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Wartime Hardships: Rationing in Londonicon for Recommended story

by joanstyan

Contributed by 
joanstyan
People in story: 
Joan Styan
Location of story: 
London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A2756298
Contributed on: 
17 June 2004

Wartime Hardships

Once when I was shopping for my grandma, I bought some soap powder which she wanted and which was rationed. It was a box of Oxydol. The shop assistant forgot to tick off the back page of my grandma's ration book confirming that she had had her soap powder quota for the month. I then went back to the shop and told the assistant of her omission and she immediately rectified it and ticked it off. My grandma thought I was quite mad and said, "You silly girl. If you hadn't taken my ration book back, I could have had an extra box of soap powder." I was upset about this as I was always taught to be honest and thought I was doing the right thing. However, rationing was hard and we were so often deprived that we were all glad of any perks that came our way.

We were only allowed 5 inches of bath water per family once a week so we had to share the same bath water. Also only one toilet roll was allowed per family per week. Coal was almost non-existent and we were officially only allowed 1 gas-ring for cooking dinner.

We were constantly being told to dig for victory and many had allotments and vegetable gardens and there were even plots in town parks and schools including mine. Also Pig Clubs were encouraged and Peter, my husband, was a member of his Hampton Grammar School club. One fateful Sunday when it was his turn to feed the pigs, he discovered, to his horror, that the gate of the pigsty had been left unlocked and all the pigs had fled. After much searching, he finally caught up with them after cycling around the school fields and managed patiently to shepherd them back to the sty. They were actually next to a gate leading on to the road. He was so relieved as he would have been held responsible for their loss. The pigs, when fattened up, were consigned to a butcher for conversion to bacon and pork joints which were sold to the pupils of the school on behalf of their parents.

Clothes rationing

Clothes rationing was difficult and we wore clothes with the 'Utility' symbol sewn inside signifying that they were basic, serviceable and good value, but I must say they looked very drab. Fortunately my mother made our clothes whenever she could. Skirts were shorter and even men's trouser turn-ups were sacrificed to save material.

There were no nylon stockings, only rayon and lisle, and many of the older girls coloured their legs with tan cream or gravy browning and just prayed that it didn't rain. A friend would draw a seam down the back with an eyebrow pencil. The only nylons that were available were on the 'black market' which was illicit trading at an exorbitant price, and also from the Americans, if the girls were lucky!

My mother often used the word 'serviceable' to describe any clothing I had bought, which I hated as it was just another way of saying 'Utility'. She religiously neatly darned our socks and stockings like everyone else did during the war years. One day, much later, in peacetime, she was trying on some shoes in Clapham Junction when the young assistant asked her what was the mark on the heel of her stocking? She had never seen a darn before.

Mum was a fantastic knitter and created many warm garments. We spent a lot of time knitting for the armed forces, I have never knitted so many scarves. However, at my age they were much easier to knit than gloves. We also knitted squares and sewed them together for blankets. Even boys, including Peter and my brother Ken, did their bit.

Friday night was called 'Amami’ night because we washed our hair with a shampoo made by Amami which you can still buy today. This resulted in us staying in as it took a long time to dry, especially if we had long hair as I did, because we had no hair dryers and always had to towel dry it. We never even had hot water until we heated it in kettles or saucepans. 'I'm staying in to wash my hair,' became the standard excuse if we didn't want to go out with a boyfriend.

Bath toiletries and soap were very difficult to obtain. Only coloured bath salts were available, which my mother said were coloured soda crystals so she bought boxes of pure white soda to soften the bath water because it was much cheaper. Yellow 'Sunlight' soap was used for washing clothes by hand as there were no washing machines, let alone dryers, and red 'Lifebuoy' which contained some disinfectant, was our toilet soap. I cherished a little bottle of cheap perfume called 'Evening In Paris' which was in a deep blue bottle and the aroma was quite pungent. I really treasured it and kept it for special occasions, even though I had only bought it from Woolworths. 'Californian Poppy' was also another of my favourites.

Wartime food

We ate basic foods at the British Restaurants which we were told 'nourished the masses'. These restaurants offered simple meals such as minced beef with parsnips, greens and potatoes. Minced meat was sold at the butchers when available, but my mother was always dubious about its content.

Spam from the U.S.A. was in common use to make up for the shortage of fresh meat. We normally ate at home enjoying our mother's nutritious cooking. She was obsessed with making us eat all our vegetables especially our greens. During the war, any leftovers from meals were kept for the next day. We often had 'bubble and squeak', a British term for cooked greens and cooked potatoes mixed and fried up. My mother made this on a Monday if there were any leftovers from our Sunday dinner.

Fruit was almost non-existent except for apples, which were home grown. The saying: 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away,' may well have originated during the war. We never saw bananas or oranges. All children were allocated milk, cod-liver oil and orange juice. We often had to resort to dried milk (sold in blue tins), dried eggs (sold in red tins) and dried potatoes.

My mother tried so hard to keep us children nourished to the extent that she regularly denied herself. Tinned fruit was also rationed as were fish, cereals and biscuits etc. At least home-grown vegetables were encouraged by the 'Dig For Victory' campaign. Rationing began in 1940, including sweets, which was a real blow to us children.

Mum readily exchanged her tea coupons from her ration book for sugar coupons with a neighbour as she was in greater need of sugar than tea with three young children. Butter and bacon were severely rationed and we constantly used margarine, the taste of which revolted me and still does even today. I'm definitely one of the few that can tell Stork from butter!

We were allowed one egg each per fortnight. The rich were hit the same as the poor and, whatever we wanted, we had to queue for. Queue, queue, queue. What patience and stamina we must have had. However, we were so grateful for anything and everything we could get. The standard phrase from the customer to the shop assistant was: 'Is there anything under the counter?' We were only allowed 2 ounces of butter each week so we often had bread and dripping or condensed milk on our bread. The hardships seemed endless.

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Message 1 - Home Front

Posted on: 10 June 2005 by WW2_filmer

Hi I'm A 13 year old girl who is studying the home front at school. I am finding it hard to find real information about people's experiences. Can any people who experienced the rationing or evacuation or anything reply to this message. Thank You!

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