This letter from President of the Board of Trade Walter Runciman to the Cabinet predates the German campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare by almost a year and yet the threat posed to shipping in April 1916 is still grave enough to be described in bold and urgent language. The letter reports that more ships are being lost than can be replaced through shipbuilding and Runciman suggests that a shortage of labour is partly to blame. Many skilled labourers went to fight, reducing the productivity of the industries they left behind. Runciman warns the government that the inability to build replacement ships could result in an inability to supply Britain with the food it needs to survive: ‘unless the activities of our shipyards are restored, we may find ourselves unable to victual this country’. The letter’s predictions proved accurate when U-boat attacks on merchant vessels nearly crippled Britain in 1917, before the last-minute introduction of a convoy system made seafaring far less treacherous.
John Rushworth Jellicoe was a navy officer who commanded The Grand Fleet during World War One. He led Allied warships against the German High Seas Fleet and was involved in high-level decision-making about naval operations. The Jellicoe Papers comprise correspondence, memoranda, reports, charts and other documents either created or used by Jellicoe during his service in the Royal Navy.