Rationing and West Sussex

By Abigail Hartley, Searchroom Archivist

Go easy with the butter,
Be careful with the jam.
And here’s a word remember,
That it’s 16 points for spam.
Just bear in mind that Allied ships,
We need for war’s equipment,
Must pass through many danger zones,
To bring us every shipment.

Rationing, from ‘Rhymes of those Times’ By Gwen Jones, 1945, WSRO, AM 1190/1

Earlier last month I wrote a blog about the arrival of children to West Sussex as part of the Evacuation Scheme successfully cobbled together by central government, and London and West Sussex schools. This month we continue with the commemoration the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

The Record Office holds a multitude of items that show how people lived whilst having their clothes, petrol, food and drink rationed.

If we start with Add Mss 54087 – Letters to Molly Chandler in Canada from her father Fred Chandler in Tillington, in which he describes how stingy the petrol rationing was in 1939.

“We have had however complete blackout over the whole country, and the most strangest regulations for cars and cycles, making night driving very dangerous. I shall not go out after sunset as I understand the petrol ration will be 5 gals only per month. There is not much hope in getting anywhere.”

WSRO – Add Mss 54087

This collection as a whole is filled with gems. Fred makes drawings of where bombings occurred in the first years of the war, and describes how rationing affected local businesses. His daughter, who was stationed in Canada at the time, received letters on a near weekly basis.

The records of MP 5329 show what the assorted books and cards people now had to carry on their person. The coupon system could get complicated, and inevitably led to the queues so famous in so many images at the time.

A notice to the public regarding the rationing of clothing was published in 1941, which stated the 66 coupons would have to do per person until May 1942. Exempt goods included baby and toddler clothing, boiler suits, hats, caps, hair nets, sewing thread, mending wool, shoe laces, 3 inches thick or less fabric, elastic, lace, sanitary towels, braces, garters, clogs (of all things), blackout cloth and all secondhand clothing. Is it any wonder where the “make do and mend” mentality came from?

But it is not just in personal collections that we see the impact of rationing. It’s also in county records. You can read in Council minutes about the establishment of allotment committees and the purchasing of land to grow more food in WOC/CC1/22. Moreover, local schools, now with even more mouths to feed due to evacuation, had to be extraordinarily careful in what products they used as well as portion size.

E/255/19/10 contains many circulars advising portion sizing, with meat being equivalent of 2d per meal, 1/7 oz of bacon per meal, and 1/5 oz for preserves per meal. Interestingly, tea was not rationed initially. One circular notes:

“There is no permitted quantity of tea at the moment, but all calculations are made on the basis of 1lb of tea equals 200 beverages”

WSRO – E/255/19/10

Which just goes to show how tea was too precious to ration. It was only in 1940 when it was rationed for the general public, and even then it was enough to make three cups a day, much less stringent then other rationed goods for sure!

The Ministry of Food recommended 2,500 calories per child at the time (as much as an adult requires nowadays) and suggested that a hot school dinner should account for 1,000 of those calories. The Labour Research Department reported that by 1942 around 700,000 children were having school dinners – a good way to reduce pressure on parents at home whilst ensuring malnutrition was avoided during particular shortages.

AM621/9 contains a brilliant little advisory menu for children’s meals from the Ministry of Food. It includes such appetising things as cheese and raw grated cabbage sandwiches, swede juice, creamed cod or mashed veggies on toast, all of which seems to be awfully optimistic of children’s eating habits.

The Home Guard also had similar restrictions. Placing orders for food could be tricky, and often requests for extra rations could be nigh impossible to receive a positive response. MP 2064 shows what it took to obtain a turkey in a catering establishment during Christmas. In the case of cheese, we have one circular from the Food Control Committee for the Food Area of the Rural District of Chichester from the 18th August 1940, which notes that:

“While every endeavour will be made to meet your wishes in regard to the types of cheese supplied, no guarantee can be given that your requirements in this respect will be met.”

WSRO – AM 686/1

It is a bit surreal reading these notices now, and tricky to imagine in today’s world being denied cheese or tea or turkey on the 23rd of December… but it was the reality for 1940s and early 1950s Britain.

Whilst bread was restored in 1948, other foods and goods remained restricted. Clothes rationing ended in 1949, and petrol in 1950. Sweets and chocolate were once more allowed to be endlessly consumed on the 4th of February 1953, with sugar in general following that September, where finally, on the 4 July 1954, restrictions on the sale and purchase of meat and all remaining items were lifted. The impact of the war was continually felt on so many levels, fifteen years after it had started and nearly a decade after it had ended.

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