The Kitchen Front
The Winter of 1939-40 was the coldest for 45 years. Water pipes froze, coal supplies ran out, roads and pavements were like sheets of glass. The Thames froze over, as did the River Ribble in Lancashire, and for 3 weeks ice in the Humber held ships prisoner. Cars stuck in snowdrifts, villages were cut off and 1,500 miles of railway were blocked by snow. Ice more than a foot thick covered the water tanks the AFS (Auxillary Fire Service) would need if an air raid came to London. Milk froze solid on the doorsteps, and on the larder shelves. The shops were bare of vegetables, which could not be dug from the iron-hard frozen earth, and in the New Year another privation hit British households that was nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the war. J.G. Wartime
Food rationing began on 8th January 1940.
Before the outbreak of war the government had imported and stored a large amount of food, but this would only last so long and the end of the war was not in sight. Soon, for those that had the means, people started to stock up on certain food items; meat and fish in cans or glass jars, flour, suet, canned or dried milk, sugar, tea, cocoa and biscuits.
Everyone was issued with a food ration card and had to register to buy their food from specific shops. The shop was then issued with the relevant amount of food for the number of registered customers. However, as food was in short supply the shops often did not receive enough for all their customers. News that a delivery had arrived at the shop spread fast and long queues soon formed as everyone was keen to get their share before it was all sold.
Rationing, the government explained, would ‘prevent waste of food, increase our war effort, divide our supplies equally. There will be ample supplies for our 44½ million people, but we must divide them fairly, everyone being treated alike. Your ration book assures you of your fair share. Rationing means there will be no uncertainty- and no queues.’ How wrong they were.
The amounts of food items which were allocated to each person varied from time to time through out the war depending on availability.
The typical rations per person per week were:
- Meat: approx. 6 ounces (150g)
- Eggs: 1
- Fats (butter, margarine and lard): 4 ounces (100g)
- Cheese: 4 ounces (100g)
- Bacon: 4 ounces (100g) initially only 2 ounces (50g)
- Sugar: 8 ounces (200g) initially 12 ounces (300g)
- Tea: 2 ounces (50g)
- Sweets: 2 ounces (50g)
One of the first ways in which the way the war made itself felt to the ordinary housewife was in the sudden disappearance of onions, due to the loss of supplies from the Channel Islands and Brittany. The Ministry of Agriculture had already given farmers cash incentives to cultivate more land and to produce more crops including onions, and by 1942 Britain was growing suffiicent onions for them not to be rationed but were never abundant.
Fruit was in very short supply, but was not rationed; only fruit which could be grown in Britain, such as apples, pears, raspberries, black berries and strawberries was sometimes available. Imported fruit such as bananas, oranges and peaches were not available in the shops. Men returning from overseas duty would sometimes bring a few home for their families and sometimes they were for sale from sailors in the dockyards. The price was always high!
Bread was not rationed during the war, although white flour was in short supply, so wartime bread was mainly wholewheat.
Milk was not rationed although the amount available varied.
Fish was never rationed either, but it was a scarce treat. By 1941 the price of fish had increased seventeen-fold. The Ministry of Food tried to encourage housewives to buy different varieties:
When fisher folk are brave enough,
To face mines and the foe for you,
You surely can be bold enough,
To try fish of a kind that’s new.
The shortage of eggs was acute, unless you kept chickens in the back garden, and in 1942 people were being allocated slightly more than one egg a fortnight per person. The government introduced dried eggs to compensate and a tin or packet to the equivalent of 12 eggs was allowed every 2 months. People did not take to these very well and so were often used in cakes and puddings.
People were very quick to realise that life was going to be a lot better if they could keep a few hens themselves, grow their own vegetables and fruit and even join up to one of the many ‘pig clubs’ where you donated your kitchen waste to feed a pig and share the rewards come the dastardly day!