BOMB-DAMAGED STREET IN LONDONAs you might imagine, The Blitz had an impact on the daily life of the British people.  To counter some of the concerns that arose, the concept of rationing was implemented.  There were three main types of rationing.

Food Rationing:  Before the War, Britain imported approximately 55 million tons of food; a month after the War had started, this dropped to about 12 million.  “At a time when food was in short supply because of shipping losses and the problems of importing foodstuffs from other countries, the British government did remarkable well in terms of feeding the nation.” ( Blitz Families ~ Penny Starns )  The Ministry of Food was established and basic food rations were introduced in January of 1940.  Rationing amounts fluctuated slightly depending on availability, but the basic rations per adult included:

  • Bacon, ham or meat 4 oz (100g) to the value of 1s 2d (roughly 6p) weekly.  Sausages were not rationed but difficult to obtain; offal was originally not rationed but sometimes formed part of the meat ration.
  • Butter 2 oz (50g) weekly
  • Cheese 2 oz (50g); sometimes this rose to 4oz (100g) and even up to 8 oz (200g) weekly
  • Margarine or cooking fat 4 oz (100g) weekly
  • Milk 3 pt (1800ml), sometimes dropping to 2 pt (1200ml) weekly; in addition one packet of household skimmed and dried milk was available every month.
  • Sugar 8 oz (200g) weekly
  • Preserves 1 lb (450g) every two months
  • Tea 2 oz (50g) weekly
  • Eggs, 1 egg a week if available but at times dropping to 1 every two weeks.  Dried egg powder was available and restricted to 1 packet a month.
  • Sweets 12 oz (350g) every month

There was also a monthly points system that allowed a person to buy 1 can of fish or meat, 2 lb (0.9kg) of dried fruit or 8 lb (3.6kg) of split peas.  Babies and younger children as well as expectant and nursing mothers, had orange juice and cod liver oil, along with priority milk.  This milk was also available to invalids.

Ration books were issued in three colours.  Buff-coloured books were for most adults.  Green books were issued to pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under 5.  They had first choice of fruit, a daily pint of milk and a double supply of eggs.  The blue ration books were for children between 5 and 16 years of age.  It was believed important that children have fruit, the full meat ration, along with a half pint of milk per day.  Tea coupons weren’t cut out of children’s ration books, but used to buy oranges when they were available.  As you might expect, rationing wasn’t popular but it did help to ensure that families had a higher standard of nutrition since they were restricted to foods of better nutritional value.  Indeed the Ministry of Food, along with the Ministry of Health, set out cooking and shopping guidelines for all housewives, and “rules” for feeding children.  These included:

  • Give children their fully body building rations, milk, cheese, eggs, bacon and meat.
  • Give salads and vegetables at the beginning of the meal while the child’s appetite is still keen.
  • Avoid fried foods.  They are seldom digested.
  • Don’t let children have too much starchy food – bread, cereals, puddings, etc.  Give these after they’ve had their body building foods.
  • Don’t let the children have pepper, mustard or vinegar.

Each family or individual had to register with a local supplier from whom the ration would be bought.  The details were stamped in the book and you could only buy your ration from that supplier.  The books contained coupons that had to be given to or signed by the shopkeeper each time rationed goods were bought.  This meant that people could only buy the amount they were allowed.

Clothing Rationing:  The rationing of clothing followed food in June 1941.  The allowance was 48 coupons per year per person and it applied to everyone. All clothes items had a price tag as well as the number of coupons required to purchase them.  So an individual’s ability to buy was determined by the number of allocated coupons they had as opposed to how much money he/she had.  The system wasn’t designed to affect price but rather to restrict supply.  Much of the clothing that was produced ended up with the army.  The soldiers in battle needed a constant supply of spare clothing, and this led to shortages of cloth as well as pre-made clothing.  Because the army received so much of the clothing, the people of London were often without any cloth to buy.  When cloth was available, it became so expensive, that the typical family could only afford one set of clothes per year ( when using the rationing book ).  Clothing became utilitarian.  Pleats and turn-ups disappeared from trousers and garments were plain.  Women painted gravy browning on bare legs as a replacement for silk stockings.

Petrol ( Gasoline ) Rationing:  All of the tanks, planes, and other war apparatus used petrol.  Because of the constant need for petrol in battle, it was hard to find in London.  It was only available for business and essential purposes.  Each British citizen was given between 4 and 10 gallons of gas, depending on how far they had to travel, for each time they filled up their car.  As a result, public transportation became more important.  Public buses, though, didn’t receive the necessary petrol needed, and thus affected bus scheduling.  Buses were taken out of service by 9 pm during the week and 2 pm on Sundays.  In some towns, buses didn’t run at all.  Rail travel didn’t have a coupon style restriction imposed upon it, but the bicycle became an increasingly popular mode of transportation.  Sales soared and the bike became the quickest way to travel once roads became blocked or littered with debris from air raids.