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18 September 2014
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The Home Front in World War One

By Peter Craddick-Adams
Make do and mend

Image of clothing ration coupon book
A clothing ration book, 1943-4 ©
Clothes rationing was introduced in 1941. Adults were rationed to a fixed number of clothing coupons per year, each item of clothing having a coupon value, plus the price fixed by law.

If you had the money, but no coupons, you could not buy, although an illegal black-market grew up of traders willing to supply the unobtainable, but at a price. Thus a ‘make-do and mend’ ethos grew up, recycling old clothes, unpicking the wool from old pullovers to darn socks, for example.

One young mother remembered the austere wartime atmosphere of her Wiltshire village:

'The Women's Institute was the focal point of the village; you could always get ideas there about what to make out of what. Most of the women were walking about without stockings on, you just couldn’t get them. But we also used to get together in each other’s houses. I remember one Christmas time we made the children quite a lot of toys out of knitting wool – most of my youngest child’s toys were knitted clowns, policemen and soldiers that the ladies of the village had knitted. I was quite an expert myself on making do and mend.
People used to bring things to me from the village and say, ‘What can we do with this?’ – an old coat, perhaps, from which you could make a lumbar jacket for a boy or a skirt for a girl… There were dances too, although the blackout stopped quite a lot of social life. It was mostly women dancing together, of course, although there were more men around there than in some other places because it was a farming area, and farm workers didn’t get called up…’
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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