8th January 1940. Rationing.
‘Don’t you know there’s a war on’: The grocer’s stock response to food shortage. However for some favoured shoppers something might be found under the counter!
Food rationing started today in 1940 in wartime Britain, an attempt in a time of extreme shortage to ensure fairness and curb inflationary pressures.
Some foods were allocated on a fixed weekly basis, whilst others were graded on a ‘points system’ enabling customers to choose how to use their allowances. Information for the rationing system was used from ID cards data which had been collected in September 1939 at the outbreak of war.
The Press weren’t initially enamoured however as Beaverbrook’s Daily Express in November 1939 noted in an editorial: ‘The public should revolt against a food rationing system’, a sentiment taken up by Beaverbrook’s chum, Churchill then First Lord of Admiralty, that there are ‘signs in the press against government control and interference with the liberty of the individual’. In fact rationing was delayed from the previous November then to December until January.
It was on November 29th 1939 that the Food Minister, W.S. Morrison had announced the rationing of butter (4oz), bacon and ham (4oz) and sugar (12oz) per person per week to begin on 8th January, though amounts were to vary over time.
Rationing was extended to meat on the 11th March 1940 and rationed by price of 1/10d per person per week, rather than weight, the cheaper the cut, the more was available, which gave people a choice between small amounts of expensive roast, steak or chops, or larger amounts of cheaper braising or stewing meat.
Meat ration fell to 1/2d then 1/0d in 1941 which led to more complaints than any other except perhaps cheese, which was itself was rationed on 5th May 1941 where allocation was to vary depending on supply.
As usual there was profiteering with a growing black market, so in January 1941 Lord Woolton now Food Minister, brought in price controls on coffee, biscuits, cocoa, jelly, custard and rice, this at a time when the average weekly working class budget was about £5.
In March 1941 the first US Lend-Lease agreement brought Spam and Mor (sweetened ham), appearing in the Strand Palace Hotel, London as ‘ballotine de jambon Valentinoise’. Then there was also snake mackerel known as snoek. (1)
Whale and horse meat were often disguised as steak, whilst shops traditionally for dog food, were now frequented for cheap cuts.
On 12th November 1941 a Ministry of Supply Order laid down that no retailer shall provide any paper for the packing or wrapping of goods, excepting foodstuffs or articles which the shopkeeper has agreed to deliver.
People got into the habit of taking their own newspaper for wrapping and fish and chip shops were grateful recipients. The author remembers being given batter-bits in exchange for taking paper.
Preserves, syrup and treacle had been rationed at 8 oz per month from March 1941, but from June 1943 could be taken in sugar which had been a summer concession since 1942.
Rationing was extended to tea (2oz) in July of that year and margarine (6oz) in conjunction with butter in a ratio according to choice, and cooking fat (2oz).
However as the government couldn’t guarantee fair shares through rationing owing to shipping losses, so additionally a points (coupons) system came in December 1941 which gave shoppers 16 ‘points’ a month to spend on other foods such as biscuits, cereals, tinned meat and fruit, beans and fish to be bought up to a points’ maximum.
By 1942 the milk ration was cut to 2 ½ pints a week and white bread was banned as the national loaf became greyer the result of extracting more flour from the wheat. Sweets and chocolate were rationed to 20 oz. Cardboard wedding cakes with chalk-icing could be hired.
The 350 biscuit varieties was reduced to 20 and ‘zoning’ to conserve transport meant Mars bars were restricted to the southern counties. Frank Cooper announced in 1942 that his Oxford Marmalade would cease owing to his factory’s requisition. Soap was rationed in 1942 and reduced to one small tablet a month.
Some goods were never rationed to maintain morale, such as alcohol and tobacco but taxed heavily and often in short supply. Beer at 6d a pint, pre-war, more than doubled in price.
(1) Lend Lease was UK military bases for food and ships.
Ref: Wikipedia.co.uk/rationing in WWII.
Ref: bbc.co/history.ww2peopleswar/ strange things on the table.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/Pic of Ration Book.
Ref: Readers Digest. Wartime Dishes/ Pic of pie.