Only the older readers of this article will remember it, but rationing was undoubtedly fairly severe during the war, but I don’t believe the apparent shortages did anyone any harm. The fact was that the ration, carefully worked out by Government experts was a very well balanced one, providing all the necessary nourishment for a healthy body, while eliminating most of the sugary or fatty additions we seem to need so much today. The result was that everyone tended to be fit and lean. Just look at any photographs taken between 1940 and 1945, you’ll see very few fat people, but they do all tend to look fairly healthy!
The items everyone was guaranteed through rationing of food were meat, eggs, butter, cheese, bacon and sugar. Tea, sweets, (candy), and chocolate were rationed too. Most clothing and material was under ration as well, and the government introduced a special line of clothing known as ‘Utility’ and bearing a special identifying label. Some other items, such as local fruit and vegetables never were rationed officially, though the lack of supply created a form of rationing anyway, most of the time. Exotic fruits such as bananas, oranges and pineapples disappeared altogether until well after the end of the war, unless you had some sort of contact with the ‘black market’. Run by what was known as ‘spivs’, the black market in the U.K. could still get you almost anything right through the war, provided you were prepared to pay for it! They specialised mainly in luxury items such as exotic foods, quality clothing and ration coupons for food and petrol.
Everyone also had to get used to some new and often rather disgusting food items during the war, a lot of which had never been heard of before. There were powdered eggs for instance, from which you could make a sort of rubbery omelette, or add to cake recipes, but which were of little use for anything else. Then there was whale meat, (which actually wasn’t too bad); a peculiar sort of fish imported when possible from Russia called ‘snoek’, and horsemeat. The latter never really caught on though – the British have too great a love affair with the horse to start eating it, just because there’s a war on! Race them yes, ride them into battle yes, even send them down the mines, yes – but never eat them!
The British became famous for their stoicism and their willingness to form a queue, something very few other countries mastered the art of, then or now! It wasn’t unknown for people to join the end of a queue without even knowing what was to be had at the front of it, just in case they missed out on something worthwhile, if they didn’t. The trouble is English people are just too polite, though whether that is a good thing, or bad, I have no idea!
Luckily, most of the strange foods the Government tried to foist onto the population disappeared as soon as the war was over; about the only thing that was kept, and in fact improved steadily, right up to the present was margarine. The early product of the forties was made mainly from whale oil, I believe, and wasn’t too good! Again, like the dried eggs, it was very limited in its use and bore little relationship with the excellent product we are familiar with today. It was oily, white and it tasted distinctly fishy. It was thought by some people to be a Government secret weapon designed to stop us all getting too fat. If it was, they succeeded admirably!