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Lest We Forget Exhibition - Food and Rationing

Birmingham Remembers VE Day

Food and Rationing

Please click on the caption or on the image for a larger version.

Ration book

Britain's island status provided a degree of security but also presented problems for the supply of food as we were not self- sufficient and relied upon shipping for many vital supplies. The vulnerability of merchant ships to German attack had led to rationing in World War 1 and before the outbreak of this war the government realised it would be necessary again. Ration cards had been prepared in 1938 and issued in September 1939. Winston Churchill was opposed to the idea but public opinion was wholeheartedly in favour as people preferred equality to a free for all in which the well-off would stock pile food and the poor go hungry.

Rationing was introduced in January 1940 and the first foodstuffs to be rationed were sugar, butter, ham, and bacon. The food items rationed and the amounts allowed varied throughout the war as supplies became affected.

Tin of dried eggs

The weekly ration for one person in 1941 was:

  • 1 ounce of cheese
  • 4 ounces of butter
  • 2 ounces of tea
  • 12 ounces of sugar
  • 3 pints of milk
  • 1 packet of dried egg
  • 1s 2d worth of meat

Kitchen scraps for hens

The only way to increase food supply was to produce more in Britain. This meant using extra areas of land to grow more fruit and vegetables. A "Dig for Victory" campaign began in October 1938 and householders were encouraged to grow as much of their own fruit and vegetables as possible.

Flower beds were dug up and planted with carrots and onions, parks, playing fields, railway embankments and roadside verges now became "allotments". By 1943 there were 3.5 million allotments in Britain producing over a million tonnes of vegetables.

Many people now kept pigs and rabbits to give extra meat, and chickens to provide eggs.

The Ministry of Food saw a chance to improve people's health and various diets were worked out and cookery leaflets distributed to encourage people to make the most of what was available and to try unusual recipes such as "Woolton pie", a meatless concoction of root vegetables and oatmeal.

 Minstry of Food cookery logo

There was a huge increase in eating out, not least because of the call-up of women for war work In 1939 there were 1,500 factory canteens by 1945 this had increased to 18,500. A chain of "British Restaurants" were established providing cheap basic meals and from June 1942 no restaurant was allowed to serve a meal costing more than 5 shillings.

Britain's wartime diet provided adequate nutrition but was very boring.

Thanks to rationing the diet of the poorest sections of society actually improved during war and the nation as a whole was better nourished than it had been in the 1930s.

'Lest We Forget' Exhibition
VE Day Ration Book