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15 October 2014
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Contributed by 
littleEmilyRatcliffe
Location of story: 
Dukinfield, Cheshire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3349596
Contributed on: 
30 November 2004

Most food was rationed, for example bread. I longed for a banana! Sweets were also rationed. A man at work gave me his coupons for his ration of sweets!
We were also encouraged to grow our own vegetables in the 'Dig for Victory' campaign.

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Message 1 - Rationing

Posted on: 01 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear littleEmilyRatcliffe

Our memories constantly play tricks on us, mine being worst than most. But the fact is that bread was never rationed during WW2 in Britain, although it was for a short period after the war. Wheat was in short supply, and to meet this, the extraction rate on flour was raised to produce the wholemeal 'National Loaf'. There is a WW2 Team article here A1057240 on rationing, but it doesn't really explain what rationing meant.

Ration books were distributed in 1939 but due to a misguided and virulent campaign in the press, initiated by the Daily Express under the banner of 'government control gone mad', 'interference with Civil Liberties', and 'interference with trade and business', the date of introducing rationing was repeatedly postponed. In November 1939 a Daily Express editorial blatantly stated that "The public should revolt against the food rationing system ... There is no necessity for the trouble and expense of rationing ... This form of folly is difficult and almost impossible to understand.", whipping up a great deal of objection and obstruction from grocers both large and small. Rationing, as a result, was repeatedly postponed from 13 November to December 1939, when it was again postponed until 8 January 1940.

When it was finally introduced, the first foods to be rationed were butter (4 ounces), sugar (12 ounces), bacon and ham (4 ounces) per week per person. On 11 March 1940 meat was rationed, no weight being specified, the weekly allocation was any meat to the value of 1shilling and 10 pence per week. It was left to the individual to decide whether to spend this on dearer cuts such as steak or chops, or on cheaper meat (thus getting more) of stewing and braising meat. Vegetarians, Jews, and Muslims could exchange their bacon and ham ration for cheese, although kosher cheese was not available.

Jam, marmalade, syrup, and treacle were rationed at 8 ounces per month from March 1941, but from June 1943 this could be taken as sugar, prior to that a summer concession. Cheese was first rationed on 5 May 1941. In July 1943 rationing was introduced to tea (2 ounces), margarine (6 ounces in conjunction with butter, initially to a person's own choice), and cooking fats (2 ounces, initially could be taken as margarine if preferred). Soap was rationed from 9 February 1942.

But there were fluctuations. The meat ration fell to 1 shilling and tuppence and then to 1 shilling in 1941. The cheese ration shot up to 8 ounces in July 1942, but then fell back to 3 ounces in May 1943.

The above were the only foodstuffs that were rationed. The cardinal rule of rationing was that there had to be a guaranteed supply to meet the ration. Eggs and milk could not be rationed for that simple reason, since they were both seasonally affected and could not be guaranteed. Both these foodstuffs fell under the 'allocation' scheme, rather than rationing. The egg allocation was just under one egg per person per week, with more for expectant mothers and children. The famous dried egg was introduced in June 1942, initially mistrusted, it soon became very popular. The allocation of dried eggs was one tin, the equivalent of a dozen eggs, per person every eight weeks. The milk allowance was progressively cut until it was 3 pints per week per person. Fruit, vegetables, poultry, fish, game, sausages, liver and all other offal were all off ration, but not always available. These, especially the meat products, became known as 'under the counter' items, kept for regular customers. Tomatoes and onions were particularly scarce. Grapes could fetch £1/ 5 shillings a bunch, at a time when a trained soldier was getting just £3 a week.

Contrary to the forecasts of doom forecast by The Daily Express, rationing became popular and was seen as a fair system. So much so that there were popular demands for other foodstuffs to be rationed, principally tinned food, dried fruit, rice, cereals and biscuits, but this wasn't practical since supplies could not be guaranteed. There was also a strong demand for cigarettes and tobacco to be rationed but this too was rejected. It was these allocated foods and unrationed items that led to the endless queuing seen in wartime photographs. It was quite common, and often actually made sense, to join the end of a queue without even knowing what it was that was being sold, since whatever it was could always be exchanged for something else with someone.

Source, and highly recommended:
"Wartime Britain 1939-1945" by Juliet Gardiner, published by 'headline', 2004.

Regards,

Peter

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