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- Michael Smith
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- 14 December 2004
From a very early age I realised that food rationing and ration books dominated every day life in wartime. The “Food Office”, near St Peter’s Church in Hereford, cast a long shadow. War-time shortages had a life-long influence on my mother; right up to her death she never wasted anything, especially food. She also never forgave the post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee for not ending food rationing with the arrival of peace.
I never recall being hungry during the war. I do remember some unusual dishes, which my mother produced using the contents of the blue and silver “Ministry of Food” tins of dried egg. There was always something to eat at four meals spread across the day — breakfast, lunch, tea and supper.
Tea was my favourite. It was served around 5 o’clock, to coincide with the BBC Home Service’s “Children’s Hour” on the wireless. There would be sandwiches — meat or fish paste filling, bread and butter (probably margarine), and jam and some form of home made cake. However, on Sundays there would be something extra like tinned fruit with tinned condensed milk, or, sometimes, jelly! But to qualify for this final “special” course, I had to eat a first course of bread and butter — I think on Sundays it probably was real butter. No fish or meat spread and certainly no jam! Bread and butter left on plate meant no cake or tinned fruit — no negotiation!
A Sunday tea-time ritual developed. Bread and butter was served. I demanded jam. No jam was forthcoming and no progress to cake or fruit was possible. I remember some very tearful stand-offs, but I always lost. Why I found bread and butter on its own so unpalatable I don’t know. But I suspect that the whole family began to dread Sunday tea-times. Whilst my mother stood consistently firm on the, “no bread and butter nothing to follow” rule, I remember her as generally patient and coaxing during my tantrums. Finally I recall one particular Sunday when I was very objectionable and demanded to know exactly why it was only on Sundays that tea was jam less. On this particular Sunday she became just a little frayed. She lectured me on the fact that there were, as she spoke, millions of children across Europe who would give anything for my bread and butter ration and added with firm finality, that sacrificing jam at Sunday tea was one way our family was contributing to an Allied Victory. I fear that the logic of this argument was lost on me then and I’m not sure that I fully appreciate it even now. But I suspect that I surrendered and ate the bread and butter and I don’t remember challenging the Sunday tea menu thereafter. And to be fair, once victory came jam did return to Sunday tea!
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