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 (1939-1945) WWII
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George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 12242
Joined: 2009
Food rationing in GB
1/8/2022 10:39:29 AM
On Jan. 8, 1940, Britain's Ministry of Food introduced food rationing.

I know that the Commonwealth responded by sending foodstuffs to GB but I have wondered whether the people were experiencing shortages in early 1940 or whether the British government was being proactive in anticipation of shortages down the line. The war of course was only four months old.

If there were shortages at the time, which foods were in short supply?

Also was the effort by the Commonwealth countries to send supplies co-ordinated in any way? Did Britain send out a "we need the following" list? How would a country like Canada or Australia know what to send?

Cheers,

George
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 827
Joined: 2005
Food rationing in GB
1/10/2022 7:10:17 AM
Hi George,

My input is ancedotal, but from what I remember from speaking to older relatives and neighbours, everyone knew it was coming and had started quietly hoarding what they coul in their cupboards and pantries, despite government pleas and threats not to do so. Farmers had livestock clandestinely slaughtered to keep meat on the farmhouse tables (beyond the meagre ration), with the usual cuts (no pun intended) given to those involved in the process. Poorer households, of course, couldn't do any of this so made do with what they had. As ever, the poorest bore the brunt and couldn't afford to access the Black Market like others.

Without exception, everyone hated the bread made from British wheat, which was apparently grey and spongy. I believe things like exotic fruit were the first to go missing from shelves, followed by luxuries likes sweets (candy) and chocolate. Very few bananas were seen in the UK between 1939 and the end of the war. The strength of beer was dropped and prices increased, making it hard for off-duty soldiers and essential workers to get drunk.

There are claims that rationing made the country healthier; old photos of lean people with smiles resplendent during the Blitz probably hide a multitude of nutritional deficiencies. I am glad to have never experienced it, and I am grateful our extended family in North America and beyond sent so much food to keep us going.

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 12242
Joined: 2009
Food rationing in GB
1/10/2022 7:43:14 AM
Thank you, Colin. I know that Canada sent a lot of food to GB and that included tons of wheat. We were rationed too but I cannot imagine that it was as severe as in the UK.

You mentioned the black market. Were there severe punishments for both the seller and the buyer?

Cheers,

George
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 827
Joined: 2005
Food rationing in GB
1/10/2022 7:50:15 AM
Hi George,

Punishments were indeed severe, but neither seller nor buyer were in any mind to report it. A hefty fine and/or imprisonment were on offer.

I don't think convictions for Black Market activity were especially high, but crime did rise overall during the war.

You'd be forgiven for mistakenly believing that the British people rallied round and got on with the job; some people will take advantage in any situation.

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5526
Joined: 2004
Food rationing in GB
1/10/2022 10:03:09 AM
Rationing in Britain continued for nearly a decade after the end of the war. Meat was still rationed in my lifetime ; it remained so until 1954.

I have family skin in this game, since we were ( and still are) wholesale traders in Smithfield Meat Market.

When dad was “ demobbed” at the end of the war, he was deployed by the government to help run a meat depot in Kingston, which is on the outskirts of London. There were several such places, through which the authorities sought to distribute supplies in accordance with government policy.

There were huge stacks of corned beef tins, which were kept under surveillance until the time came for them to be distributed. Dad was responsible for checking that the cans were all there : he simply had to count the number that constituted the width, and then the height, and tick the form to fulfil the audit.

When the great block of corned beef tins was dismantled to be distributed, it was found that the middle of the block was empty.

There was a lot of crime, and the “ spivs” had a field day in the post war years too.

Regards, Phil



----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 12242
Joined: 2009
Food rationing in GB
1/10/2022 12:24:55 PM
Phil and Colin,

Did the government mount PR campaign against hoarding and black market purchasing? I know that here in Canada, the government tried to appeal to patriotism to discourage hoarding and black market operations. I don't know whether it worked or not.

Were people in the UK encouraged to grow fresh fruits and veggies and to can the surplus when the bad weather came? Could you still get any product from Portugal for example? I thought that the UK had a treaty with Portugal though Portugal declared neutrality during the war. Britain had a secret airfield in the Azores too.

Portugal was selling an ore that had tungsten in it, but to both axis and allied nations. Did they sell agricultural products too.

So I was wondering whether any food products were still coming into Britain from European countries not under the thumb of the Nazis?

Cheers,

George
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 827
Joined: 2005
Food rationing in GB
1/11/2022 6:57:46 PM
Hi George,

The Government definitely played a hard line on the black market, but there was ultimately little they could do. People wanted the goods and there were willing buyers and sellers.

I think any domestic goods imports (i.e. food) from Europe would have been limited, as most of the RN was either fighting the Axis in the Med/Far East or escorting the convoys across the Atlantic. I can only imagine the UK government wanted as much war materiel it could get and it would rely on the food it could from North America.

You ask about growing our own food in gardens - thankfully that did happen. There was a 'dig for victory' campaign that encouraged people to grow whatever they could. From what I was told, this met with varying degrees of success in the cities; many urban schoolchildren were astounded to learn that apples grew on trees, not inside boxes!

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4267
Joined: 2004
Food rationing in GB
1/11/2022 11:00:49 PM
Wonderful thread, guys. So many complexities. Let me throw in a few items, if I may. Much of it links your comments, adding a bit more colour or info.

Rationing began slowly in GB; not everything was rationed at a single stroke. While the notion of rationing was in the air, I believe the gradual application of and additions to rationed goods made it somewhat easier to bear. Hoarding was always a problem, but the larger issue was hoarding for profit. The profiteer was a despised person, and since cloth was rationed any person well-clothed without being tastefully dressed might be suspected. Phil, “spiv” is a magical term I believe unigue to the UK; was it a war-time term or only one for the Age of Austerity (45-51)?

If any of you read M-O volumes, you will probably have noticed that the rationing after the war was a much more bitter pill than wartime rationing. Was it Lightning that mentioned “dirty bread”, which IIRC was a post-war phenomenon? Most of us, sadly, have learned to accept bread that is simply a bland envelope (sandwich) or a platter (hot sandwiches, melts, base for poached eggs, etc.). But good bread is much more, and although it was available in the period of austerity it was not available to the lower social orders. It was too expensive for them.

I’m a Canadian, born in 1941. Somewhere in the wreckage I call an archive, I have the ration books issued to my family and some extended family. We were not pushed that hard. I haven’t explored it, but the meat ration appears to have been dealt with differently than other rationed goods. I was too young to remember rationing, but my parents had a “Victory garden”, complete with hens, so maybe there was never any real lack, but only a set of limits.

Annette, my late partner-in-crime, was born in 1943 in GB, to a ship’s s writer stationed on the HMS Caroline. She remembered refusing to eat a “real” egg; powdered eggs were the norm. And she remembers be chosen to receive a fresh orange. The flavour was so foreign she refused to eat it after the initial segment. Too rich; too foreign!

One of the things I enjoyed most about an early trip to the IWM was simply looking at official wartime posters. The Ministry of Information (quickly, and correctly, known as the Ministry of Misinformation) produced wonderful propaganda which blanketed the UK. Dig for victory, victory gardens and “waste not” posters were as prevalent as loose lips, rumour mongering and pots into Spitfires. Some compelling art, about the dullest but hugely vital task of giving people a means of understanding the need to obey.

There’s more I’d like to say, but it’s been a shitty day and I need food. I awoke to fire, and was not allowed back into my unit for 10 hours. Ten hours without a face wash or a tooth clean is not pleasant! This post should be seen as an act of defiance as well as a joy at being able to write it at all. Safely. In my home.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
----------------------------------
"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 12242
Joined: 2009
Food rationing in GB
1/12/2022 8:37:17 AM
Brian, my grandparents and parents told me that everyone had some sort of a veggie garden during the depression. My GM won some sort of prize during the depression for the greatest number of jars of preserves or canned food, "put down" as she called it.

When the war began the government encouraged Victory gardens and provided the people with how-to pamphlets. I recall an anecdote in one of Barry Broadfoot's books called, The Six War Years, in which he recorded a man describing how the government provided instructions on how to make a garden. The man said that they all laughed at the instructions. He said, "what the hell did they think that we've been doing for the last ten years."





But back to Britain. I think that I read that the health of the population actually improved during the war and because of rationing. Was this true? If so, how would rationing improve the nutrition and health of the people?

Cheers,

George
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4267
Joined: 2004
Food rationing in GB
1/12/2022 7:42:47 PM
George, the health of the general population did improve dramatically. IIUC, while nutritional food was rationed, many other foods just disappeared. The poor (and I’m talking about the working poor rather than the indigent, though in parts of Wales and the north the two were the same) lived on what could fill a belly rather than what could feed a body. IIRC, in 1939 (before Poland), many men attempting to sign up for military duty were deemed medically unfit for duty. By 1944, the controlled diet which arose because of rationing raised the general medical health substantially.

The other side of this was, of course, that as a general rule those who lived in the south ate better than those in the north and those in the country better than in the city. That was largely supply and demand, which was part of the motivation behind Victory Gardens. In the country, gardens were by nature more prevalent, and these could provide veggies and berries which had often disappeared. And, of course, the combination of garden coops and poaching more or less meant that there were more eggs, chickens and rabbits (not to mention game birds) available outside the cities.

I’ve hardly touched the vast information available through MO, but all diaries talk about how the local provider was kind to remember us, a euphemism for a bird or six eggs off the ration. Not free, but food outside the ration card.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
----------------------------------
"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 827
Joined: 2005
Food rationing in GB
1/13/2022 5:41:12 AM
Hi all,

I spoke to some of my extended family about this subject, namely those who were living on a family farm during the war. As it happens, there were some soldiers billeted there as they were manning an ad-hoc AA battery trying to defend the Clyde shipyards. Rather shamefully, it turns out our lot had hoarded a fair bit and even had a decent supply of fresh meat (from the beef cattle and pigs on the farm) that they had salted and/or frozen. Fearing the soldiers might inform the authorities, the soldiers were invited to leave their bully beef rations alone and join the family in their rather better meals. A feast it wasn't, I'm assured, but still markedly better than the meagre rations enjoyed by most of the rest of the community. The soldiers dutifully played their part and told nobody. I was surprised by the details my cousins could offer; seemingly the family secret is out!

Brian and George talk about the health of the nation improving. It certainly did; rationing meant a fairer spread of goods being available and the resulting price controls meant that the poor could afford to get hold of them. Brian is correct though that the south largely ate better than the north and the rural better than the urban. Evacuated children returning to their urban homes were appalled to find out that the extras they had enjoyed living rurally (such as more butter, jam and bacon) were no longer available.

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 12242
Joined: 2009
Food rationing in GB
1/14/2022 9:17:20 AM
The Canadian government tried to alter the consumption habits of Canadians so as to produce surpluses of foodstuffs that would be needed by Britain and allied troops. Food and food production were described to the people as, "weapons of war".

Government intervention in the food production and sales markets was extensive. Producers and consumers were under strict production controls and price controls and rationing. The people were also encouraged to change their diets and to consume "patriotic foods". This meant eating less beef and pork which freed those products for export.

Lobster was considered a patriotic food. It is a high priced commodity right now but in the '40's lobster was considered a poor man's meal. My brother-in-law is a Cape Breton Islander from modest means and even in the '50's he recalled being sent to school with a lobster roll or sandwich in his lunch bag. He doesn't really enjoy lobster very much anymore.

Apples were branded as a patriotic food as well. The European export markets were gone by 1940 and there was concern over the surpluses of fresh fruit like apples. What to do with them then?

Quote:
"Serve apples daily and you serve your country too.”
. Dept of Agriculture, Dec. 1939

By 1941, Canada was providing 77% of the wheat and flour used by Britain but with the advent of Lend-Lease, the government reduced the number of acres dedicated to wheat. Still by the end of the war, Canadian wheat growers supplied 57% of Britain's consumption. The government reduced wheat acreage through subsidies and incentives because it was felt that more land had to be dedicated to feed crops, hogs and flaxseed. Apparently these were needed overseas.

I still do not know whether Britain provided a shopping list of items of which they were short but certainly Canada's farm economy was altered to reflect what was needed for export.

Hog production increased by 250% from the pre-war years. During the war, Canada provided 39% of the bacon that Britain consumed. Was pork more readily available as a rationed commodity than chicken or beef in Britain during the war? Did our soldiers eat bacon? I really do not know.

In French. It says, "One little pig stays home". And "four out of five are going overseas".



Colin mentioned jam as a commodity that was rationed in Britain. I assume that it was a popular food item. That prompted Canadians to participate in Red Cross sponsored activities like, "Jam for Britain" projects and thousands of pounds of jam were put down and shipped to Britain.



So our economy was heavily influenced by government controls and coercion. As in Britain it seems that the nutritional and overall health of the nation actually improved because of rationing of food and the shift to healthier consumption including reduced meat consumption.

As for our service people, it seems that many of them ate well while overseas. As an example, one RCAF study indicated that while the airmen were not always enthralled with the food presented, they had plenty of it. RCAF service people received 3900 calories per day which is a lot. Now I don't know whether this applied to the RCN or the Canadian army and I certainly don't know whether it applied to British forces.

I do know that my Dad always wondered why the Canadian army was eating British style rations when in a combat area. They knew that the Americans were eating much better rations and that Canada had the means to provide a similar diet. I suppose that by eating the same food that the Commonwealth forces were showing some sort of unity within the Empire. Or perhaps it was too costly to produce and ship better quality rations.

How did the British government alter agricultural production during the war? Did the Ministry of Food exert control over what was produced and the quantity produced?

It would be interesting to know just how much the farmers in Britain produced. I believe that too often the propaganda machine makes it sound as though Britain relied totally on food from the Commonwealth and the US.

Cheers,

George
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5526
Joined: 2004
Food rationing in GB
1/14/2022 12:05:14 PM
Forgive another anecdote relating to my own family, but I think it illustrates the straitened circumstances of British people in the immediate aftermath of the war.

Mum and Dad were married in April 1947, and since my maternal grandfather was a clergyman it was his honour to conduct the marriage service in his own church, which was for a London Welsh congregation in the City itself .

A couple of nights before the wedding, thieves broke into his house and stole Mum’s wedding dress , and in the process attacked him, coshing him on the head and leaving him unconscious.

He still attended and ministered the wedding on schedule, even though his face was bloated and bruised, with one eye grotesquely swollen.

The entire congregation clubbed together and used their ration coupons to buy mum a replacement wedding dress.

People tend to depict the past as a better place, with superior standards of conduct and a manifestation of that legendary “ Blitz Spirit “ which was said to have kept morale - and standards of behaviour - high.

There was a lot of crime and selfishness extant too.

Incidentally, in regard to rationing, I think it’s important to remember that the experience of World War One had made a profound impact, especially in the spring of 1917, when British loss of merchant ships in one month rose to a level that exceeded even that of World War Two.

This very unpleasant but instructive rehearsal meant that the implementation of rationing in WW2 was, to a degree, well planned.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
MikeMeech
 UK
Posts: 520
Joined: 2012
Food rationing in GB
1/14/2022 2:48:02 PM
Quote:
The Canadian government tried to alter the consumption habits of Canadians so as to produce surpluses of foodstuffs that would be needed by Britain and allied troops. Food and food production were described to the people as, "weapons of war".

Government intervention in the food production and sales markets was extensive. Producers and consumers were under strict production controls and price controls and rationing. The people were also encouraged to change their diets and to consume "patriotic foods". This meant eating less beef and pork which freed those products for export.

Lobster was considered a patriotic food. It is a high priced commodity right now but in the '40's lobster was considered a poor man's meal. My brother-in-law is a Cape Breton Islander from modest means and even in the '50's he recalled being sent to school with a lobster roll or sandwich in his lunch bag. He doesn't really enjoy lobster very much anymore.

Apples were branded as a patriotic food as well. The European export markets were gone by 1940 and there was concern over the surpluses of fresh fruit like apples. What to do with them then?

Quote:
"Serve apples daily and you serve your country too.”
. Dept of Agriculture, Dec. 1939

By 1941, Canada was providing 77% of the wheat and flour used by Britain but with the advent of Lend-Lease, the government reduced the number of acres dedicated to wheat. Still by the end of the war, Canadian wheat growers supplied 57% of Britain's consumption. The government reduced wheat acreage through subsidies and incentives because it was felt that more land had to be dedicated to feed crops, hogs and flaxseed. Apparently these were needed overseas.

I still do not know whether Britain provided a shopping list of items of which they were short but certainly Canada's farm economy was altered to reflect what was needed for export.

Hog production increased by 250% from the pre-war years. During the war, Canada provided 39% of the bacon that Britain consumed. Was pork more readily available as a rationed commodity than chicken or beef in Britain during the war? Did our soldiers eat bacon? I really do not know.

In French. It says, "One little pig stays home". And "four out of five are going overseas".



Colin mentioned jam as a commodity that was rationed in Britain. I assume that it was a popular food item. That prompted Canadians to participate in Red Cross sponsored activities like, "Jam for Britain" projects and thousands of pounds of jam were put down and shipped to Britain.



So our economy was heavily influenced by government controls and coercion. As in Britain it seems that the nutritional and overall health of the nation actually improved because of rationing of food and the shift to healthier consumption including reduced meat consumption.

As for our service people, it seems that many of them ate well while overseas. As an example, one RCAF study indicated that while the airmen were not always enthralled with the food presented, they had plenty of it. RCAF service people received 3900 calories per day which is a lot. Now I don't know whether this applied to the RCN or the Canadian army and I certainly don't know whether it applied to British forces.

I do know that my Dad always wondered why the Canadian army was eating British style rations when in a combat area. They knew that the Americans were eating much better rations and that Canada had the means to provide a similar diet. I suppose that by eating the same food that the Commonwealth forces were showing some sort of unity within the Empire. Or perhaps it was too costly to produce and ship better quality rations.

How did the British government alter agricultural production during the war? Did the Ministry of Food exert control over what was produced and the quantity produced?

It would be interesting to know just how much the farmers in Britain produced. I believe that too often the propaganda machine makes it sound as though Britain relied totally on food from the Commonwealth and the US.

Cheers,

George


Hi
The produce of British farmers changed during the war as much pasture land was ploughed up to grow wheat, potatoes and other crops, so less meat was supplied to the public from home sources. At the beginning of the war virtually all of the wheat for bread was imported, during 1943 Britain covered half of its bread grain needs by home grown wheat. That info comes from page 93 of Lizzie Collingham's 'The Taste of War - World War Two and the Battle for Food', Penguin paperback 2012. This book deals with both Axis and Allied countries so may be of interest to some.

Mike
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4267
Joined: 2004
Food rationing in GB
1/14/2022 8:59:53 PM
Mike, nice concise post. And intriguing. I’ll be checking out the availability of Collingham’s publication.I did a quick search on the web, and was pleased to see the cover mimicking those of the US “Penguin Specials” of WW2.

Does the author discuss how agriculture in Britain changed because of rapid further mechanization of land use during the war. Does she talk about the Land Army girls and their contributions?

Does she mention the negative impact of traditional British cooking! A roast of beef is cooked until grey (and flavourless), Brussels sprouts – a staple green – were boiled until yellow (and blandly flavoured). I don’t want to consider bread and dripping, though my late partner-in-crime loved it.

Am I only stating the obvious when I say that food accessibility and the forced disruption of traditional eating patterns, combined with radio broadcasts and poster “blitzes”, not just made consumption more an issue of nutrition than volume but may have been a major arm of the development of UK health provision, and of course the NHS as it now exists?

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
----------------------------------
"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Major Mike
Fargo ND USA
Posts: 1
Joined: 2022
Food rationing in GB
2/4/2022 3:37:27 PM
I would encourage anyone interested in food rationing and logistics in the war read The Taste of War. It is very interesting and not dull as it covers much you would not see in traditional popular books on WW II. It does cover the major powers quite well and you see the importance of food as a strategic resource. I don't see anything specifically about the Land Army Girls after a quick glance through my copy. I remember being surprised about the value of onions for flavoring the bland diet as onions were in short supply and given out as prizes.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4267
Joined: 2004
Food rationing in GB
2/4/2022 7:44:03 PM
Mike, I’ve got my copy on order from a local independent bookseller. Amazon doesn’t need my money, and the extra $ or two I pay holds some guarantee the author gets her contracted royalty. And it helps keep an important local retailer in business.

I mentioned in one of my posts on this topic M–O publications. Are they known in the US? M–O (‘Mass-Observation’) began in the late 1930s as a private enterprise information gathering service in the UK. It asked folks to keep diaries of their daily lives, or perhaps diaries of what their fellow workers were talking about on lunch break. Or a host of other things: dances; movies; responses to news. Probably much of their approach would be unacceptable now, but even then this was seen as a clandestine activity. The information gleaned was sent to M–O, whose paid staff would release reports reflecting how the general public felt about issues of the day.

At first the government paid no attention, but as war approached and then arrived M–O studies became more acceptable. And as the M–O archives grew, researchers provided amazingly rich social assessments of issues ranging from life in the Land Army to preparations for invasion to post-war austerity. One of the better known volumes coming out of M–O material is Tom Harrisson’s Living Through The Blitz. Harrisson was one of the founders of M–O, and IIRC this volume was based on reports he sent to government during the time of the Blitz. They told government a story quite different from the propaganda the Ministry of Information was touting; the volume – finally presented in book form in 1976. It remains, IMHO, the finest “contemporary” evaluation of the impact of the Blitz between September 1939 and May 1940.

I’m not flogging anything here, though as I look back it certainly seems I am. You mentioned volumes with information or based on information that is often forgotten or mislaid. So I thought you might enjoy M–O volumes, if you didn’t know about them.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
----------------------------------
"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.

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