Thursday, 21 April 2016

Rationing Begins

On the 8th January 1940, rationing began in Great Britain. In the beginning, only bacon, butter, and sugar were rationed. Individuals were issued ration books which contained coupons to be presented at the time of purchase.

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As the war progressed, more food items were rationed. But the plans behind the rationing of Britain's food had been drawn up as early as late 1936. When it was first announced in November 1939 that rationing was to be introduced, the press had a field day and launched into a tirade of scathing attacks in the newspapers and magazines of the day.

Bacon and ham were rationed to 4oz per week, sugar to 12oz and butter to 4oz. Later, in March, meat was included on the list. From July 1940, cooking fats and tea were added and later in 1941, preserves and cheese were included. Sweets were rationed. Other goods such as tinned foods, biscuits and cereals were rationed using a points system. Fruit and vegetables were not rationed but were often in very short supply.

In 1939, petrol was rationed and walking, catching the bus or cycling became the main mode of getting around. Clothes would be rationed later from June 1941 and soap in February 1942. Naturally opportunists seized the moment to make money and the black market sprang up. Goods could be bought without coupons for very high prices. By March 1941, around 2,300 people had been prosecuted for black market profiteering.
Rationing would continue until the 30th June 1954.

The Ministry of Food, headed by Lord Woolton, launched a massive advertising campaign to help the british people manage on the ration. In cinemas across the nation they broadcast their campaign and also printed advertisements in the weekly press. The BBC broadcast "The Kitchen Front" over six mornings each week. They introduced Dr. Carrot and Potato Pete, as a means of encouraging children to eat their vegetables. Leaflets were produced, posters too were displayed at stations advertising recipes for meals. One of the main concerns Lord Woolton and the Ministry had, was to ensure that the poorest did not suffer. In fact, during the war years, the rationing campaign was so successful that the wealthy ate less, and the poorest quite possible ate better, according to statistics available from the period, with children having access to free orange juice, cod liver oil and extra milk. Of course everyone found it incredibly difficult and hunger became the norm, especially as shortages gripped the nation.

picture courtesy of wikimedia commons

Lord Woolton led the campaign "Dig for Victory," an initiative set up by Scottish Professor John Raeburn. This campaign encouraged the nation to transform their gardens and any spare patch of green, into a vegetable patch. The Government realised that Britain could be starved by a sea blockade and so measures were taken to maximise food production. Ordinary householders grew vegetables for the very first time, and many a lush green lawn was turned over and transformed into vegetable beds. The ladies of the WI all over the country treaded the lanes where hedges grew and enjoyed days of berry picking, collecting up as much of the wild crops as they could muster for jam making.

For the people, they were doing something very worthwhile, and they were making a vital contribution to the war effort, feeding themselves as well as the nation. It was also a fantastic way of keeping fit. Children would return home late afternoon after their school day, pick up a spade and go out into the garden and dig. It was something almost everyone could be involved in.

Next time: Dunkirk.