Thursday, January 24, 2008

War Time Rationing

All of the countries involved in World War 2 had some kind of rationing program that affected every citizen. We received the first set of the British series Foyle's War (highly recommended) from my brother's family for Christmas. The crime series deals with everyday life in wartime England and many of the stories involved theft and black market activities involving food, fuel and munitions. RuthieJ commented on my last post saying,

"I found it especially interesting that it was actually illegal to feed birds. Makes me wonder if that situation occurred now, would I break the law?? I imagine it would have been impossible in those days to even sell birdseed don't you think?"

Britain, being an island, had big problems with supply as well as the challenges of outfitting an army. It was even illegal to sell meat for dogs. Shipping was disrupted for years and items like bananas were never seen. Canada did not experience rationing in such a stringent way. Food rationing began in January of 1942 and fuel was rationed starting in April of the same year. Sugar, tea, coffee, butter, fat and meat were rationed and other foods were often not available at all.

Mom told me that her father, being a country doctor, had a special permit for fuel and was not subject to restrictions. However, her family raised sheep for meat (she never served us lamb at home, having tired of it as a child) and were restricted in other food items. Everyone was encouraged to grow a "victory garden" and housewives were given special tips on canning and preserving by the government.

One surprising effect of rationing in Britain was that the health of the nation actually improved
as people ate a more balanced diet, less meat and fat and had more exercise. (This point system for foods was invented long before Weight Watchers started their points program!). No fuel rations were required to pedal a bicycle or to use public transit so people had to use their legs.

This calendar was issued in our city in the 1940's (Click to enlarge)
Restaurants did not serve meat two days a week and the days when coupons could be redeemed were highlighted. And recycling, from bones to aluminum and other metals to old clothing was part of the war effort at home. The slogan for the times was, ''Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do and Do Without."

Many of my patients lived through the great depression and then through the Second World War, overseas or in Canada. The effects of doing without has stayed with them for a lifetime and we sometimes see them hoarding sugar packets, jam, and other left-overs from mealtime in their bureau drawers.

I would not like to see a return to enforced rationing, but in this day of environmental concern and overconsumption, we could revisit some of the lessons learned in the war years.

Do you have any family stories about war time rationing?

Mom, Uncle Bill, Grandad Devins and ? at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada


  1. My dad has often said (tongue in cheek) that the best thing that could happen to this gluttonous country of excess is another good depression. It's true that when you learn to rely on one another more and eat what you had with appreciation, your perspective is very different. He'll sometimes say to us, "You don't know what it's like to go without." And, he's right, we don't. As a result, our country is very spoiled and no longer very self-reliant.

  2. I've really enjoyed these historical posts. It does seem that my parents' generation recycled before it was "cool" There are some very important lessons there.

  3. What an excellent, informative post! I remember Dad telling me about building a little truck/car from all kinds of parts around his father's farm - due to gas rations.
    The slogan should be applied today in our lives - not to the extent but we are a wasteful society.

  4. What Jayne heard from her Dad was what I heard from my parents also. We have become wasteful because we haven't experienced rationing, other than our water recently - which has made us conscious to conserve.

  5. My mother was certainly affected but perhaps more by the depression than the war. She could recall eating nothing but Cream of Wheat for three days. I was born after the war, but I seem to recall packages being sent to Britain in the early fifties.

  6. Ruth,

    My mother is a hoarder. She buys meat when it is on sale and fills her freezer with it. She lives alone, so there is always far more than she needs.

    Grandma kept a ball of string, cut buttons off old clothes and made those clothes into quilts. Nothing was ever wasted and today I cringe at the wastefulness that goes on.

    I found this most interesting and I'm going to talk to Mom and see if I can come up with a story or two about war time rationing in our family.


  7. Hi Ruth - yes, I heard the same stories from my folks about doing without both during the War as well as the Depression. My mom told me about rationing, and my dad served in WWII. His war stories were always interesting to hear, too. During the Depression my mom was the oldest girl (3rd born) in a family of 9 kids. Growing up back then must have been difficult. My mom had to quit school (8th grade) in order to help out at home. She use to tell me about having to care for her 6 younger sisters. And everyone had chores to do, including tending the chickens and the garden. They may have had to do without, but they always made do with what they had.

  8. Thanks to all who shared their personal and family experiences.

  9. I don't have specific stories but my "Nana" had a lot of thrifty habits. A lot of them she picked up during war years.

    She would rinse plastic bags and hang them up to dry after using them.-She refused to use a dryer-hanging sheets outside even in the middle of winter.-She bought the cheapest meats she could find and then ran them through a meat grinder to make them edible.-She boiled socks/underwear on the stove and bleached them too.She would only use the tub and ringer type washer all the way up to her death in the 80's.-I could go on and on.

  10. Larry- Being thrifty was a full time job for your Nana!


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