Rationing 1940-1954

I was born in 1944. My first two years I and my two older brothers were evacuated with our mother to a small terraced house in Bolton (Lancashire). We returned to London in 1946. I remember shopping with my Mum one summer’s day, and in each shop we went in she was asked for her ‘ration book’. A cross was placed against each purchase, showing that she’d received her allotted amount of that product. This depended on the shopkeeper having the items in the shop in the first place. The system was supposed to be fair to everyone but richer people bought their goods on the ‘black market’, which was completely illegal but very well known to everyone.

Years later we’d talk about rationing and Dad recalled the first item to be rationed was petrol. That began on the 8th April 1940. That didn’t affect him at all, as he didn’t have a car. Mum said she was very effected by bread shortages. Many of the of the cargo ships were torpedoed and sunk, but later bread wasn’t rationed at all. Meat and bacon were strictly rationed for the same reason and even with a ration book were not always available at the butcher’s. Sugar, jam and biscuits were all limited as was (I was surprised to learn) cereal, tea and dried fruit. Other staple foods that she and other housewives had difficulty in getting more of than the ration allowed, were eggs and cheese. Both of these were essentials and many housewives used the black market to get more than their ration book allowed. All things considered it was very hard to feed Dad, herself and three growing boys. However we didn’t go hungry.

Fortunately, we lived in a big old rented house with a garden, so Dad turned his hand to gardening. Potatoes, peas, rhubarb, onions and beetroot cabbage, runner beans and lettuce were the main crops that he grew. We always had plenty. In the autumn we had a  fruits like blackberry, strawberry and other’s  from the bushes and plants right at the back of the garden.

Many people kept chickens and rabbits in their gardens in the heart of the war torn London. These were, of course, there to supplement the meat ration and to extend our meals from the absolute basics that you got from the ration book. Feathers were useful in pillows and a poor man’s eiderdown, whilst the rabbit fur from breeds like ‘blue bevins’, could be sold as a lucrative trade extra. These were was used in ladies hats, coat collars and other dress accessories.

I don’t doubt that those war years were extremely difficult for everyone. However, people did manage one way or another. The imposed austerity lasted right up until 1954, some fourteen years after it began. Children were delighted that sweet rationing was lifted, but even that small concession had health ramifications. Soft drinks such as Tizer, Cream–soda Lemonade, and later Fanta, all added what are now major problems.  Perhaps given the obesity of some children and adults today it might be wise to use rations as a guide to a good diet.

Mike

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