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18 September 2014
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The Home Front in World War One

By Peter Craddick-Adams
Rationing the basic foodstuffs

Image of a ration book from World War Two
A ration book from World War Two ©
As a result of the experience of 1917-18, ration books were issued when food rationing came into force in January 1940.

Items such as imported meats, sugar, tea, coffee, tobacco, chocolate and fruit which arrived by merchant ship and would become scarce if the Germans initiated another submarine blockade (which they did) were to be divided equally between all adults and children. Imported non-food items such as textiles, soap and petrol were rationed, too.

'... We had mincemeat, potato or cabbage, some kind of milk pudding, a lot of stodge, with sauces that became more and more watery ...'

You were entitled to buy basic foodstuffs to a weekly limit, whilst price controls, covering everything from wages and rents to food, tobacco and clothing, also came into force. The degree of restriction over an individual’s freedom seems incredible to us today, the more so as each familiy has to register at a shop where these items could be purchased and could not shop elsewhere.

Schoolboy David Howell recalled the effect of rationing on his school meals:

‘... which went from mediocre to unspeakable. We had mincemeat, potato or cabbage, some kind of milk pudding, a lot of stodge, with sauces that became more and more watery ...At one stage lunch consisted of rather watery soup, based on onions, followed by hunks of bread and cheese – that was our economy measure. Good red meat, which was rationed rather strictly, we had twice a week ... One wag said that ... dried eggs, which were in plentiful supply, should be called dregs ... Sweets were rationed, the making of ice cream banned after 1942, on the grounds that ... it had no food value, and was a diversion of valuable resources. All meat became very scarce ... So our diet became very monotonous. There were pies which were based on potato and carrot and – we thought it was sawdust – soya beans ...’
Jonathan Croall, Don't You Know There's A war On? The People's Voice 1939-45

Published: 2005-03-14



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