River Wissey Lovell Fuller


May 2004

Ron remembers the rationing and shortages of the 1940's

Following on from the item on shopping in the 1930s I thought it might be interesting for the younger reader to have some details of rationing during the war. What I have written below is largely based on my memory combined with what I could ascertain without serious research. I believe it to be correct in the essentials but I would be pleased to hear from anyone who can correct or add to this summary.


Rationing was first introduced in January 1940. Ration books were provided for everybody, children's books were a different colour to allow for any variations in allowances between children and adults.

Items rationed at this stage were: Bacon (or ham) 4oz (113gm)

Sugar 12oz (339gm), subsequently reduced to 8oz (226gm)

Butter 4oz (113gm)

These amounts were per person per week

The use of white sugar icing on cakes by bakers and confectioners was banned

Meat rationing followed in March, this was rationed on price so that you could choose to have more of the cheaper cuts. The actual amount was 1s10d (9.2p) per person per week. A family of 6 could have one leg of lamb for a week's ration

Sausages, offal, poultry, game and meat pies remained off ration. Needless to say the amount of meat in the sausages and pies became a joke. Sausages were sometimes referred to as breadcrumbs in battledress. The words of a popular song of the time included "I don't see me in your eyes anymore", these were changed, I remember, by someone who rewrote the song including the words "I don't see meat in your pies anymore". Restaurants were permitted to continue to serve meat without requiring coupons, but their supplies were strictly limited.

In July 1940 rationing of tea, fats, cheese, jams/conserves and eggs was introduced.

The amounts were: Tea 2 oz (53gm) per person per week

Lard/Margarine 2oz per person per week

Cheese 4oz per person per week

Jams, 8 oz (227gm) per person per four week period

Eggs, one per person per week

Sweets 8 oz (227gm) per person per four week period

In November 1941 a further rationing system was introduced based on 'points'. Each person had an allocation of 16 points per month. A range of foodstuffs, mainly tinned food, were available on points. Spam and dried egg were popular ways of spending points. I cannot give an example of the points value of different items, but the ration was fairly meagre. Prior to the introduction of points many tinned foods had largely disappeared from the shops and were only available to favoured customers or on the black market.

When looking at these rations it needs to be remembered that virtually all food for the average household was home cooked, there were no ready meals, of course, and no ready made desserts. It was a time of considerable inventiveness for food dishes, many of which could hardly be described as a great success.

Milk was not rationed until later when the ration was 2.5 pints per adult per week. Children were allowed more, they also received one third of a pint free at school each day. Very young children received a generous ration of concentrated orange juice and cod liver oil. Bread was not rationed until after the war when it did go on ration for a short time, but it was dark in colour and often in rather short supply. 'British Restaurants' or 'Civic Restaurants' were set up by the government all over the country to provide food for the workers, also there were works canteens, of course. These meals were fairly basic and low in meat content but were available off ration. School dinners were truly appalling most of the time and there was real pressure to ensure that it was not wasted. The government urged people to eat more vegetables and to grow more. Everybody was encouraged to eat more potatoes with posters with a character called Potato Pete, they suggested various ways of using potatoes including mashed potato sandwiches. Food that was not rationed such as fish and poultry were in short supply, as was fresh fruit, the import of bananas was banned in December 1940. Fish shops would have queues as soon as they opened and would often be closed by 10.30 a.m.. Fried fish shops were open when they could get the fish, most of them stretched their fish supplies by selling fritters or fish cakes. The government found it necessary to introduce price controls on many foods in order to prevent suppliers and shopkeepers from profiteering.


Clothes rationing was introduced in 1941, the allowance was 66 coupons per person per year An overcoat required 16 coupons, trousers 8, dress 11, skirt 7, blouse 5, shoes 5, stockings 2, 2 handkerchiefs 1, two ounces of knitting wool 1. In June 1942 the ration was reduced to 46 for men and 50 for women. Quite apart from the requirement for coupons a period of austerity was also introduced which involved a ban on trouser turn-ups and some pockets as well as a strict restriction on pleats. Once again the situation generated a good deal of inventiveness as well as a lot of make do and mend. Girls painted their legs, using all kinds of home made colouring, and drew a line down the back of their legs to simulate the seams of the stockings.

Other Rationing

Soap was rationed from February 1942, 4 oz (113gm) of household soap, or 2 oz of toilet soap or soap flakes, per person per week.

In those days nearly all homes were heated by coal burning fires. Coal was rationed to one ton (or one tonne if you like) per household per month, although I think this was not very effectively enforced, sometimes the merchant claimed he could not obtain sufficient supplies to meet this ration.

Petrol was rationed at the outset of the war and from mid 1940 petrol was only allowed for essential use. Any individual that believed his need was essential could apply, although the authorities might well have had a different view. The majority of cars owned by town dwellers were taken off the road for the duration of the war. Rationing for 'leisure' purposes was reintroduced in 1945. This was allocated according to the size of the car with the aim of permitting 90 miles per month.


Apart from items that were rationed there were many other things that were in short supply; including cigarettes, especially the popular brands, batteries, razor blades, needles, hair grips combs, spirits, beer, cosmetics, toys etc etc. Wines were practically non existent. Very few of these items were ever on display in shops and were kept 'under the counter' available only to regular customers. Newspapers were restricted to two sheets at one stage, just giving eight pages

Goods produced for the home market during the government's austerity period were of good quality but plain and simple, the 'utility mark' of two circles each with a segment cut out followed by 41, appeared on many items especially furniture and clothing. Everything had to be such that it minimised the amount of raw material used and the amount of labour required to produce it. An example of this was in chinaware where only simple white crockery could be produced.

In May 1945, at the end of the war rations were cut further; fat was cut from 2oz to 1oz, bacon cut to 3oz and soap reduced by one eighth. It was well into the 1950s before all rationing was finished in the UK, long after rationing had ended in Germany, a sore point with many.

Ron Watts

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