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Could You Feed your Family on these 1940’s Rations?

It was a difficult time during the 40’s as many men were off to war and money was scarce. Rationing started in January 1940 with bacon, butter and sugar the first to be rationed quickly followed by meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk and canned and dry fruit.

In our next ByGone Christmases round up we ask:  Could you feed your family on these rations?

Could you imagine living on these food rations from April 1945?

  • 4oz bacon and ham
  • 8oz sugar
  • 2oz loose tea
  • 2oz cheese
  • 2oz butter
  • 4oz margarine
  • 2oz lard
  • 12oz sweets -per month

With eggs also rationed, (unless you had hens of your own- which many who lived outside of town did) many people had to resort to dried egg powder.  One packed of dried egg was equal to a dozen fresh eggs and was ideal for making scrambled eggs and popular for making cakes.

Families were encouraged to transform their front and back garden and to ‘Dig for Victory’ and even the moat at the Tower of London was dug up for vegetables.  Many families grew their own vegetables and children were expected to play their part and help in the allotment.  So limited was the amount of imported fruit that many small children didn’t believe that bananas existed and oranges, although still available were reserved for pregnant women and small children.

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Potatoes and carrots were among the few vegetables that were not rationed and the Ministry of Foods tried to drum up support for these veggies.  Cullinary delights such as curried carrot, carrot jam and a drink called Carrolade were promoted and  a strong stomach and good imagination helped keep everyone fed as rationing continued.  New meat-free and eating for victory recipes, such as turnip pie, or parsnip and carrot pie appeared on the menu and favourite characters  Doctor Carrot and Potato Pete promoted these vegetables heavily.

BBC ‘Radio Allotment’ was a popular weekly radio station that gave information and reports on the 23 different vegetables that they grew.

Bread, surprisingly, was not rationed but was replaced with ‘the national loaf’ much to the disgust of most housewives who thought it was grey, mushy and caused digestion problems.  An order was passed that stated that the bread must not be sold until the day after it was baked, using the reasons that –

1. it was difficult to slice newly baked bread thinly
2. the tastieness of the just-baked bread was likely to encourage people to eat it immoderately.

Fish was not rationed but as the war progressed so the price of fish increased, until in 1941 the government stepped in and controlled the price.  The amount of fish available dropped to less than 30% of pre war levels and long queues grew outside fishmongers and fish and chip shops.  Food that was not rationed included whale meat and canned snoek fish from South Africa, but although these were readily available they were not popular.

Clothing too was rationed and the annual amount of clothing points allotted per person varied from 66 in 1942 to 24 in 1945, with extra points being given for work clothing such as overalls.  With so few allotted points it became increasingly difficult to buy essential items such as a winter coat.

  • A fully lined wool overcoat would be 18 coupons
  • A mans suit (depending on the lining) would be between 26 and 29 coupons
  • A pair of mens shoes would be 9 coupons and womens shoes  7 coupons.
  • A ladies woollen dress would be 11 coupons.

With clothing so hard to come by, it was essential that they were washed and treated with great care, usually a particular outfit was ‘set aside as a ‘good’ outfit only to be used on special occasions such as Christmas Day.   Second hand clothing was very popular as it was not rationed and did not require points to buy them and if you came from a wealthier background you could treat yourself to a fur coat which again did not require points to buy but did have a set price that most could not afford.

Prior to rationing ladies underwear often had lace and frills attached but these were banned so that the material could be saved and during 1942 when austerity measures were introduced, the number of buttons, pockets and pleats on clothing was restricted.  It wasn’t until almost the end of the decade (15th March, 1949) that clothes rationed ended.

Even the soap (no liquid sachets or automatic machines back then) was rationed, in fact, all types of soap were rationed and coupons were allotted by weight or (if liquid) by quantity.  In 1945, the ration gave four coupons each month; babies and some workers and invalids were allowed more. With 1 coupon you could have:-

  • 4 oz (113 g) bar hard soap
  • 3 oz (85 g) bar toilet soap
  • 1⁄2 oz (14 g) No. 1 liquid soap
  • 6 oz (170 g) soft soap
  • 3 oz (85 g) soap flakes
  • 6 oz (170 g) soap powder

Shortages caused problems for parents when birthdays came around as balloons were scarce and since the government said no more icing sugar  their birthday cake (if they got one) would not be iced. As  Christmas drew near many fathers saved up small pieces of wood to build a toy such as a wooden train set as a present which they would find difficult to put under the christmas tree as due to timber rationing they were almost impossible to get.

In 1945 WWII ended but rationing did not and in many cases became even harder as resources were still not available for food production.  Ration book fraud became commonplace as the ration books of those who died were kept and used for extra food rations.

It wasn’t until 1948 that bread came off ration and in 1949 the rationing of clothing ended but it was not until the fifties that rationing would end in Britain.

I wonder how we would manage if we were to lose our prepared, ready for the oven or microwave food?  How could we  make our twenty first century Christmas dinner for all the family with such rationed allowances and how would we feel about digging up the patio or our perfectly manicured front lawn in order to plant vegetables in order to survive?  Surprisingly although many foods were in short supply, most people ate a very healthy diet and very few had to watch their weight. Perhaps we should take onboard some of their food choices, walk more and take up gardening.

What tips could you give to help ration your spending?

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