656,000 16,899,000
1913 12,844,000 16,727,000
1914 9,056,000 -
1915 5,824,000 8,139,000
1916 7,705,000 7,086,000
1917 7,115,000 5,391,000
1918 6,375,000 4,930,000
1919 10,785,000 9,488,000
1920 11,548,000 10,408,000
1921 12,254,000 12,536,000
1922 16,802,000 15,643,000
"European Statistics 1750-1970" by B. R. Mitchell, 1978, page 285.

Remember that in 1913 the breweries in the areas occupied by the Germans had brewed just over 7 million hl. And the output of beer in 1915 was just over 7 million hl less than is 1913. That's not a coincidence. Obviously breweries in the rest of France upped production for the rest of the war, but they were unable to fully compensate for the loss of the northern breweries, and output remained over 40% below the pre-war level.

It's clear from these numbers how important the northern breweries were for France. In 1913 they were responsible for 55% of France's beer production. No wonder the government wanted to get them back on their feet as soon as possible.

In areas where there had been little actual fighting, the situation wasn't too bad.

"As the rapid march of events liberated such regions as those of Lille, Roubaix, and Tourcoing, where the breweries were numerous and important, the position was found to be as follows. The buildings had in general not suffered greatly, although every copper vessel had been ravaged with most of the machinery, in some cases leaving only empty shells charred and damaged, while in others the breweries refitted with iron vessels were carrying on a precarious trade. Reconstruction generally meant the repair of remaining plant or the replacement of that destroyed by new."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 2, February 1921, page 60.

But not everyone was so lucky:

"Amongst the "Sinistrés" there soon appeared three classes:—

(1) Brewers who required only certain plant and casks to start work again, and whose chief desire was to replace that part of their equipment taken by the enemy as quickly as possible, so that they could start delivery of beer. These brewers, representing very large numbers of breweries, did not desire amalgamations which would inevitably lead to delays and uncertainties as to indemnities. Their sole object was to start work at the earliest possible moment with any sort of plant they could get, in order to profit from the high prices ruling, and not to be cut out by more energetic competitors.

(2) Brewers more seriously affected, whose building remained mainly intact, but whose plant was entirely gone. These in general demanded individual reconstruction, but a certain number preferred to wait and consider eventual amalgamations, of which a number have now taken place.

(3) Brewers whose buildings and material had been entirely wiped out. Theirs was the most difficult problem of all. Their cientele was scattered, and the resumption of their trade depended on its return and the resumption of the agricultural and other industrial Activities of the neighbourhood. For them, obviously, the building up of combined concerns was the most attractive, and many have formed groups and central breweries, but still a number are rebuilding as before."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 2, February 1921, pages 60 61.

In two years they were able to get a considerable number of the breweries up and running.

"By Autumn 1920 the steps described had already permitted the reconstruction of about 400 breweries mostly, of course, from the least damaged class and those requiring only the replacement of such plant as coppers and refrigerators. The more badly damaged will take much longer to refit. Difficulties of transport, strikes, reduction of hours to eight per day, and lack of coal and raw materials and high prices have all sadly deranged the reconstruction of industry in the ravaged areas."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 2, February 1921, page 63.

But remember that there had been around 1,800 breweries in German-occupied territory. Those 400 only amounted to 22% of the total. That must have meant a considerable number were awaiting reconstruction, even accounting for amalgamations that had taken place. How long did it take to complete the job of rebuilding? A good few more years, I'm sure.

Though as you may have noticed in the figures above, by 1921 beer output exceeded that of 1913, and by a large margin: 16.8 to 12.8 million barrels.

I keep coming across references to the eight-hour day in articles written around the end of WW I. It seems to have been one of the few good legacies of the war.

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