Rationing and Making Do

Queues like this one in London were commonplace.

Lincolnshire Road Car encourages women when to shop in this 1942 advert from the Horncastle News

The recent coronavirus lockdown has perhaps made us more aware of the privations of wartime Britain.  We didn’t run out of many things and the full complement of foods we have come to expect were soon back on the shelves.  But, we did have to queue and that was something the housewives of Britain did for many years.

“Yesterday I queued half an hour in Woolworths for some biscuits”

-one of many instances of the inevitable queues.

‘At the Public Baths I queued for half an hour and got a good hot bath for 6d’

-As people were short of Coalite, people often had only one bath a week.

We can also relate to the request in the Horncastle News issued in September 1939 for people not to buy more food than they normally do, and if they had built up a store, to use this up first.

A week later it was made an offence to buy more than a normal week’s food, suggesting that perhaps not everyone had heeded the advice.

Food Rationing began on the 8th January 1940 with bacon, butter and sugar and was extended to other foodstuffs in 1942.

You also had to register with a particular shop for each type of rationed food stuff, so there was no more ‘shopping around’. This allowed the Government to ensure that shops received sufficient stock to supply the customers they had.

Petrol was also rationed from 1939. But by 1942 it was in such short supply that the ration was abolished completely for private use, and only individuals deemed doing work deemed essential were allowed any petrol at all.

Clothes were also rationed from June 1941, and the restrictions on the amount permitted decreased as the war went on. There were extra coupons for expectant mothers, and for children in recognition that they would soon grow out of them. But managing a family’s wardrobe required careful planning and balancing priorities, leading to much creativity and a culture of make do and mend.

Clothing ration book, complete with coupons, belonging to the Read family who lived at Langton by Horncastle

Rationing continued until well after the war had ended as can be seen from these ration books from 1953-54.

Many housewives found these continuing restrictions very difficult to accept, particularly after winning the war.

It must have been very difficult to survive on such meagre rations, as 1 egg, 1oz bacon, 2ozs cheese, 2ozs butter per person per week, or 1lb jam or marmalade per month.

The Ministry of Food produced regular tips and recipes on how to make the best of the limited ingredients, as well as novel ways to use substitutes like powdered egg. These appeared in newspapers, magazines and public information posters.

Rationing finally ended in 1958. For more information see Rationing in World War Two by Stephen Wilson.

But some people always find ways of cheating the system. There is a report from the Horncastle News in September 1941 of a local poultry dealer selling illicit sugar on his egg round without coupons. As a result the people he sold to were each fined £5 and he was fined £15. It appears from the reports that he had been offering sugar at a quite high price for some time. Profiting from selling food on ration was particularly frowned upon.

However, some local people were complimented on their growing skills – Mr Sutton of Holt Lane managed to grow 12 cwts [c. 610kg] of tomatoes on 250sq yds!

Dig for Victory was the message of the day and many people turned over their lawns to allotment beds to try to supplement their rations.

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