BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us



You are browsing in:

Archive List > Rationing

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Albert Newport
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
25 July 2005

(Notes prepared by my father for the information of relatives in Australia. Note that this describes the situation still current after Victory-in-Europe Day.)

RATIONING in force on 16 v 1945 and for several years past.
FOOD ON THE RATION: Amounts PER PERSON PER WEEK unless stated otherwise
Meat: 1/2d in value - (must have pork every 3rd week, which is most expensive and not nice)
(We calculate that in 1995 prices this 1/2d would be approximately £1.20 to £1.50, and enough for 2 of the cheaper small chops)
Bacon 4oz; Tea 2oz; Sugar 8oz (for all uses); Butter 2oz; Lard 2oz;
Margarine 4oz; Cheese 2oz; Honey, Jam, or other preserves 4oz
Milk from 2 pints in Winter gradually varying to 3½ pints in Summer (not for long)
Dried Milk 1 tin per 4 weeks in Winter, unlimited in Summer IF in stock
Sweets 3oz;
Eggs 1 per month in winter if lucky - up to 2 per week in summer - allocations announced in
Press and on radio.
Suet 1 packet in several months (½lb)
Custard-Powder 1 packet in several months. (Shopkeeper marks your book)

FOOD ON POINTS: (Each person has 24 points per four weeks.)
Sold by weight: Sold per tin:
(points per pound) (points per tin)
Rice 8; Sardines 2;
Sultanas 8; Skimmed Milk 5;
Currants 16; Baked Beans 2;
Biscuits (dry) 2, (sweet) 4; Herrings 2
Sultanas 8; Stewed Steak 20;
Rolled Oats 2; Salmon - varies a good deal -
Sausage-Meat 12; Best Red Salmon 32 per small tin - a great luxury;
Chopped Ham 3 PER OZ

SOAP ON COUPONS: (Each person gets 4 coupons per 4 weeks for ALL purposes)
Small tablet of toilet-soap 1, Large tablet 2; Small packet of powder 1, Large packet 2;
Half-Bar of household soap, 2; Bath-Salts, never seen;

Each person gets 24 coupons, which have had to last for varying periods. The current 24 commenced 1st Feb., and may have to last seven months. We have not been told finally yet. The demobilization of women-workers affects this very much. The question is, will many go back to these jobs?'
Big coat 18 Suit 26
Shoes 7 Overcoat 16
Vest 3 Mackintosh 16
Knickers 3 Jacket 13
Petticoat 3 Trousers 8
Corsets 3 Shoes 9
2 pr.Stockings 3 Slippers 7
1 pr.stockings 2 Vest with short sleeves 7
Dress 7 Singlet 3
Gloves 2 Underpants 4
Scarf 1 Shirt 5
4 Handkerchiefs 1 2 Handkerchiefs 1
Nightdress 6 Collar 1
Pyjamas 8 Pyjamas 8
Slippers 5 Tie 1
1 pr.Socks 1
Hats NIL, but very expensive.
Most ladies now wear a scarf over their heads, and most men now go hatless.
This week the papers say Food Rations are being studied now for reduction in the Autumn, and clothes also will have to be re-considered later on. Razor blades, hair-cream, and matches are very scarce. Paper and paper-bags are scarce, (there were no plastic bags) so we have to take our own to the shops for wrapping-up. Coal and coke are very limited even if available - our maximum next winter will be 2 tons if we can get it. Kindling-wood is in short supply, and so is paraffin in winter.
STOP PRESS! (23 v 1945)
Since writing this we have been reduced to Meat 1/-, Bacon 3oz, Cooking-Fat 1oz, Points 20, and Soap by one eighth.
For most items on coupons one had to register with a certain shop, but could spend points anywhere. Children's ration-books allowed them more of certain items, such as milk, but less of everything else.
The great bane of the poor housewives was queuing, which might take up a substantial part of their day. Even for items on coupons and points they often had to wait in long queues, and if it were rumoured that a shop had a supply of some rare commodity, long queues would soon form, and naturally and in fairness shopkeepers would display notices such as Registered Customers Only.
During the War there was no white bread. We had the National Loaf, which was not really brown either, but nearer grey.
Many who had the space and opportunity kept rabbits and chickens, and they were able to convert their egg-ration into an allowance of meal for their chickens. Fish, and various meat items, were not on the ration at all. The latter included chickens, offal (liver, kidneys, tripe, lights, et c.), and game.
. Folk in country districts were better placed of course to obtain wild rabbits, and game birds, and many town-folk reared rabbits for the table.
The Government encouraged people to grow as much as possible on allotments, and large areas of public parks were ploughed up to provide more. (Some large parks were actually farmed.) It was during wartime that the fertilizer still called National Growmore was first produced. People supplanted the flowers in their gardens with potatoes and vegetables, but there was one disadvantage to this. Greengrocers, with limited supplies, would display notices such as Regular Customers Only or they would serve non-regular customers with one pound of potatoes only. This was hardly enough for a family of six, and Daphne recalls vividly that when her father's store of home-grown potatoes was exhausted, she and her sister would be given two bags and sent to tour all the local greengrocers. They would each queue at one shop and be given one pound, then they would walk round the corner, empty one bag into the other, and one would queue with the empty bag at the next shop, and so on until they had enough.
It should be mentioned that restaurants still received food supplies, though if one did not arrive by or soon after 1200 the choice for lunch might be limited. British Restaurants (self-service, a new idea then) were established by the Ministry of Food.
Also there was a Black Market, in which stolen or otherwise illegally obtained items of food could be had if one was in the know, but most people regarded this as unpatriotic activity and would have nothing to do with it - remembering that men's lives were at risk in procuring many commodities.
As an example, a farmer might keep a pig without reporting its existence and kill it without declaring the fact; and because of the illegal nature of all subsequent transactions, the greedy often wished they had not taken part. My Uncle Bert Newport was a commercial-traveller, and customers sometimes offered opportunities. Once he was asked whether he would like some pork. It would have taken more courage than most people possessed to decline, and of course refusal would have implied ingratitude, criticism, and pejorative complications in his relations with a customer for the paint he was employed to sell, but when he arrived in the blackout to collect, he was given a whole side of pork, and had to pay a very large sum; and the family, folk having no domestic freezers then, soon became heartily sick of all this pork they had to eat. On another occasion sugar was offered, and materialized in a half-hundred-weight sack, with which he drove home in fear and trembling lest he were stopped by the Police.
After May 1945 the situation steadily became worse. Even bread was rationed, though never rationed during the War. A news item in the Bexhill Observer in February 1946 read: A small distribution of lemons took place at Bexhill on Monday. The allocation was confined to greengrocers. Queues formed, and the lemons were soon sold. Oranges were on sale on Thursday, and at an early hour there were lengthy queues of buyers. In 1951, six years after the end of the War, the meat-ration was down to 10d, plus 2d-worth of corned beef. (Two of my postcards+ from Plymouth in June 1946 were postmarked with the legend: DON'T WASTE BREAD - OTHERS NEED IT.)
On May 24th 1945 my father wrote, Many of our pubs were shut in V [Victory] week, but only because sold out - not that anybody got much drink, there is not much to be got anywhere and cigarettes are very short too. Many big tobacconists were closed all last weekend. Mum had to queue for some time to get one bot of beer for Whitsun. If you can find a pub with some beer you have to join in a scramble with many others to wait on somebody else's empty glass - as the shortage of glasses is worse than ever.
On June 6th he reported that, having been given a prescription for much-needed spectacles, there would be a delay of two months before he could have them. In September he sold his car, because the civilian ration of five gallons of petrol per month made it hardly worth keeping.
During the War, local authorities had organized Holidays at Home, which meant brass bands and orchestras, and other entertainments such as high-wire acts, in parks. There were open-air theatres. I knew of one in Finsbury Park, and one in the Embankment Gardens. Architects were then beginning to design open-air stages of cockle-shell shape to project sound.
After V.E.Day it became possible once again to contemplate seaside holidays. However, because the railways had been overloaded with military freight, hampered by shortages of men and materials, damaged by enemy action, and unable to renew their ageing rolling-stock, train-times were uncertain and one never knew whether one would find a seat, or even standing-room. If one did arrive at the seaside, one found shortages of food and drink of every kind, and of public transport for utility or for pleasure-outings by land or sea.
On June 23rd my father wrote from Torquay, where they had gone for a holiday with Grandma Jessie Davies, then 82. They decided to travel on the night train, 1130 p.m. on the Friday. Hearing of long queues, they reached Paddington at 1015, and joined a queue for an 1125 Special for Torquay. The queue was twelve-abreast, and when they reached the platform the train was full. They went to the platform for the 1130 to Penzance, which was also full, but they saw an official putting a young couple in a First-Class compartment. My father begged his indulgence, citing Grandma, and upon their promising to pay £1 extra each, gave them three seats. Others joined in, and when the ticket-collector came he said that under the circumstances they need not pay extra. It was as hot as a June night could be, and they were very squashed. The entire rather amusing account of Grandma's chirpiness, and of the shortages affecting the holiday, may be found in his letter.
In July my mother wrote despairingly that the only word she seemed to hear, when asking for commodities in shops, was No. (She was then trying to buy washing-powder.)
Those twelve years or more of privation and shortage left their mark upon those who lived through them. Newspapers and magazines all contained regular articles describing how to eke out and enhance the sparse wartime fare, how to make clothes from salvaged material, and how to overcome the many shortages by ingenuity. Perhaps those of us who were adolescents or young adults at the time, and who seemed always to feel hungry, had the greatest battle against over-eating when food again became plentiful, but many older folk, some of whom had endured the shortages of the Great War also, plus the exigencies of former poverty, felt the same urges, and many lost the battle and suffered in later life from the ills attendant upon being over-weight. Such habits persist. I still suck my fish-bones, and, like Mr. & Mrs Jack Spratt, contrive to leave the platter clean. We still feel it to be foolish and sinful to waste food. The practice of scrimping and saving, making-do and mending, and employing all kinds of subterfuge for making things last and finding alternatives for unobtainable items, is now habitual with us, and, even fifty years later, we have to make a conscious effort to overcome them when they are rendered by modern conditions ridiculous or by modern manners impolite.
It is important to remember, in the matter of clothing, that before 1945 man-made fibres were not in general use, and all natural fibres wore out much more rapidly. I have now in use for garden wear trousers which, though replaced for other reasons, are still quite sound. In those days they would have been mended and patched for as long as possible, but would have had to be discarded after having served for a much shorter time, so my readers should take this into account in attempting to understand the rigours of clothing-coupon rationing. This principle of more rapid wearing-out extended to many other items of use, - string and cord, combs, enamelled buckets and bowls, imitation-leather luggage-cases, shopping-bags, baskets, purses and wallets, - the list is endless. In line with the description of the ages of civilization which refers to the Stone-Age Man, Bronze-Age Man, and Iron-Age Man, I count myself as Plastic-Age Man.
Nothing was wasted. There were no nylon sheets, and when cotton sheets wore thin in the centre, housewives would tear them in half down the middle, and sew them sides to middle, and hem the edges. Daphne still makes pillow-cases from sound parts of discarded sheets. Housewives would unpick knitted jumpers, carefully unravelling the wool, wash the skeins to remove the wrinkles, hang them out to dry, wind the wool into balls, and re-use it. In January 1945 my mother engaged to Knit for the Navy. She received one pound of Navy wool for 2/10d, and engaged to knit two helmets and a scarf, for which the wool would just suffice. Men's trousers were slightly wider in the leg than modern fashion allows, permanent creasing was unknown, and the legs retained some wear after the seats had become thin, so many a child's skirt or pair of shorts was made from the salvaged material. Roadside skips were not thought of then, but when I pass one in the street I am often amazed at the useful timber and other materials which folk now throw away, but would then have been eagerly re-used.
Teachers particularly resorted to all kinds of inspired dodges in the face of shortages of teaching materials, perhaps the most remarkable being the white-washing of newspaper for use in art-lessons. I presume that Army Surplus Stores sprang up after the Great War, and I still see a few trading, but from 1945 they were established in every town. They were much patronized for clothing or materials such as parachute-nylon and tenting from which clothes could be made, and for radios and radio and electrical spares. I once watched a scene from a televised performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in vivid green on the three-inch screen of an adapted radar set. I rode an Army Parachutists' folding bicycle for many years, and Parachutists' mini-motorcycles were also available. I still have a ratchet-screwdriver and other tools marked with the Government broad arrow, a stirrup-pump, a signalling-lamp, and an ex-Fire-Service axe. Enterprising shopkeepers bought ex-government film and cut it to fit civilian cameras, but this sometimes proved a poor investment because it often jammed, and efforts to adjust it under the bed-clothes seldom proved successful.
On the next page you will find the surprise announcement of the beginning of clothes-rationing on June 1st 1941, with a paragraph explaining the need for the secrecy. It is perhaps not possible to compare it with the 1945 list for stringency, because much depended upon the number of coupons available for each person to use.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Rationing Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy