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Derwenlas School 12
Chestnuts for the war effort 

  Help for the Ministry
A curious entry from the Log Books of Derwenlas School at the time of the Great War is shown here. It seems that the children of the school helped the war effort by collecting chestnuts for the Ministry of War in 1917 ! 

 Derwenlas School
Log Books

County Archives

School log book entry
Imperial War Museum
website is at

The above entry, recorded on 9th November, 1917, reads as follows:
"This School has collected a good quantity of horse chestnuts for the Ministry of Munitions. Today I am forwarding card to the Director of Propellant Supplies, 32 Old Queen Street, Westminster, London SW1."

We are grateful to the Imperial War Museum in London for an explanation of this strange entry. In 1917 the British Government appealed for horse chestnuts to be 'harvested' for a purpose "of great importance". No more details were released at the time for reasons of military security.
Acetone was a vital ingredient in the manufacture of cordite, the basic propellant for the huge number (some 258 million!) shells used by British forces in the Great War. Acetone could be produced from potatoes and maize, the import of which from the USA was threatened by German submarines in the Atlantic. Experiments to find a substitute for maize showed that horse chestnuts could be used instead, so schools all over the country were asked to help in the collection of as many as possible. Children have always enjoyed collecting "conkers" anyway, so they probably set about the task enthusiastically. Huge numbers were collected in the autumn of 1917, but transport problems resulted in large piles of chestnuts being left at railway stations, and only a fraction of the numbers collected arrived at the munitions factory in Norfolk.
The experiment was not a great success because chestnuts were a fairly poor substitute for maize, and the threat to supplies of cereal from America was not as great as had been feared.

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