World War II rationing began with bacon, butter and sugar on 8 January 1940, and lasted until 4 July 1954, when restrictions on meat and bacon were finally lifted. Fourteen years of making do and becoming inventive with the food, that was available.
The government realised that they were importing 50 million tons of food by marine conveys. This dropped to 12 million as the German U-Boats (the Wolf Packs) began attacking the Atlantic conveys with great loss of life and goods. Food shortages were to become the norm for the population.
National registration began with everybody being issued with identity cards and ration books.
GREEN Pregnant or nursing women, and children under the age of five. (These groups got first choice on food supplies)
BLUE Children aged 5 to 16. (Made sure they got fruit, a full meat ration and half pint of milk daily).
A typical weekly allowance (for an adult):
Other meat or two chops
Cooking Fat 4oz
Milk 3 Pints
Preserves 1lb (every two months)
Eggs 1 fresh (and dried egg)
Sweets 12oz (every four weeks)
Imagine trying cooking with these ingredients. Thankfully, bread was not rationed. Neither were fruit and vegetables. Many people grew their own in back yards and on allotments, as well as keeping rabbits and chickens for extra meat. Much public land was used for the use of growing of these, including parks and cricket pitches. People were encouraged to ‘Dig For Victory.’
People had to register with local shops, there were no supermarkets at this time, only small individual shops. So queueing and shortages were common and a part of wartime life as people travelled between shops searching for their allowances. Once they had collected their goods, the items would be crossed off by staff or ripped out of the ration book, so that they couldn’t be used again.
Tinned goods, dried fruit, cereals and biscuits could all be obtained via a points system. People living in rural areas found it easier to obtain items such as eggs and butter.
Because of shortages, people ate out if they could afford it. There was no rationing but the menu could be a bit limited. Workers often ate in the works canteen for the same reason.
Rationing allowed everybody to have equal amounts in a time of restriction. It allowed those of lower income to be able to get food, and to stop the practice of hoarding. Even so there was a well-used Black Market for those who wished to use it.
Items such as clothes, soap and petrol were also rationed for most of the war. People accepted what was required of them, and though they missed much. There was food and they became very resourceful and inventive. Recipes can still be found online or in books.
If you would like to try your hand at some wartime recipes, look at our book, Dig For Victory