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Archive List > Rationing

Contributed by 
Wakefield Libraries & Information Services
People in story: 
Various
Location of story: 
Hemsworth;South Elmsall, West Yorkshire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A6760190
Contributed on: 
07 November 2005

These stories were submitted by Christine Wadsworth of Wakefield Libraries and Information Services on behalf of various day visitors to Bullenshaw Day Centre, Hemsworth, on the 13th October, 2004 and added to the site with their permission. The authors fully understand the site’s terms and conditions.

There was a poster ‘Be in fashion and cover your hair’. We used to have to wear scarves, turbans, when working in the factories or we’d get fast in the machines. What we looked like! A radio show called ‘Music While You Work’ used to go into factories and broadcast from these factories at 12.00 noon. That went on for a lot of years.
My mum worked in a factory in Leicestershire repairing bombers and planes that had been shot down, but after the war she worked at Ransome, Hoffman and Pollards in Ferrybridge and because she’d worked in the war with different types of machinery she got a job checking output at RHP’s factory in Ferrybridge. She wore a headsquare made into a turban and other protective clothing then and that was in the 196Os. You could smell the machine oil on her clothes when she came home from work.

I bought pipe cleaners to do my hair in the war. It was like a piece of wire covered with rubber and you put them in and bent the ends over and when you took them out your hair was all curls, but half your hair came out with them! I used to warm them in the fire like tongs then roll my hair up in them. My Mum cut my hair for me and it was straight down, but I used to have a kiss curl in my hair for a long time. There wasn’t much only clips at one time, metal butterfly clips came later.

The poster, ‘Hitler will send no warning so always carry your gas mask’, was issued by the Ministry of Home Security. The jokes they used to tell about gas masks such as “Are you sure you need a gas mask you, you smell”.

We were lucky because we never got any gas attacks over here, but there was always the fear of it and you had to be prepared. You always took it with you when you went to school or work. After the war we kept the gas masks for a long time as a reminder and some people reused their gas mask boxes. The worse part was when older people couldn’t get their gas masks on, my Grandad had a right job with his.

My cousin thinks that the war made working in the pit easier because there were a lot more people coming in to work. Men were conscripted into the mines — the Bevan Boys for example. Jimmy Saville was one, he came to live with a local family.

My Dad was an ambulance man down the pit. Some of the miners were also ARP Wardens and Fire Wardens. When they came out of the pit, they hardly had time to get any dinner before they had to go out again. Women did it as well. We all had to do it!

My cousin was a 17 year old living in Manchester. She and her friend had to go fire watching straight after work and they were in a big building completely deserted apart from the two of them, it was very frightening.

When the War first started, it sounds awful to say it like this, but when we were all younger you thought it was something wonderful, you didn’t think about what was going to happen. My Dad always used to say “You’ll learn, you’ll learn”, I said “Well learn us Dad” and we knew then what we would be listening to because he was in the First World War and had been a prisoner of war for two years in Germany. A lot of people were in the First World War so they knew what was coming, but the younger people like me looked on it as a bit of an adventure.

‘Women wanted for evacuation service, offer your services to your local council or any branch of Women’s Voluntary Services’, was a Civil defence poster. Some of the evacuee children were good some were not. Some went to houses where they weren’t looked after very well and some of them had brought very few clothes with them because they had no money. I felt deeply sorry for those children. Some evacuees kept in touch with the families that they went to stay with after the war. They used to get cards and letters from them. It’s amazing how you still hear from people!

I had a heck of job getting clothes, you could only have so many, because you needed coupons. If you got shoes you had to do without something else.

When I was young, they sometimes gave shoes out at school, they had racks of them all different sizes and they would call your name and ask you what size you were and they would look for your size.

I remember going to a school and we had to have school uniforms and my mother couldn’t afford me one and the Headmaster, he was ever so nice, he tapped me on the head he says “Go into my office, there’s a parcel on the desk for you” and he’d bought me a full school uniform. He was ever so good. When you were kids you had to put up with what you got didn’t you. That was between the wars.

The most frightening thing about the war was the sound when the sirens started. I was often down near the dam. It used to scare you to death, you used to run to anyone’s house you could get into, or a shelter. In the shelter you had to behave yourself or you got a clout! The shelter was near the church, I reckon it’s still there under that grass mound.

The kids used to go down to this dam, near where I live now. They thought that it was wonderful. Then during the war they weren’t allowed to go there and that was awful because it was only place really where they could play and they wouldn’t let them in.

During the war I used to look after other people’s children while they were out working — they had to go because it was war work! I was one of the older children and my Mother used to let me bring them in and read to them. I wasn’t old enough to go out to work!

I was in the Army, first class cook in the officer’s mess and I was a naughty girl once. I threw a plug with a lump of dishcloth wrapped around it across the kitchen. After dinner the officers used to go round, men for men and women for women, and ask if they’d enjoyed their meal. This squaddy, I called them sqaddies, stood up and held up this plug and lump of dishcloth — he’d found it in his food. We all had to go up in line and were asked who the culprit was — I never owned up!

Some of the ladies who were in the cookhouse with me, when they were going home for the weekend, used to take things with them because they were all on rations at home. I thought I’d take home some sugar, but as soon as I started shovelling the sugar into the bag, the bag burst. I never did take home anything after that.

There weren’t many cars at all, if you saw a car you were lucky and there wasn’t a lot of petrol for cars. My husband was in the Army then and he had a motorbike. He made a deal with a bloke for petrol. He agreed to let him stack up his petrol in our shed. We were so frightened of it going up that we used to go through next door’s
garden, through their hedge and into our garden to get to our house. Don’t go near the shed!

It used to be hard to get petrol, those with shops to look after had a heck of a job to do the rounds. To make it more difficult to steal and easier to spot if it was, they put green dye in it. Sometimes the police checked sheds looking for stolen petrol.

If you got caught buying on the black market it cost you a lot, buying stuff
you shouldn’t.

Cultivating land and growing your own food was encouraged. Rations were small, but
if you were friendly with your neighbours you helped each other out.

Rationing was introduced in 1940 for Bacon, Ham, Sugar and Butter and later that year meat then tea, margarine, cooking fat and cheese. In 1941, also Jam and Marmalade, so it became important to make your own.

We had uncles who were in business so they were very good to everybody, one sold vegetables one sold meat and we always got first turn, but my Mother always asked them not to give her a lot. My Mother helped anyone out if she could, she was very generous as regards that. My uncle sold bread and meat he used to ask if she wanted anymore of this or that and my Mother said “I’m having what I’ve paid for and you do not give me anymore see that you give to other people that need it”. We only got what we were allowed. We didn’t have a lot of money my dad worked in the pit but these uncles always helped us out, well that’s how it had to be in those days, but they were very good.

In 1941 the number of eggs we could have started to be controlled, you got one shell egg per week. Controlled milk came in 1941, then in 1942 they put sweets on ration.

The first thing to be de-rationed was bread in 1948 then jam and marmalade. Tea in 1952, sweets in 1953, eggs in 1953, cream you could get in 1953, butter, margarine, cooking fat and cheese and then in 1954, meat, then that was it you didn’t need your ration book, but it went on for quite a bit after the war.

I came out on Class C Release when the war finished because I had three brothers at home and I had to go look after them. I had to wait until it came on the wireless to say that Class C had been released, I just happened to have the wireless on and I heard it. They used to give men a demob suit. I can remember I think I got about £16 and some coupons and £16 bought quite a few clothes. You know I can remember going to Doncaster and buying mine.

I was in the Air Force stationed in London in 1942 for 2 ½ years and then I went up to Esholt in Northumberland, from one extreme to the other. I was posted up there because I was Geordie and they thought I still lived up there, but in the meantime my Mother and my brothers had moved down to Hemsworth, Yorkshire, so it took me longer to get to Hemsworth, from barracks, than it did to get from London to Hemsworth. I had to go from Kings Cross to York and get the train from York to Pontefract and then catch the bus. It was a long journey. I don’t think I ever missed a train. Once when I went back off leave up to Esholt we went to Morpeth on the train, caught three trains from Pontefract to York and from York up to Morpeth, but this train didn’t stop at Morpeth did it, it went straight up to Edinburgh as it was supposed to and I ended up in Edinburgh. That was only the once though. We used to have four travel warrants per year, one leave every three months and then if you wanted to go home for a weekend you paid for it or if you were going on compassionate leave you got a warrant.

When you got on during the night you were sitting in the dark after you left the station and you didn’t know who the devil was sitting next to you because of the blackout. You used to light a cigarette to see who you could see. Life then was just totally dictated to, because of the conditions, nowadays younger people especially can’t understand how we all went and did things in a certain way and you had to do this and you had to do that and they don’t like that and they can’t understand why it had to be done, but I suppose if they lived then they would understand it wouldn’t they.

I used to go round selling hot peas and I used to sell rhubarb and flowers during the war.

You couldn’t go in places without showing your identity card, you had to carry it with you all the times and could be asked by the police or military to show it and prove your name and address. It had to have your usual address on it and if you moved you had to go to the National Registration Office for it altering. There were two types of identity cards, one had a photo with endorsement and one didn’t.

I’ve just seen two Medical cards, one was for a lady living in Featherstone, date
1940. The other one is for a public safety officer, he must have travelled because it’s an Occupational Force travel permit allowing him to travel between this country and Vienna, Austria. I’ve also got a National Service Act Certificate of Registration.

One poster warned us ‘Careless talk costs lives, be like Dad keep Mum’ - you never knew who was listening to you so you didn’t know if someone would pass information on to the enemy.

I remember when one shop had some bananas and I went and queued ages for these bananas and when I took them home our Derek, who was only a baby, spit it out, he didn’t like it!

We used to go to a café in London near Victoria and the first time I went I had steak and chips and it was gorgeous then I found out that it was horse meat, but I still used to go. I enjoyed it!

The farmer near us had a lot of beasts you know he had different sorts and I remember my Dad took me down once for the farmer to show me horse meat. I looked at the horse meat then the farmer took it way and brought ordinary meat back with it. He asked me which was the horse meat and I looked at them and said that they both looked the same, but he said that the veins on the horse meat ran one way and the veins on the ordinary meat ran another. Until he told us which was which, we thought that the horse meat looked the best. It wasn’t as dark as other meat and in France they ate a lot of it.

If you were a vegetarian in the war you were allowed more cheese than other people, but you had to give your meat ration back.

Most towns had a Community Restaurant, there used to be one at Cross Hills at Hemsworth, you could go there for your lunch.

When everyone knew I was getting married, they had a meeting one night in Westfield Lane School, South Elmsall. You should have seen the women that turned up to that meeting and men! They agreed that if they all gave two ounces of this or two ounces of that, there should be enough for a nice wedding cake. They saved the stuff for six months and when we got married we had a three-tier wedding cake out of it.
Some people had to have a cardboard wedding cake, my sister had a marzipan one with no icing.

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