Bringing History to Life
World War II began in September 1939 but it was not until January 8th, 1940 that the first foods - bacon, butter and sugar - were rationed. Successive ration schemes for meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk and canned and dried fruit quickly followed. Almost all foods apart from vegetables and bread were rationed by August 1942. Strict rationing inevitably created a black market, however. Almost all controlled items were rationed by weight, except meat which was rationed by price. For 1s 2d about 540 g (1 lb 3 oz) of meat could be bought.
Game meat such as rabbit and pigeon were not rationed, but were not always available. Offal and sausages were only rationed from 1942 to 1944. When sausages were not rationed, the meat needed to make them was so scarce that they often contained a high proportion of bread. For vegetarians, their meat ration was substituted by other goods.
Fresh vegetables and fruit were not rationed but supplies were limited. Some types of imported fruit all but disappeared. Lemons and bananas became unobtainable for most of the war; oranges continued to be sold but greengrocers customarily reserved them for children and pregnant women, who could prove their status by producing their distinctive ration books. Other domestically grown fruit such as apples still appeared from time to time, but again the sellers imposed their own restrictions so that customers were often not allowed to buy, for example, more than one apple each.
Many people grew their own vegetables, greatly encouraged by the highly successful "Dig for Victory" motivational campaign instigated by the Ministry of Food. In 1942 many children aged between five and seven became so used to wartime restrictions that when questioned about bananas, many could not believe they existed.
Wartime rationing included one egg a week if available, but this could drop to one egg every two weeks. Eggs were typically "allocated to ordinary consumers as available"; in 1944 thirty allocations of one egg each were made. Children and some invalids were allowed three a week; expectant mothers two on each allocation. To supplement the ration, one packet of egg powder per month (making 12 eggs) was allocated every 4 weeks.
In addition, each person was also allocated 24 "points" for four weeks with which they could buy one tin of fish or meat, or 900g (2 lb) of dried fruit, or 3.6kg (8 lb) of split peas.
Did You Know? School meals were started in the war because mothers were working extremely long hours to help the war effort.