When the war broke out, nationalist enthusiasm took hold of the population in the Rhine Provinces, as it did in all other regions. Everyone was convinced that the German Empire was waging a righteous war and would be victorious. Here, as elsewhere, a large number of men signed up voluntarily for military service.
The Rhineland and Westphalia were not directly affected by the war operations, but the region was the deployment zone for German troops; from here they invaded Belgium and northern France. The importance of the Rhine Provinces of Prussia lay in the industrial capacity of the region, which also continued during the war.
Production was converted to the needs of a war economy, State control and food rationing soon became commonplace. The effects of the war made themselves felt especially quickly in mining, since without imports from England and France the economy was totally dependent on the quantity of coal mined in domestic production. At the same time the demand for coal and coke products increased. As nearly a third of coal mine employees had been drafted into military service, the mine owners fell back upon French pris-oners of war, who were mostly trained miners and were paid for their work underground. Moreover, from 1916, due to acute shortages of labour, women were employed in mining and in industry. Heavy labour and 12 hour shifts were the rule and although the women's standard of work was at least comparable, they only earned half of male workers' wages.
In the so-called "hunger winter" of 1916/17 the supply of provisions in the Ruhr region turned into a disaster as a result of the continuously bad economic situation. Unlike any other region, it had covered its food supplies with imports from Russia, Poland and overseas, which were then lacking during the war. The population was starving. The situation was made plain by recipes for "spinach" made of stinging nettles, or "potato cakes" made of peelings, in which something edible had to be conjured out of animal feed and kitchen waste. In the light of the bad situation overall, the authorities and companies were hardly able to help effectively. Soup kitchens were set up, at which
soup was distributed to families suffering deprivation; heated halls were made available, while trees from woods and parks were allowed to be cut down for firewood.