School children enjoy their free milk in 1937. #NationalMilkDay

free school milk
image credit: By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Primary school teachers will love this 1937 film clip from Pathe News.

The sound quality is poor but the film is a wonderful record of the introduction of free school milk for school children.

The man seated at the desk as the film opens is the head teacher.

The head teacher tells a child to run and inform the other teachers that the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Walter Elliot, is coming to the school at 11 o’clock to see the children have their milk.

A large group of children are assembled in the school hall drinking bottles of milk with straws. The visitors arrive and the children give three cheers and wave their milk bottles.

A schoolboy asks Mr Elliot what the new milk scheme is all about. The minister gives information about how many children are getting milk and why the government have introduced the scheme.

At the end of all the questions the boy asks “Mr Elliot, can I drink my milk now?” to laughs from the visitors.

Mr Elliot is accompanied by his wife and she asks a teacher how much the children enjoy their milk and comments how well they look because of it.

Walter Elliot was the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries from 1932-1936.

There is a long and detailed account of how the Milk in Schools Scheme evolved here.

In 1933 the government began debating the possibility of providing funds to extend
an existing Milk in Schools Scheme to as many children as possible. The arguments deployed were mostly economic. The minutes of a Cabinet Committee in December noted, for instance, that ‘if all 5.5 million elementary school children in England and Wales had one third of a pint per day for 200 school days, then the total consumption would be 45 million gallons. This would be the equivalent of excluding all foreign cheese.
Imported cheese was under scrutiny because of the government’s embarrassment at the
continued inflow of Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dairy produce at a time
when the British dairy industry was in severe difficulties. School milk was therefore
seen as a possible political windfall, a rare opportunity to keep both producers and
consumers happy, subject of course to convincing the Treasury that government
expenditure was justified.

The Milk Scheme continued until 1970 when it was abolished by Margaret Thatcher when she was the Secretary of State for Education.

Thanks for reading my blog today.


  1. We used to ‘fight’ for the bottles nearest the radiator, all the others were almost frozen solid!

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