History Podcasts

Food Shortages and Rationing WW2

Food Shortages and Rationing WW2

Before the Second World War started Britain imported about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries. Understandably, the German government did what they could to disrupt this trade. One of the main methods used by the Germans was to get their battleships and submarines to hunt down and sink British merchant vessels. With imports of food declining, the British government decided to introduce a system of rationing. This involved every householder registering with their local shops. The shopkeeper was then provided with enough food for his or her registered customers.

In January, 1940, bacon, butter and sugar were rationed. Rationing was popular with the people and a Gallup Poll showed over 60 per cent in favour of this system.

However, many small shopkeepers complained about the strategy used by food inspectors of employing people to encourage the breaking of the law. In December 1940, Isabella Tompsett was employed in Stepney to visit butchers' shops and attempt to buy meat without coupons. As a result three butchers in one road were heavily fined for this offence. These undercover officials acting as agents provacateurs, were severely criticised in the press.

Food inspectors in Hendon were also criticised for using a team of women who tried to trick shop assistants into selling goods without coupons. The scheme involved the customer handing over her ration book and asking for two ounces of tea. When the shop assistant had almost finished serving her, the customer changed her mind and asked for four ounces. If the shop assistant forgot to take out a second two ounce coupon, they would be charged with breaking rationing restrictions. In a short period 59 Hendon shopkeepers were successfully prosecuted for this offence.

It was announced that in March 1941, under the Food Control Order, the system of rationing, 2,141 prosecutions were brought and there were 1,994 convictions, a success rate of 93.1 per cent. The following month this had increased to 2,300 prosecutions and 2,199 convictions (95.6 per cent). The General Secretary of the National Association of Outfitters complained that small traders had become the "most persecuted class in the whole of the country".

In the summer of 1940 the government established a committee of nutritional experts to advise the War Cabinet on food policy. The committee issued a report claiming that each citizen could survive on twelve ounces of bread, a pound of potatoes, two ounces of oatmeal, an ounce of fat, six ounces of vegetables and six-tenths of a pint of milk per day, supplemented either by small amounts of cheese, pulses, meat, fish, sugar, eggs and dried fruit. Winston Churchill was concerned by the implications of this proposal and the advice was not published.

Some people considered food rationing to be very unfair. Eggs, butter and meat could be obtained fairly easily without coupons in rural areas. By the summer of 1941 greengrocers were taking their lorries into the country to buy vegetables direct from growers.

The open-air markets at Romford soon developed a reputation for being a good place to buy black market goods. Traders relied on tic-tac men to signal the approach of the police or known trading inspectors. Local newspapers published stories of market-traders doing a great trade in selling goods without coupons.

Another strategy at Romford was for traders to sell new clothes labelled as "second-hand" or "shop-soiled". For example, a secondhand suit could be sold without coupons providing the price was not more than £2 12s.

By using undercover inspectors the government gradually got Romford market under control. However, the situation deteriorated when over 100,000 ration books were stolen from the Ministry of Food offices in Romford. Valued at being worth over £500,000, these were quickly sold to people wishing to buy goods legally from the market.

(If you are enjoying this article, please feel free to share. You can follow John Simkin on Twitter and Google+ or subscribe to our monthly newsletter)

The Food Control Officer in Brighton discovered that 80,000 ration books had been stolen from the Royal Pavilion (Brighton Food Office). An undercover policeman eventually agreed to buy the missing ration books. When the gang was arrested it was discovered the ring-leader was the Woman Enforcement Officer at the Brighton office who had reported the theft. She was later sent to prison for three years.

In August 1940 the government passed legislation that made the waste of food a prisonable offence. One of the first to be prosecuted was J. Lyons Ltd who was fined for allowing mice to eat food in its kitchens.

It was also an offence for restaurants to serve fish and meat at a single sitting. When the Odean Theatre in Streatham was found guilty of this offence, the manageress and two of her waitresses were fined for "aiding and abetting the serving of both meat and fish to an assistant enforcement officer".

The government announced in September 1939, that petrol was rationed. Initially small allowance of petrol was allowed for private motorist but this was brought to an end in the summer of 1942 after the Japanese Army occupied Malaya and the success of the U-boat attacks on the Atlantic convoys.

Ivor Novello, the songwriter, was sent to prison for eight-weeks after he had fraudulently obtained petrol for his Rolls-Royce car. His friend, the actor and playwright, Noel Coward, was convicted for currency racketeering. Another high profile conviction concerned Major-General Sir Percy Laurie, the Provost Marshal of Great Britain. He was found guilty of illegally obtaining a second ration book.

Other goods such as cigarettes and alcohol were never officially rationed, but were often in short supply. Some shopkeepers kept their limited stocks for their favourite customers. This created a great deal of bad feeling and it was not uncommon for shopkeepers to be reported to the Ministry of Food.

Children were treated differently from adults and were entitled to extra foods considered essential for growth, such as milk and orange juice. The National Milk Scheme provided one pint of milk for every child under five. Expectant mothers and young children were entitled to free milk if the combined income of parents was less than 40 shillings a week.

The food rationing system gave people the opportunity to obtain a balanced diet and as a result the health of the nation improved during this period.

People were encouraged to provide their own food. The government's Dig for Victory campaign called for every man and woman to keep an allotment. Lawns and flower-beds were turned into vegetable gardens. Chickens, rabbits, goats and pigs were reared in town gardens.

Clothing was rationed from June, 1941. A points system allowed people to buy one completely new outfit a year. To save fabric, men's trousers were made without turnups, while women's skirts were short and straight. Frills on women's underwear were banned.

Women's magazines were packed with handy hints on how, for example, old curtains might be cut up to make a dress. Stockings were in short supply so girls coloured their legs with gravy browning. Sometimes a friend would draw a line down the back of their legs with an eyebrow pencil for a seam.

In May 1943, the annual clothing coupon allowance was cut from 48 to 36 per adult. Later this number of coupons was cut to 20. When one considers that a coat needed 18 coupons this reduction caused serious problems for people.

Have you done justice to rabbit production? Although-rabbits are not by themselves nourishing, they are a pretty good mitigation of vegetarianism. They eat mainly grass and greenstuffs, so what is the harm in encouraging their multiplication in captivity?

I welcome your increase of the meat ration, but it would be a pity to cut this down in the winter, just when fresh vegetables will also drop. Can you not get in additional supplies of American corned beef, pork, and bacon to bridge the winter gap? The more bread you force people to eat the greater the demands on tonnage will be. Reliance on bread is an evil which exaggerates itself. It would seem that you should make further efforts to open out your meat supplies.

I view with great concern any massacre of sheep and oxen. The reserve on the hoof is our main standby.

It is always difficult to hold the balance between the need for increasing total food supplies and the need to maintain a fair distribution. We should not be too hard on the private individual who increases his supplies by his own productive efforts.

It is satisfactory that the meat prospects are improving, and I hope that pressure on the United States to increase her pork output will soon enable us to raise the ration without risk of having subsequently to reduce it.

We do not wish to create a grievance among farmers by compelling them to slaughter beasts which they can fatten without imported feeding stuffs; on the other hand of course the country cannot go hungry because farmers do not choose to bring their beasts to market.

It will no doubt be possible to arrange with the Minister of Agriculture, perhaps by a carefully worked out price policy, a scheme which will keep the meat supply as constant as possible having regard to seasonal factors.

As to wheat, the point I had in mind was not so much our stock as I the danger of getting into a vicious circle: people eat more bread owing to a shortage of meat, and thereby compel you to import more wheat, thus reducing the shipping space available for bringing in other foods. I do not believe there is great danger of the harvest being destroyed by the enemy this year. We have found it very hard to burn crops, and if you will ask the Air Ministry they will explain to you why the dew conditions in this country make it even harder here than on the Continent.

It must have been about this time that the British Restaurants were opening, with their austerity jam roll and meat balls; and our own meals were beginning to rely rather more on rissoles and home-made apple sponge. But my mother was always a good manager, and I have no sense of any sudden period of shortage or of going hungry.

Sweets were the great loss. There was no longer an everlasting, teeth-spoiling fountain of sherbet and liquorice, or of Boy Blue cream whirls, or of Cadbury's Caramello. Sweets were hard to come by, and then limited to a fixed ration.

One of the worst casualties was chocolate. The traditional division into milk and plain disappeared, and an awful intervening variety known as Ration Chocolate was born, issued in semi-transparent grease-proof wrappers, and about as appetizing as cardboard. In spite of a lifelong sweet tooth, I could never eat it.

I vividly remember school food, which went from the mediocre to the unspeakable. We had mincemeat, potato or cabbage, some kind of milk pudding, a lot of stodge, with sauces that became more and more watery. Somebody had made a killing in salted cod in Iceland, which stank to high heaven. I suppose it had a lot of protein, but that was its only virtue. At one stage lunch consisted of rather watery soup, based on onions, followed by hunks of bread and cheese - that was our economy measure. Good red meat, which was rationed rather strictly, we had twice a week. After the American invasion we had such delights as spam - spiced ham - and prem - pressed meat. One wag said that in that case dried eggs, which were in plentiful supply, should be called dregs. Then there was a baker in the local shop who produced fresh hot rolls, which were our mainstay during break. Sweets were rationed, the making of ice-cream was banned after 1942, on the grounds that, though it was popular with children and invalids, it had no food value, and was a diversion of scarce resources. All meat became very scarce. Some extra account was taken of the needs of growing children, so there was an institutional ration as well as a family ration. So our diet became increasingly monotonous. There were pies which were based on potato and carrot and - we thought it was sawdust - soya beans.

You say that you would have preferred to bring sweets and chocolates within the points scheme, and hope to do so subsequently. Would it not be better to postpone rationing of them until you are able to do so? If you introduce a sweets ration now all the forces of conservatism and arguments of administrative economy will be arrayed against any subsequent proposal to alter matters.

I gather that it was admitted in the Lord President's Committee that a sweets ration would lend itself to irregularities more easily than our other rations. Anything which diminishes respect for the rationing regulations is objectionable. If we create artificial illegalities that are neither enforceable nor condemned by public opinion the habit of evasion may spread to cases where it would be injurious.

We have done without a sweets and chocolate ration for so long that a small further delay may be tolerated. We should avoid allowing exceptions to the principle that any rationing of the secondary foods which you feel compelled to introduce should be incorporated in the points system.

A well-known East Grinstead resident, Bernard Richardson, of Half-Way House, North End, and proprietor of the Elite Cafe, London Road, has been fined £5 with £10 guineas costs, for supplying false figures to the Ministry of Food and gaining more food points than he was entitled to. William Harry Leppard of 47 Cantelupe Road, East Grinstead, said he was employed from February 1st to 6th by Mr. Greatorex, the East Grinstead Food Control Officer, to keep watch on the Elite Cafe and enter in a book the number of customers. On February 1st there were 153, 2nd there were 161, 3rd there were 157, 4th there were 155, 5th there were 141 and on the 6th there were 126. Miss Molly Fry of the East Grinstead Food Office estimated that the defendant was only entitled to 828 points, whereas on the number of meals he is purported to have served the Food Office issued him with 2,150 points. The magistrate, Louisa Martindale, fined Bernard Richardson £5 with £10 guineas costs.

Dr. Frederick Ridley of Mudbrooks Farm, Forest Row, was found guilty of adding water to milk for sale. Dr. Ridley was fined £15 and £3 3s. costs. There was a further milk prosecution when Matthew Madge of Brockhurst Home Farm, East Grinstead, was summoned for selling milk to which water had been added.

It was not until January 1940 that food rationing was introduced and even then only for butter (4 ounces per head per week), sugar (12 ounces), uncooked bacon or ham (8 ounces), cooked bacon or ham (3.5 ounces). Margarine was not included and butcher's meat not rationed till March.

An Emergency Powers (Defence) Act was rushed into law (May 1940) under which all citizens were required to place "themselves, their services and their property" at the disposal of the government. Those not serving in the forces were mobilized in a nationwide Home Guard. Food rationing was tightened up. The butter ration was cut to 2 ounces, sugar to 8 ounces and uncooked bacon to 4 ounces. Margarine and other fats were included at last and - the cruellest blow of all - tea rationing was introduced at the devastating rate of 2 ounces per week. We were all exhorted to dig for victory. Exotic fruits like oranges, lemons and bananas almost disappeared from our diets.

Over several lunches, the girls in the office discussed the situation, and agreed that stockings were out. We shaved our legs and went barelegged. Our skin looked horribly white, and all wrong with heavy shoes. So we experimented with painting the part that showed. Liquid makeup was the most effective. But cosmetics were expensive and increasingly difficult to obtain; it took nearly a bottle of liquid makeup to paint two legs. One girl swore by gravy browning, and even went as far as drawing a careful line up the backs of her legs with her eyebrow pencil, to give a resemblance to a stocking seam. But most mothers objected to losing their carefully hoarded gravy browning! This problem was solved by enterprising firms who made up large bottles of what felt like tinted whitewash. It was difficult to get it on smoothly, but the general effect satisfied us, and we all went to work triumphantly, with painted legs.

I used to take our ration books to Coatmans the grocer and Curtis the baker in East Grinstead. Sainsburys had moved into a small church after being bombed. There was no wrapping paper for anything, you took your own. The youngest children had baby ration books and I would queue up for the odd banana or orange. I thought the dried egg was lovely. You should have tasted carrot marmalade!

That's a whole pound of butter I said. Saying which, I broke off a lump and ate it pure. Then in the glory of my heart I gave all our week's ration - which is about the size of my thumb nail - to Louie (her maid) then sat down and ate bread and butter. Think of our lunch tomorrow! In the middle of the table I shall put the whole pat. And I shall say: Eat as much as you like.


RATIONING in force on 16 v 1945 and for several years past.
FOOD ON THE RATION: Amounts PER PERSON PER WEEK unless stated otherwise
Meat: 1/2d in value - (must have pork every 3rd week, which is most expensive and not nice)
(We calculate that in 1995 prices this 1/2d would be approximately £1.20 to £1.50, and enough for 2 of the cheaper small chops)
Bacon 4oz Tea 2oz Sugar 8oz (for all uses) Butter 2oz Lard 2oz
Margarine 4oz Cheese 2oz Honey, Jam, or other preserves 4oz
Milk from 2 pints in Winter gradually varying to 3½ pints in Summer (not for long)
Dried Milk 1 tin per 4 weeks in Winter, unlimited in Summer IF in stock
Sweets 3oz
Eggs 1 per month in winter if lucky - up to 2 per week in summer - allocations announced in
Press and on radio.
Suet 1 packet in several months (½lb)
Custard-Powder 1 packet in several months. (Shopkeeper marks your book)

FOOD ON POINTS: (Each person has 24 points per four weeks.)
Sold by weight: Sold per tin:
(points per pound) (points per tin)
Rice 8 Sardines 2
Sultanas 8 Skimmed Milk 5
Currants 16 Baked Beans 2
Biscuits (dry) 2, (sweet) 4 Herrings 2
Sultanas 8 Stewed Steak 20
Rolled Oats 2 Salmon - varies a good deal -
Sausage-Meat 12 Best Red Salmon 32 per small tin - a great luxury
Chopped Ham 3 PER OZ

SOAP ON COUPONS: (Each person gets 4 coupons per 4 weeks for ALL purposes)
Small tablet of toilet-soap 1, Large tablet 2 Small packet of powder 1, Large packet 2
Half-Bar of household soap, 2 Bath-Salts, never seen

Each person gets 24 coupons, which have had to last for varying periods. The current 24 commenced 1st Feb., and may have to last seven months. We have not been told finally yet. The demobilization of women-workers affects this very much. The question is, will many go back to these jobs?'
Big coat 18 Suit 26
Shoes 7 Overcoat 16
Vest 3 Mackintosh 16
Knickers 3 Jacket 13
Petticoat 3 Trousers 8
Corsets 3 Shoes 9
2 pr.Stockings 3 Slippers 7
1 pr.stockings 2 Vest with short sleeves 7
Dress 7 Singlet 3
Gloves 2 Underpants 4
Scarf 1 Shirt 5
4 Handkerchiefs 1 2 Handkerchiefs 1
Nightdress 6 Collar 1
Pyjamas 8 Pyjamas 8
Slippers 5 Tie 1
1 pr.Socks 1
Hats NIL, but very expensive.
Most ladies now wear a scarf over their heads, and most men now go hatless.
This week the papers say Food Rations are being studied now for reduction in the Autumn, and clothes also will have to be re-considered later on. Razor blades, hair-cream, and matches are very scarce. Paper and paper-bags are scarce, (there were no plastic bags) so we have to take our own to the shops for wrapping-up. Coal and coke are very limited even if available - our maximum next winter will be 2 tons if we can get it. Kindling-wood is in short supply, and so is paraffin in winter.
STOP PRESS! (23 v 1945)
Since writing this we have been reduced to Meat 1/-, Bacon 3oz, Cooking-Fat 1oz, Points 20, and Soap by one eighth.
For most items on coupons one had to register with a certain shop, but could spend points anywhere. Children's ration-books allowed them more of certain items, such as milk, but less of everything else.
The great bane of the poor housewives was queuing, which might take up a substantial part of their day. Even for items on coupons and points they often had to wait in long queues, and if it were rumoured that a shop had a supply of some rare commodity, long queues would soon form, and naturally and in fairness shopkeepers would display notices such as Registered Customers Only.
During the War there was no white bread. We had the National Loaf, which was not really brown either, but nearer grey.
Many who had the space and opportunity kept rabbits and chickens, and they were able to convert their egg-ration into an allowance of meal for their chickens. Fish, and various meat items, were not on the ration at all. The latter included chickens, offal (liver, kidneys, tripe, lights, et c.), and game.
. Folk in country districts were better placed of course to obtain wild rabbits, and game birds, and many town-folk reared rabbits for the table.
The Government encouraged people to grow as much as possible on allotments, and large areas of public parks were ploughed up to provide more. (Some large parks were actually farmed.) It was during wartime that the fertilizer still called National Growmore was first produced. People supplanted the flowers in their gardens with potatoes and vegetables, but there was one disadvantage to this. Greengrocers, with limited supplies, would display notices such as Regular Customers Only or they would serve non-regular customers with one pound of potatoes only. This was hardly enough for a family of six, and Daphne recalls vividly that when her father's store of home-grown potatoes was exhausted, she and her sister would be given two bags and sent to tour all the local greengrocers. They would each queue at one shop and be given one pound, then they would walk round the corner, empty one bag into the other, and one would queue with the empty bag at the next shop, and so on until they had enough.
It should be mentioned that restaurants still received food supplies, though if one did not arrive by or soon after 1200 the choice for lunch might be limited. British Restaurants (self-service, a new idea then) were established by the Ministry of Food.
Also there was a Black Market, in which stolen or otherwise illegally obtained items of food could be had if one was in the know, but most people regarded this as unpatriotic activity and would have nothing to do with it - remembering that men's lives were at risk in procuring many commodities.
As an example, a farmer might keep a pig without reporting its existence and kill it without declaring the fact and because of the illegal nature of all subsequent transactions, the greedy often wished they had not taken part. My Uncle Bert Newport was a commercial-traveller, and customers sometimes offered opportunities. Once he was asked whether he would like some pork. It would have taken more courage than most people possessed to decline, and of course refusal would have implied ingratitude, criticism, and pejorative complications in his relations with a customer for the paint he was employed to sell, but when he arrived in the blackout to collect, he was given a whole side of pork, and had to pay a very large sum and the family, folk having no domestic freezers then, soon became heartily sick of all this pork they had to eat. On another occasion sugar was offered, and materialized in a half-hundred-weight sack, with which he drove home in fear and trembling lest he were stopped by the Police.
After May 1945 the situation steadily became worse. Even bread was rationed, though never rationed during the War. A news item in the Bexhill Observer in February 1946 read: A small distribution of lemons took place at Bexhill on Monday. The allocation was confined to greengrocers. Queues formed, and the lemons were soon sold. Oranges were on sale on Thursday, and at an early hour there were lengthy queues of buyers. In 1951, six years after the end of the War, the meat-ration was down to 10d, plus 2d-worth of corned beef. (Two of my postcards+ from Plymouth in June 1946 were postmarked with the legend: DON'T WASTE BREAD - OTHERS NEED IT.)
On May 24th 1945 my father wrote, Many of our pubs were shut in V [Victory] week, but only because sold out - not that anybody got much drink, there is not much to be got anywhere and cigarettes are very short too. Many big tobacconists were closed all last weekend. Mum had to queue for some time to get one bot of beer for Whitsun. If you can find a pub with some beer you have to join in a scramble with many others to wait on somebody else's empty glass - as the shortage of glasses is worse than ever.
On June 6th he reported that, having been given a prescription for much-needed spectacles, there would be a delay of two months before he could have them. In September he sold his car, because the civilian ration of five gallons of petrol per month made it hardly worth keeping.
During the War, local authorities had organized Holidays at Home, which meant brass bands and orchestras, and other entertainments such as high-wire acts, in parks. There were open-air theatres. I knew of one in Finsbury Park, and one in the Embankment Gardens. Architects were then beginning to design open-air stages of cockle-shell shape to project sound.
After V.E.Day it became possible once again to contemplate seaside holidays. However, because the railways had been overloaded with military freight, hampered by shortages of men and materials, damaged by enemy action, and unable to renew their ageing rolling-stock, train-times were uncertain and one never knew whether one would find a seat, or even standing-room. If one did arrive at the seaside, one found shortages of food and drink of every kind, and of public transport for utility or for pleasure-outings by land or sea.
On June 23rd my father wrote from Torquay, where they had gone for a holiday with Grandma Jessie Davies, then 82. They decided to travel on the night train, 1130 p.m. on the Friday. Hearing of long queues, they reached Paddington at 1015, and joined a queue for an 1125 Special for Torquay. The queue was twelve-abreast, and when they reached the platform the train was full. They went to the platform for the 1130 to Penzance, which was also full, but they saw an official putting a young couple in a First-Class compartment. My father begged his indulgence, citing Grandma, and upon their promising to pay £1 extra each, gave them three seats. Others joined in, and when the ticket-collector came he said that under the circumstances they need not pay extra. It was as hot as a June night could be, and they were very squashed. The entire rather amusing account of Grandma's chirpiness, and of the shortages affecting the holiday, may be found in his letter.
In July my mother wrote despairingly that the only word she seemed to hear, when asking for commodities in shops, was No. (She was then trying to buy washing-powder.)
Those twelve years or more of privation and shortage left their mark upon those who lived through them. Newspapers and magazines all contained regular articles describing how to eke out and enhance the sparse wartime fare, how to make clothes from salvaged material, and how to overcome the many shortages by ingenuity. Perhaps those of us who were adolescents or young adults at the time, and who seemed always to feel hungry, had the greatest battle against over-eating when food again became plentiful, but many older folk, some of whom had endured the shortages of the Great War also, plus the exigencies of former poverty, felt the same urges, and many lost the battle and suffered in later life from the ills attendant upon being over-weight. Such habits persist. I still suck my fish-bones, and, like Mr. & Mrs Jack Spratt, contrive to leave the platter clean. We still feel it to be foolish and sinful to waste food. The practice of scrimping and saving, making-do and mending, and employing all kinds of subterfuge for making things last and finding alternatives for unobtainable items, is now habitual with us, and, even fifty years later, we have to make a conscious effort to overcome them when they are rendered by modern conditions ridiculous or by modern manners impolite.
It is important to remember, in the matter of clothing, that before 1945 man-made fibres were not in general use, and all natural fibres wore out much more rapidly. I have now in use for garden wear trousers which, though replaced for other reasons, are still quite sound. In those days they would have been mended and patched for as long as possible, but would have had to be discarded after having served for a much shorter time, so my readers should take this into account in attempting to understand the rigours of clothing-coupon rationing. This principle of more rapid wearing-out extended to many other items of use, - string and cord, combs, enamelled buckets and bowls, imitation-leather luggage-cases, shopping-bags, baskets, purses and wallets, - the list is endless. In line with the description of the ages of civilization which refers to the Stone-Age Man, Bronze-Age Man, and Iron-Age Man, I count myself as Plastic-Age Man.
Nothing was wasted. There were no nylon sheets, and when cotton sheets wore thin in the centre, housewives would tear them in half down the middle, and sew them sides to middle, and hem the edges. Daphne still makes pillow-cases from sound parts of discarded sheets. Housewives would unpick knitted jumpers, carefully unravelling the wool, wash the skeins to remove the wrinkles, hang them out to dry, wind the wool into balls, and re-use it. In January 1945 my mother engaged to Knit for the Navy. She received one pound of Navy wool for 2/10d, and engaged to knit two helmets and a scarf, for which the wool would just suffice. Men's trousers were slightly wider in the leg than modern fashion allows, permanent creasing was unknown, and the legs retained some wear after the seats had become thin, so many a child's skirt or pair of shorts was made from the salvaged material. Roadside skips were not thought of then, but when I pass one in the street I am often amazed at the useful timber and other materials which folk now throw away, but would then have been eagerly re-used.
Teachers particularly resorted to all kinds of inspired dodges in the face of shortages of teaching materials, perhaps the most remarkable being the white-washing of newspaper for use in art-lessons. I presume that Army Surplus Stores sprang up after the Great War, and I still see a few trading, but from 1945 they were established in every town. They were much patronized for clothing or materials such as parachute-nylon and tenting from which clothes could be made, and for radios and radio and electrical spares. I once watched a scene from a televised performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in vivid green on the three-inch screen of an adapted radar set. I rode an Army Parachutists' folding bicycle for many years, and Parachutists' mini-motorcycles were also available. I still have a ratchet-screwdriver and other tools marked with the Government broad arrow, a stirrup-pump, a signalling-lamp, and an ex-Fire-Service axe. Enterprising shopkeepers bought ex-government film and cut it to fit civilian cameras, but this sometimes proved a poor investment because it often jammed, and efforts to adjust it under the bed-clothes seldom proved successful.
On the next page you will find the surprise announcement of the beginning of clothes-rationing on June 1st 1941, with a paragraph explaining the need for the secrecy. It is perhaps not possible to compare it with the 1945 list for stringency, because much depended upon the number of coupons available for each person to use.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

World War II Rationing

With the onset of World War II, numerous challenges confronted the American people. The government found it necessary to ration food, gas, and even clothing during that time. Americans were asked to conserve on everything. With not a single person unaffected by the war, rationing meant sacrifices for all.

In the spring of 1942, the Food Rationing Program was set into motion. Rationing would deeply affect the American way of life for most. The federal government needed to control supply and demand. Rationing was introduced to avoid public anger with shortages and not to allow only the wealthy to purchase commodities.

While industry and commerce were affected, individuals felt the effects more intensely. People were often required to give up many material goods, but there also was an increase in employment. Individual efforts evolved into clubs and organizations coming to terms with the immediate circumstances. Joining together to support and maintain supply levels for the troops abroad meant making daily adjustments. Their efforts also included scrap drives, taking factory jobs, goods donations and other similar projects to assist those on the front.

Government-sponsored ads, radio shows, posters and pamphlet campaigns urged the American people to comply. With a sense of urgency, the campaigns appealed to America to contribute by whatever means they had, without complaint. The propaganda was a highly effective tool in reaching the masses.

Rationing regulated the amount of commodities that consumers could obtain. Sugar rationing took effect in May 1943 with the distribution of "Sugar Buying Cards." Registration usually took place in local schools. Each family was asked to send only one member for registration and be prepared to describe all other family members. Coupons were distributed based on family size, and the coupon book allowed the holder to buy a specified amount. Possession of a coupon book did not guarantee that sugar would be available. Americans learned to utilize what they had during rationing time.

While some food items were scarce, others did not require rationing, and Americans adjusted accordingly. "Red Stamp" rationing covered all meats, butter, fat, and oils, and with some exceptions, cheese. Each person was allowed a certain amount of points weekly with expiration dates to consider. "Blue Stamp" rationing covered canned, bottled, frozen fruits and vegetables, plus juices and dry beans, and such processed foods as soups, baby food and ketchup. Ration stamps became a kind of currency with each family being issued a "War Ration Book." Each stamp authorized a purchase of rationed goods in the quantity and time designated, and the book guaranteed each family its fair share of goods made scarce, thanks to the war.

Rationing also was determined by a point system. Some grew weary of trying to figure out what coupon went with which item, or how many points they needed to purchase them, while some coupons did not require points at all.

In addition to food, rationing encompassed clothing, shoes, coffee, gasoline, tires, and fuel oil. With each coupon book came specifications and deadlines. Rationing locations were posted in public view. Rationing of gas and tires strongly depended on the distance to one's job. If one was fortunate enough to own an automobile and drive at the then specified speed of 35 mph, one might have a small amount of gas remaining at the end of the month to visit nearby relatives.

Rationing resulted in one serious side effect: the black market, where people could buy rationed items on the sly, but at higher prices. The practice provoked mixed reactions from those who banded together to conserve as instructed, as opposed to those who fed the black market's subversion and profiteering. For the most part, black marketeers dealt in clothing and liquor in Britain, and meat, sugar and gasoline in the United States. While life during the war meant daily sacrifice, few complained because they knew it was the men and women in uniform who were making the greater sacrifice. A poster released by the Office of War Information stated simply, “Do with less so they’ll have enough.” And yet another pleaded, “Be patriotic, sign your country’s pledge to save the food.” On the whole, the American people were united in their efforts.

Recycling was born with the government’s encouragement. Saving aluminum cans meant more ammunition for the soldiers. Economizing initiatives seemed endless as Americans were urged to conserve and recycle metal, paper and rubber. War bonds and stamps were sold to provide war funds, and the American people also united through volunteerism. Communities joined together to hold scrap-iron drives, and schoolchildren pasted saving stamps into bond books.

Others planted "Victory Gardens" to conserve food. For a small investment in soil, seed and time, families could enjoy fresh vegetables for months. By 1945, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced approximately 40 percent of America's vegetables.

Training sessions were held to teach women to shop wisely, conserve food and plan nutritious meals, as well as teach them how to can food items. The homemaker planned family meals within the set limits. The government's persuasion of people to give up large amounts of red meats and fats resulted in more healthy eating.

The government also printed a monthly meal-planning guide with recipes and a daily menu. Good Housekeeping magazine printed a special section for rationed foods in its 1943 cookbook. Numerous national publications also featured articles explaining what rationing meant to America. Then there were the food manufacturers who took advantage of the wartime shortages to flaunt their patriotism to their profit. The familiar blue box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner gained great popularity as a substitute for meat and dairy products. Two boxes required only one rationing coupon, which resulted in 80 million boxes sold in 1943. Food substitutions became evident with real butter being replaced with Oleo margarine. Cottage cheese took on a new significance as a substitute for meat, with sales exploding from 110 million pounds in 1930 to 500 million pounds in 1944.

After three years of rationing, World War II came to a welcome end. Rationing, however, did not end until 1946. Life resumed as normal and the consumption of meat, butter, and sugar inevitably rose. While Americans still live with some of the results of World War II, rationing has not returned.

Rationing Across The Nations In World War 2

Cannibalism, eggs for cash and a lack of tea- which countries suffered from food shortages in WW2?

Rationing and price control prevented against hoarding and ensured equal distribution of food and goods to both rich and poor. By limiting the production of goods and ‘luxury items’, governments were able to ensure enough resources could be used towards the war effort and there was enough food available for the armed forces.

To mark the 80th anniversary since rationing started in Great Britain we look back at the hardships that citizens suffered with food shortages in the Second World War when many countries suffered shortages of sugar but elsewhere millions of people died from starvation and disease.

Great Britain

In 1939 only 30% of food was produced in the UK and relied heavily on imported goods. Merchant ships became requisitioned for the war effort and many ships destined for Britain carrying supplies were sunk by German U-boats.

The Government became heavily involved in the nation’s health and food intake during the Second World War. Over 200 ‘Food Flash short films were shown in cinemas, the BBC broadcast ‘The Kitchen Front’ and ‘Food Facts’ were printed in newspapers.

The ‘Ministry of Food’ introduced rationing in Britain on 8th January 1940.

The resulting campaigns such as ‘Dig for Victory’ ensured and ‘Make Do and Mend’ were hugely successful. Public spaces and private land across the country was used to grow food and keep animals and by 1943 there were over 1.4 million allotments producing over a million tonnes of vegetables and material was salvaged for blankets and uniforms for the Armed Forces.

Queen Elizabeth (then Princess Elizabeth) used clothing coupons for her wedding dress.

Men, women and children were all issued ration books to allow them to buy their weekly individual allowance of meat, sugar, tea, clothing, milk, eggs and fats from their registered greengrocers, tailors and butchers although people were encouraged to buy fats less often to reduce packaging waste. A points system was introduced for tinned goods, cereals, dried fruits etc which could be bought anywhere, and value was dictated according to demand and availability.

Bread wasn't rationed until the end of the war where it stayed in place for two years.

Milk and egg rations were larger for priority groups and the vulnerable (pregnant women and children) which led to free milk in schools in 1946. Children were given extra vitamins and orange juice and railway workers extra tea rations. Factories and schools began feeding their workers and students and British Restaurants provided cheap meals which relieved some of the pressures of rationing in the home kitchen.

Petrol rationing didn't end until 1950.

United States of America

Despite America being producer and distributor of much of the rationed goods during the Second World War, it too had rationing implemented after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Tyres, previously imported from Asia, were the first item to be rationed in January 1942 and food rationing began in May. Sugar was the first item to be restricted and the list began to grow with coffee, meat, tinned goods and vegetable oil and fats. Fuel was rationed to those who could prove a need and food items had different coloured coupons which each household received.

Sugar was one of the first foods to be rationed during the war.

Factories were converted from domestic production to items for the war effort and scrap metal drives were held so that recycled metals could be melted down for weapons and vehicles. Nylon and wool were needed for uniforms and parachutes. There was a huge increase in agriculture production as the US needed to feed its troops, citizens and allies and a new Act was passed that dramatically increased the number of Americans who then had to pay income tax.

The Soviet Union

Rationing had been in place throughout the USSR several times over the years but the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in 1941 saw areas besieged and surrounded without any possibility of food reinforcements. Millions of people starved both during and after the Second World War, people survived by any means they could - with even reports of cannibalism.

The siege of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) was one of the longest and most destructive in history. The blockade started on 8th September 1941 when the German army cut off the last road leading into the city, and lasted for 872 days. Thousands of people starved to death, an estimated 800,000 civilians were killed - nearly as many as all the World War II deaths of the United States and the United Kingdom combined. Some historians classify the blockade as genocide.

According to historian Lisa A. Kirschenbaum given the "unimaginable circumstances" of mass starvation, cannibalism was relatively rare. Given the scope of mass starvation, cannibalism was reported but this was not thought to be any more widespread than a few rare incidents.

More common was murder for ration cards. In 1942, the city witnessed 1216 such murders at a time when 100,000 people a month were perishing from starvation, many of them children.

Elsewhere in non-occupied areas there was a complicated system of rationing in place with the government and economy focused on war production. Rationing included bread, flour, meat, eggs, sugar and fish with those working in important industries crucial to the war effort receiving the largest amounts (and were also kept warm) but those lower rates were left unable to access food staples including meat and fish. Soldiers had more rations than civilians and would trade food with them for clothing.

Soviet soldiers became adept at foraging and using nettles and pine needles for stew.

Eventually, US shipments of food were able to get through as part of the 'Lend-Lease' bill but the impact of such food shortages and the destruction of farms, factories and industry had long lasting repercussions for the people of the Soviet Union. Official rationing was in place between 1941-47 but some remote areas still suffered under rationing for some years afterwards. A subsequent currency reform after the war also had far-reaching consequences for its citizens.

At the start of the Second World War Southern Ireland held a neutral stance and an ‘Official State of Emergency’ was declared on 2nd Sept 1939 giving extra powers and control of censorship for papers and correspondence.

The war was referred to as ‘The Emergency’ and many foodstuffs and supplies were rationed including fuel which had a severe impact on the productivity of factories and heating of homes. (Fires were banned and electricity restrictions put in place). Ireland relied heavily on coal imports from Britain and Britain relied heavily on agricultural produce including eggs, livestock and milk from Ireland.

Tea, sugar, tobacco, soap, petrol, flour, butter and clothing were heavily rationed and marches and protests took place across Ireland as draperies, tailors and factories reacted angrily to the drastic cuts to the drapery trade. Additionally, a harsh winter destroyed much of the wheat harvest which resulted in severe shortages and bread rationing in 1942.

Meat and eggs weren’t rationed although it was much harder for those living in cities to get hold of them (eggs became a valuable trading commodity) and there was much reliance of locally produced goods. There was a surge in the use of bicycles and the horse and trap and trains began using turf as an alternative fuel supply and despite the backwards step in farming methods, Ireland's agricultural production soared.

Rationing was brought into Germany at the start of the war and covered meat, eggs, sugar, fruit, dairy, leather and clothes but were considered generous portions. Hitler tried hard to minimise the impact of rationing on its citizens and heavily plundered countries it invaded and sent supplies back to Germany and as such there was a thriving ‘black market’ and barter business.

He ensured the agriculture and farming industries were kept going by enforced labour, refugees and POWs and German citizens grew their own produce and kept animals like pigs and rabbits. Clothing was in short supply because of the disruption of cotton imports and there were coal shortages, particularly in the winter of 1939 which led to restrictions of heating for homes.

Industry and building materials were difficult to acquire because they were used for the war effort and imported goods including whipped cream, coffee, chocolate and certain types of fruit became widely unavailable but it was only in the later stages of the war when large scale bombing and destruction disrupted road and rail networks that German civilians became badly affected by food shortages when ration cards could no longer be honoured, bombing had cut off power supplies and there was no more wood or coal available.

Food Shortages and Rationing WW2 - History

Elaine Norwich showing bushel of beans she just picked.

The events on December 7, 1941 catapulted the United States into World War II. The country’s entrance into the war meant many changes on the home front. Chief among these alterations was the introduction of food rationing in 1942. On January 30 th of that year, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Emergency Price Control Act, which enabled the Office of Price Administration (OPA) to lay the ground work for food rationing, which was begun in the spring.

Food Rationing

Signing up for sugar and food rationing in 1943

Under the food rationing system, everyone, including men, women, and children, was issued their own ration books. Rationed foods were categorized as either needing red or blue points. Individuals wishing to purchase foods under the red points scheme, which included meat, fish and dairy, were issued with 64 points to use per month. For blue points goods, including canned and bottled foods, people were given 48 points per person for each month. The OPA determined the number of points needed for goods based on availability and demand. The points values could be raised or lowered accordingly. Sugar was one of the first and longest items rationed, starting in 1942 and ending in 1947. Other foods rationed included coffee, cheese, and dried and processed foods.

The war placed additional demands on the agricultural sector to not only feed the home front, but also support US troops and fulfill America’s obligations to the United Kingdom and other allies through the Lend-Lease Program. The agricultural sector of the US economy expanded greatly from these added demands.

Women’s Land Army

While the acreage under cultivation and agricultural yields increased throughout the war, many young men left the farm to join the military or work in another war industry. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) needed to identify new ways to fill labor shortages. On a tour of England in 1942, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke with members of the Women’s Land Army about their work in agriculture. She was encouraged by the positive results these women had on the agricultural outlook of Britain. Upon her return to the United States, she began lobbying for a similar system to be put in place. The USDA was reluctant at first to enact such a program. However, in 1943, Congress passed the Emergency Farm Labor Program, creating the Women’s Land Army of America (WLAA), or as it became known, the Women’s Land Army (WLA). It is estimated that 2.5 million women worked in the WLA during WWII.

Victory Gardens

Buying seed for a victory garden.

The USDA encouraged people throughout WWII to grow their produce in family and community gardens, known as victory gardens. People were urged to plant gardens in rural and urban settings to offset the food rations, add vitamins to their diet, and support the war effort. Use of food through effective production, consumption, and preservation, was presented by the government as patriotic acts to help the troops and the nation. Historians estimate that by 1943 up to 20 million victory gardens were cultivated, helping sustain the needs of the country. Although wartime propaganda tended to portray gardening as a masculine activity, a wide variety of the population helped to grow produce, including women and children.

USDA Extension Services

Canning squash during a canning demonstration.

The Extension Services of the USDA played a vital role in feeding families, troops, and allies in wartime. Created in 1914 by the Smith-Lever Act, the Extension Services was set up as a nation-wide organization of the USDA in conjunction with state land granted universities to support and educate rural communities about agricultural and domestic efficiencies. One of the key components of the organization’s work was to send home demonstrators such as Florence L. Hall (director of WLA in WWII) and Grace E. Frysinger to agricultural areas. Demonstrators educated rural families about home economics, particularly in relation to the wise use and preservation of food. Such work became particularly important in the wake of the Great Depression. Financial hardships in rural areas made food use and conservation extremely important. The USDA set up community canning centers as part of their efforts to help families suffering the economic effects of the period.


The Extension Services’ home demonstrators and canning centers once again became vital to those living on the American home front during World War II. Canning in wartime became a major focus of the US government. Women were encouraged to support their families and the nation by canning produce grown in their garden. Canning, like gardening, was presented in official propaganda as a patriotic and unifying act, linking soldiers’ activities to women’s roles in the kitchen. Government officials asked individuals to organize their garden activities in conjunction with the canning outcomes that they envisioned, urging them to “plan your canning budget when you order your garden seeds.” The interconnectivity of the two activities ensured that just as victory garden yields reached their peak in 1943, so too did canning levels. The USDA estimates that approximately 4 billion cans and jars of food, both sweet and savory, were produced that year. Community canning centers aided in the process of reaching record levels of preserved food in the United States during the war. In 1945, the USDA stated that 6,000 canning centers were in operation throughout the United States. These centers were locally sponsored and financially supported, but with instructional and educational oversight provided by the USDA. The government issued handy bulletins outlining the process of canning, including the use of water baths and pressure cookers for low acid food. It also provided guidelines as to cooking times and temperatures for the preservation of different foods.

Canning grapefruit in a community kitchen.

Within the centers, a home demonstrator from the Extension Services or a locally qualified individual was on hand to supervise and instruct users in canning techniques. Individuals brought their raw produce to the center and paid a small fee or donated a small quantity of their preserved food in return for the use of materials. With the rationing of vital metal goods for the war effort pressure cookers were not produced for much of WWII. The centers offered women the opportunity to use this equipment if they did not have their own device or were unable to borrow from family or friends.


Sugar was a major concern for canners throughout the war, whether they preserved food at home or in the community canning centers. A canner could submit an application to obtain up to 20 pounds of extra sugar for their preservation needs. However, this was not guaranteed and based on supplies sometimes women could not obtain this additional amount.

Today, the Extension Services continue to support people’s interest in food production and preservation. Branches of the organization offer courses on canning throughout the country and both women and men have shown renewed interested in conserving food.


World War II put a heavy burden on US supplies of basic materials like food, shoes, metal, paper, and rubber. The Army and Navy were growing, as was the nation’s effort to aid its allies overseas. Civilians still needed these materials for consumer goods as well. To meet this surging demand, the federal government took steps to conserve crucial supplies, including establishing a rationing system that impacted virtually every family in the United States.

Top Image From the Collection of The National WWII Museum.

World War II put a heavy burden on US supplies of basic materials like food, shoes, metal, paper, and rubber. The Army and Navy were growing, as was the nation’s effort to aid its allies overseas. Civilians still needed these materials for consumer goods as well. To meet this surging demand, the federal government took steps to conserve crucial supplies, including establishing a rationing system that impacted virtually every family in the United States.

Rationing involved setting limits on purchasing certain high-demand items. The government issued a number of “points” to each person, even babies, which had to be turned in along with money to purchase goods made with restricted items. In 1943 for example, a pound of bacon cost about 30 cents, but a shopper would also have to turn in seven ration points to buy the meat. These points came in the form of stamps that were distributed to citizens in books throughout the war. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was in charge of this program, but it relied heavily on volunteers to hand out the ration books and explain the system to consumers and merchants. By the end of the war, about 5,600 local rationing boards staffed by over 100,000 citizen volunteers were administering the program.

Tires were the first product to be rationed, starting in January 1942, just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Everyday consumers could no longer buy new tires they could only have their existing tires patched or have the treads replaced. Doctors, nurses, and fire and police personnel could purchase new tires, as could the owners of buses, certain delivery trucks, and some farm tractors, but they had to apply at their local rationing board for approval. Good, functional tires became so valuable that the boards often advised auto owners to keep track of the serial numbers on their tires in case they were stolen.

"Plan your victory garden now. Get your garden plot lined up. Get the advice of a garden expert if you need it. And be prepared to grow your own for victory."

Dig for Victory Newsreel, 1943

Personal automobiles met a similar fate in February 1942 as auto manufacturers converted their factories to produce jeeps and ambulances and tanks. Gasoline was rationed starting in May of that year, and by the summer even bicycle purchases were restricted.

The government began rationing certain foods in May 1942, starting with sugar. Coffee was added to the list that November, followed by meats, fats, canned fish, cheese, and canned milk the following March. Newspapers, home economics classes, and government organizations offered all sorts of tips to help families stretch their ration points and have as much variety in their meals as possible. Propaganda posters urged Americans to plant “victory gardens” and can their own vegetables to help free up more factory-processed foods for use by the military. Restaurants instituted meatless menus on certain days to help conserve the nation’s meat supply, and advertisers offered up recipes for meatless dinners like walnut cheese patties and creamed eggs over pancakes. Macaroni and cheese became a nationwide sensation because it was cheap, filling, and required very few ration points. Kraft sold some 50 million boxes of its macaroni and cheese product during the war.

Citizens line up outside their local War Rationing Board office on Gravier Street in New Orleans, 1943. <br>(Image: Library of Congress, LC-USW3-022900-E.)

The system wasn’t perfect. Whenever the OPA announced that an item would soon be rationed, citizens bombarded stores to buy up as many of the restricted items as possible, causing shortages. Black market trading in everything from tires to meat to school buses plagued the nation, resulting in a steady stream of hearings and even arrests for merchants and consumers who skirted the law. Store clerks did what they could to prevent hoarding by limiting what they would sell to a person or by requiring them to bring in an empty container of a product before purchasing a full one. State legislatures passed laws calling for stiff punishments for black market operators, and the OPA encouraged citizens to sign pledges promising not to buy restricted goods without turning over ration points.

Rationing Food in World War I

Although the United States did not have rationed foods in the first world war, there were countless propaganda campaigns to persuade citizens to curb their food consumption.

These campaigns started to happen because many of America’s allies in Europe were facing starvation as farms had been turned into battlefields or left to rot as the farmers were forced into warfare.

President Woodrow Wilson appointed future President Herbert Hoover to develop a voluntary program to manage and establish a wartime supply conservation program named the U.S. Food Administration.

Famous catchphrases include: “Food Will Win the War,” “Meatless Meals,” and “Wheat-less Wednesdays.”

These slogans were so successful that the USDA reduced the national consumption by 15% during WWI.

This voluntary showing of patriotism by many in America helped prepare citizens for the second World War, and the rationing needed then.

Rationing and the Black Market in Nazi-Occupied France: Some Thoughts

“Life is hard (On vit mal). Everyone grows thinner. A kilo of butter costs one thousand francs. A kilo of peas forty-five francs. A kilo of potatoes forty francs. Still we must find them.” – Jean Guéhenno, August 1944

Rue de Rivoli (Paris) under German occupation

Speaking as the beneficiary of an immense system of food production in the twenty-first century, as the citizen of an increasingly obese nation where over two-thirds of my fellow citizens are considered overweight, I can only imagine food shortages in one way: through the seasonal deprivations that occurred when I lived in West Africa. When I read of French women trying to find food for their families during the height of rationing during World War II, I recall trying to find enough tomatoes to feed guests coming for dinner on a hot, dry evening in Burkina Faso (formerly the French colony of Haute Volta). Short of magic, or sudden wealth, I could find no more than six, no matter how many market streets I touched on.

And so, like many French women in the past, I simply went without.

Not the same at all, you’re right, really, but still the memory sticks with me and makes it a little easier to comprehend the enormity of what cooks faced as they navigated the rationing system and the black markets that bloomed as the years of war continued on and on.

Rationing was meant to ensure supplies, and not necessarily to reduce consumption. But that’s not how it turned out sometimes people simply couldn’t use up all their rationing coupons in a month because they simply couldn’t find the food to buy with the coupons, much as I found no tomatoes.

During the war, scarcity happened for a number of reasons, aside from seasonality:

  1. Military operations destroyed or interfered with transport troop and equipment movements took precedence.
  2. The Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942 cut France off from supplies coming from her colonies and trade partners there.
  3. Although France produced a lot of food prior to the war, the loss of labor led to a reduction in agricultural production as men went to war and women worked in factories. Shortages of fuel and fertilizer hampered agricultural production, as did the lack of large animals for plowing.
  4. The Germans requisitioned food not only for troops, but also for their civilian populations. Rations were much higher in Germany than in France, as the following table shows:

And so people turned to the black market if they could. Producers faced stiff fines or worse if the authorities caught them holding back food for sale in any manner other than the official channels.

Looking at the following chart, it is quite easy to understand why people attempted to sell goods on the black market:

Given the prominence of food in French national identity, how did people come to grips with the sudden change in their eating habits? Called le système D, or débrouillage (resourcefulness), the change encouraged the French to form new networks that they might not have ever attempted prior to the war, for social and class reasons. People with money generally fared better than those without, but people with ties to the countryside survived well, too, even without money, because their country cousins often sent them food packages.

Take Georges Mazeaud for instance, a Parisian glovemaker,who turned 61 the first year of the German occupation. His cousin, Gaston Grenouiilleau – whom he never met – lived in Georges’s natal village of Concourson-sur-Layon near Samur, Georges wrote to Gaston, begging him to send food, three kilos as permitted by law at the time: “Bacon, cheese, butter, pasta, in fact anything that you can eat.” Georges had so many mouths to feed – wife, children, grandchildren – and complained to Gaston about paying eighty francs for a chicken more bones than meat. Gaston replied with packages containing rillettes that reminded Georges of his aunt Léontine and a joint of lamb. But Georges tried hard to reciprocate over the years and fashioned gloves for his cousin and his cousin’s family and friends.**

Of course, the Nazis cracked down hard on people who tried to operate outside of the regular channels, making it even more difficult for people to obtain food because purveyors obviously preferred to deal with people they knew.

One interesting culinary-related fact about the German occupation of France and the French experience versus that of the British and the Americans is that there seemed to be few cookbooks published about how to make good-tasting food out of scraps and scrapings. I’m asking myself if somehow part of that difference might be related to to the fact the French were actually occupied, while the British and the Americans remained free of an outside, occupying force. More on this later, hopefully.

See the following for more on the black market in France during World War II:

Fourment, G. “L’évolution du marché noir et sa répression,” Controle Economique 3: 234-235, Mai 1944.

Rationing in World War Two

Ever wondered how much food a person was entitled to during World War Two?

Rationing began on 8th January 1940 when bacon, butter and sugar were rationed. By 1942 many other foodstuffs, including meat, milk, cheese, eggs and cooking fat were also ‘on the ration’.

This is a typical weekly food ration for an adult:

  • Bacon & Ham 4 oz
  • Other meat value of 1 shilling and 2 pence (equivalent to 2 chops)
  • Butter 2 oz
  • Cheese 2 oz
  • Margarine 4 oz
  • Cooking fat 4 oz
  • Milk 3 pints
  • Sugar 8 oz
  • Preserves 1 lb every 2 months
  • Tea 2 oz
  • Eggs 1 fresh egg (plus allowance of dried egg)
  • Sweets 12 oz every 4 weeks

Yes, I know what you are thinking&hellipThis doesn&rsquot look like much, right?

In fact, ordinary people survived on such rations, although those who produced their own food were able to have that little bit extra.

You might be wondering how this was even possible.

Rationing was a means of ensuring the fair distribution of food and commodities when they were scarce. It began after the start of WW2 with petrol and later included other goods such as butter, sugar and bacon. Eventually, most foods were covered by the rationing system with the exception of fruit and vegetables.

Ration books were given to everyone in Britain who then registered in a shop of their choice. When something was purchased the shopkeeper marked the purchase off in the customer&rsquos book. Special exceptions made allowing for some groups of people who required additional food like underground mine workers, members of the Women&rsquos Land Army and members of the Armed forces.

The Ministry of Food was a government department set up from the start of the war to the end of all rationing in 1958. Its aim was to regulate food production and usage. The Ministry of Food used numerous ways to help people make the most of their rations without wasting food, while at the same time giving them ideas to help make mealtimes more interesting. They introduced various campaigns, television and radio broadcasts as well as literature to educate the public.

As someone who was fascinated by the simplicity of the meal recipes the Ministry of Food encouraged the public to make, I began to collect leaflets and pamphlets produced for the Ministry of Food.

The &lsquoABC of Cookery&rsquo and &lsquoFish Cookery&rsquo were books published by H.M.S.O. These booklets a quite interesting as they brought the typical home cook back to basics by talking the reader through cookery and food terms, measurements and preservation some of which we would take for granted today with all tinned and vacuum packed products readily available.

Along with this article I wanted to include a recipe leaflet for some insight into rationing. I looked through my collection to select one to include. I thought that I would want to include one that sums up rationing and I feel the leaflet on &lsquoPotatoes&rsquo does exactly that.

(Detail from leaflet below)

By Stephen Wilson. Over the past few years I have collected a number of leaflets, pamphlets, and books produced by the Ministry of Food around and during World War 2.


Although the United States did not have food rationing in World War I, it relied heavily on propaganda campaigns to persuade people to curb their food consumption. [ citation needed ]

Through slogans such as "Food Will Win the War", "Meatless Meals", and "Wheatless Wednesdays", the United States Food Administration under Herbert Hoover reduced national consumption by 15%. [1]

We discovered that the American people are basically honest and talk too much.

In the summer of 1941, rationing in the United Kingdom increased because of military needs, and German attacks on shipping in the Battle of the Atlantic. The British government appealed to Americans to conserve food to help the UK. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) warned Americans of potential gasoline, steel, aluminum, and electricity shortages. [3] It believed that with factories converting to military production and consuming many critical supplies, rationing would become necessary if the country entered the war. The OPA established a rationing system after the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December. [2] : 133

Ration books, stamps, and tokens Edit

The work of issuing ration books and exchanging used stamps for certificates was handled by some 5,500 local ration boards of mostly volunteer workers selected by local officials. Many levels of rationing went into effect. Some items, such as sugar, were distributed evenly based on the number of people in a household. Other items, like gasoline or fuel oil, were rationed only to those who could justify a need. Restaurant owners and other merchants were accorded more availability, but had to collect ration stamps to restock their supplies. In exchange for used ration stamps, ration boards delivered certificates to restaurants and merchants to authorize procurement of more products.

Each ration stamp had a generic drawing of an airplane, gun, tank, aircraft carrier, ear of wheat, fruit, etc. and a serial number. Some stamps also had alphabetic lettering. The kind and amount of rationed commodities were not specified on most of the stamps and were not defined until later when local newspapers published, for example, that beginning on a specified date, one airplane stamp was required (in addition to cash) to buy one pair of shoes and one stamp number 30 from ration book four was required to buy five pounds of sugar. The commodity amounts changed from time to time depending on availability. Red stamps were used to ration meat and butter, and blue stamps were used to ration processed foods.

To enable making change for ration stamps, the government issued "red point" tokens to be given in change for red stamps, and "blue point" tokens in change for blue stamps. The red and blue tokens were about the size of dimes (16 millimetres (0.63 in)) and were made of thin compressed wood fiber material, because metals were in short supply. [4]

There was a black market in stamps. To prevent this, the OPA ordered vendors not to accept stamps that they themselves did not tear out of books. Buyers, however, circumvented this by saying (sometimes accurately, as the books were not well-made) that the stamps had "fallen out". In actuality, they may have acquired stamps from other family members or friends, or the black market. [5]

Most rationing restrictions ended in August 1945 except for sugar rationing, which lasted until 1947 in some parts of the country. [6] [ unreliable source? ]

Tires, gasoline, and automobiles Edit

Tires were the first item to be rationed by the OPA, which ordered the temporary end of sales on 11 December 1941 while it created 7,500 unpaid, volunteer three-person tire ration boards around the country. By 5 January 1942 the boards were ready. Each received a monthly allotment of tires based on the number of local vehicle registrations, and allocated them to applicants based on OPA rules. [2] : 133 There was a shortage of natural rubber for tires since the Japanese quickly conquered the rubber-producing regions of Southeast Asia. Although synthetic rubber had been invented before the war, it had been unable to compete with natural rubber commercially, so the US did not have enough manufacturing capacity at the start of the war to make synthetic rubber. Throughout the war, rationing of gasoline was motivated by a desire to conserve rubber as much as by a desire to conserve gasoline. [7]

The War Production Board (WPB) ordered the temporary end of all civilian automobile sales on 1 January 1942, leaving dealers with one half million unsold cars. Ration boards grew in size as they began evaluating automobile sales in February (only certain professions, such as doctors and clergymen, qualified to purchase the remaining inventory of new automobiles), typewriters in March, and bicycles in May. [2] : 124,133–135 Automobile factories stopped manufacturing civilian models by early February 1942 and converted to producing tanks, aircraft, weapons, and other military products, with the United States government as the only customer. [8]

A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed to save fuel and rubber for tires. [7] Later that month volunteers again helped distribute gasoline cards in 17 Atlantic and Pacific Northwest states. [2] : 138

To get a classification and rationing stamps, one had to appear before a local War Price and Rationing Board which reported to the OPA. Each person in a household received a ration book, including babies and small children who qualified for canned milk not available to others. To receive a gasoline ration card, a person had to certify a need for gasoline and ownership of no more than five tires. All tires in excess of five per driver were confiscated by the government, because of rubber shortages.

An "A" sticker on a car was the lowest priority of gasoline rationing and entitled the car owner to 3 to 4 US gallons (11 to 15 l 2.5 to 3.3 imp gal) of gasoline per week. B stickers were issued to workers in the military industry, entitling their holder to up to 8 US gallons (30 l 6.7 imp gal) of gasoline per week. C stickers were granted to persons deemed very essential to the war effort, such as doctors. T stickers were made available for truckers. Lastly, X stickers on cars entitled the holder to unlimited supplies and were the highest priority in the system. Clergy, police, firemen, and civil defense workers were in this category. [9] A scandal erupted when 200 Congressmen received these X stickers. [10] Referring to the lowest tier of this system, American motorists jokingly said that OPA stood for “Only a Puny A-Card.”

As a result of the gasoline rationing, all forms of automobile racing, including the Indianapolis 500, were banned. Sightseeing driving was also banned. In some regions breaking the gas rationing was so prevalent that night courts were set up to supplement the number of violators caught the first gasoline-ration night court was created at Pittsburgh's Fulton Building on May 26, 1943. [11]

With the pending capitulation of Japan, the printing of ration books for 1946 was halted by the OPA on August 13, 1945. It was thought that "even if Japan does not fold now, the war will certainly be over before the books can be used". [12]

On August 15, 1945, World War II gas rationing was ended on the West Coast of the United States. [13] [14]

From the time that the United States entered the war to the August 1945 Japanese surrender, there was a dramatic shift in behavior: Americans drove cars less, carpooled when they did drive, walked and used their bicycles more, and increased the use of public transportation. Between 1941 and 1944 the total amount of gas consumed from highway use in the United States dropped to 32 percent. The federal agency named the Office of Defense Transportation (ODT) was established during the war to focus on controlling domestic transportation and was responsible for collecting data, conducting research and analysis, setting goals for fuel consumption and helping determine rationing coupon values. ODT imposed rationing of gasoline to civilians caused car owners to drive less, thus extending tire life and conserving fuel to maximize the oil and rubber available for military use. [15]

In January 1942 there was a study published by the Public Roads Administration that discovered that driving 35 m.p.h helped tires last four times as long than if the speed was 65 m.p.h. In order to extend the lifespan of tires and reduce the use, the ODT contacted the governors of all the states to establish lower speed limits. In March of the same year to decrease the large amount of single occupied drivers, car sharing programs were encouraged for workplaces that had more than 100 employees from the ODT and the Highway Traffic Advisory Committee. [15]

Food and consumer goods Edit

Civilians first received ration books—War Ration Book Number One, or the "Sugar Book"—on 4 May 1942, [16] through more than 100,000 schoolteachers, PTA groups, and other volunteers. [2] : 137