I have just been watching “Ration book Britain” on the Yesterday channel. It was well presented and nudged  memories of my earliest years. I had not realised that rationing started as early as January 1940 and lasted until 1954, so, for the first 15 years of my life some degree of rationing was in force.

As 70% of our food was imported, Hitler thought he could starve us into submission by sinking the supply boats.

The government realised that the health of the nation was vital to the war effort and the Ministry of Food was created. The MoF  decided that the rationing was necessary to ensure that everyone should have a fair share and they decreed what that ration should be. They also  published advice on gardening (Dig for Victory!), recipes for alternative dishes and tips on using every last scrap of food. Chicken feed was in short supply so everyone had a “swill” bucket, which went to feed chickens and pigs. Into this went outside leaves of lettuces, cabbages, carrot scrapings etc.

Wasting food was a criminal offence.

 The first things to be rationed were butter, sugar, cheese and bacon. We were each given a ration book, white for adults, blue for children and green for expectant mothers and children under 5. These had pages of coupons for the various foods and every month you were told how much each coupon was worth.

The meat ration was governed by cost, so if you bought cheaper cuts you got more meat. Many foods were rationed by availability and for these you paid “points”. Spam was widely sold and was served  in many different forms. I think fish was “off ration”.

We were very fortunate because my mother was an excellent cook and could make a tasty, filling meal with very little. We also had valuable contributions from my Auntie Cis, who lived in the country and knew “people” who had “hens that layed away” 🙂 etc. and also declared herself vegetarian thus receiving a very generous cheese allowance, which she donated to us. She also gave up sugar and that ration also made its way to our pantry!

Few ordinary people had ‘fridges and frozen food was not available so we tended to eat whatever was in season, though my mother was an expert in preserving. Our cellar was full of bottled fruit, jams, pickles, salted beans, dried fruit in fact anything that could be preserved was preserved.

My father was also a provider of treats when he came home on his infrequent leaves. After  “Operation Torch” (North Africa), he was on Atlantic convoys, so everytime he  came home from America he either brought or sent us food parcels.

There was a tremendous community spirit then and we always shared these with our extended family and friends. I can remember a parcel which arrived before one of my birthdays which contained a birthday cake made by the ship’s cook, and a dress from America. I was the envy of all  because it had a full swirly skirt and a red satin sash!

Some people were helped in the rationing when British Restaurants opened, These provided cheap (subsidised by the government) meals and were ration free. I don’t remember ever eating in them, but I hear they were very mixed in quality!!

By 1941 we had become more self sufficient in food thanks to 80,000 land girls recruited to work on the farms and the success of the Dig for victory campaign. All spare land was being used, parks, gardens and even window boxes and roof gardens. Allotments had increased from 815,000  to 1.7 million. There were three keen elderly gardeners amongst my neighbours and one of the funniest sights was seeing them rushing out with their buckets and shovels after the brewery horses had gone by and then arguing about who had the nearest house to the deposit. 🙂

Members of my brother’s gang ran a profitable business following the horses around with buckets and selling the manure to the gardeners. Never had the roads been so clean!

One of the worst aspects of rationing from a child’s point of view was when sweets were rationed in 1942. 2 oz a week! We partly assuaged our sweet teeth by eating Horlicks tablets and chewing Spanish root (the woody root of the licquorice plant)

Various cartoon characters appeared at this time with the messages, Potato Pete, Dr Carrot and Chad. Chad was often chalked on walls outside shops and words like “Wot no bananas”. The first time I saw bananas was when my father proudly brought some home from America. I was frightened out of my skin as I thought I was expected to eat ducks beaks!

When VE day came in 1945 everyone brought out all their hoarded titbits for the street parties. I don’t suppose any of the adults expected rationing to end immediately, but few would have known how dire state  the global food situation was. 

Rationing became even stricter, at times even bread and potatoes were rationed, but despite this the nation was healthier than it had been before the war. The infant mortality rate was much lower than ever before – the rationing between the wars was caused by poverty, not the stock on the shop shelves.

Once again we had help, in the years after the war, this time from our generous relatives in Canada, who sent us food parcels from time to time.

Rationing finally ended in 1954. It had lasted in Britain longer than anywhere else in Europe. It left my generation very loth to waste anything, which is why I have such difficulty throwing out anything which could have further use, much to JWs frustration!

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