Some have drawn similarities between our current situation and the Second World War – long queues outside shops, empty shelves and rationing of items in our supermarkets.

At the beginning of the Second World War, Britain imported 60% of its food. With the shortage of food during the First World War still fresh in the memory, the government introduced the food rationing scheme in January 1940.

Every man, woman and child received a ration book and each home had to register with a local butcher, grocer and milkman, who received enough food for their registered customers. The first foods to be rationed were butter, sugar, bacon and ham. Over a period of time, more food was added to the system, and the rationed amount varied from month to month dependent on the availability of different foods.

A typical ration for one adult per week was:

  • Bacon and ham 4 oz
  • Butter 2 oz
  • Cheese 2 oz
  • Margarine 4 oz
  • Cooking fat 4 oz
  • Milk 3 pints
  • Sugar 8 oz
  • Jam 1lb every 2 months
  • Tea 2 oz
  • Eggs 1 egg a week, if available
  • Powdered egg packet every 4 weeks

Children received additional foods essential for their growth and development such as milk, orange juice and cod liver oil.

The Ministry of Food started publishing Food Facts pamphlets in 1940, and magazines, newspapers and daily radio programmes such as The Kitchen Front and the Radio Doctor were full of ideas and recipes to enable families to make the most of the weekly rations.

Dig for Victory

To help make the family rations last until the week, the 'Dig for Victory' campaign was launched in October 1939, encouraging families to grow their own food. Lawns and flowerbeds were turned into vegetable gardens. People were urged to keep chickens, rabbits, goats and pigs – a particularly popular animal as it ate any leftovers from the kitchen.

Potato Pete and Doctor Carrot – two characters created to promote vegetable eating appeared in most recipes. People were also encouraged to experiment with new and unusual foods. One fish which proved very unpopular was the modern favourite - tuna, while less suprisingy, whale meat was even less popular!

End of the war

Food shortages worsened at the end of the war. The dry weather and poor harvest of 1945 affected the availability of both potatoes and bread, which were rationed for the first time. By 1948, the food allowance on average was much lower than during the war.

It wasn’t until the early 1950s that food started to come ‘off’ ration. Restrictions on tea were lifted in 1952 – a huge relief for a nation of tea drinkers. Eggs, cream, sugar and sweets were removed from the system in 1953 and butter, cheese and cooking oil in 1954.

Fourteen years of rationing ended on 4 July 1954 when restrictions were lifted on meat and bacon.

Leave a comment