It’s a very long time since we experienced the hardships of living in wartime England, but a lot of the memories are still pretty fresh in the minds of anyone who lived through it!
I remember it was a time when all street lights were turned off, and cars had their headlights masked, so that there was barely enough light to drive by at night. It was a time when the only clothes you could buy displayed a special label called ‘Utility’ – it referred to the materials and other factors involved in the making of virtually every item of clothing, which were all mass-designed to use the least possible amount of material. It was also a time when Council workers went to every piece of land in the country that was surrounded by an elegant cast iron railing and cut them off at the base, before transporting them to the nearest munitions factory; where they were supposedly melted down to make shells, tanks and all manner of other wartime equipment.
And it was the time of rationing!
Rationing was a scheme, devised by government to ensure that everyone had an adequate supply of the various food groups necessary to keep the population fit and well, but without any of the luxuries everyone had been accustomed to before war broke out. The ration book allowed everyone a couple of ounces of butter every week, plus meat, eggs, sugar, tea, cheese and bacon. As well as several other food items that were rationed, either because they were listed in the ration-book or they were simply impossible to get because they were exotic goods, imported from abroad, like bananas, oranges and New Zealand lamb. Petrol was rationed too of course; you had your own a special ration book for that, and all petrol stations sold the same fuel, called “Pool”, no Esso, BP or Shell in those days, and even when you could find a bowser with fuel, the ration would only get you about twenty miles or so! Only people with approved occupations could get petrol at all, the rest just put their cars in mothballs and hoped they would still work when it was all over! One final item, and it was about the most important to us kids – chocolate and sweets, and what is more, they weren’t taken off the ration for quite a few years after hostilities stopped! That was dreadful! Even worse, when sweet rationing was “finally” abandoned, there was such a rush on the confectionery shops that every piece of chocolate or boiled sweet in the country was sold within a couple of hours and the government had to put it all back on ration again, not to be finally cleared for nearly another year!
As the war progressed, another, much more dreadful thing happened than the mere restrictions caused by rationing. That was the bombing, with German aircraft arriving over some British city nearly every night of the week, during a period known as the blitz; unless the weather was too bad for them to find their way to their targets. I think most people of a religious bent would have prayed every night for rain; it was much more efficient than any anti-aircraft gun emplacement for keeping everyone safe in their beds! Bombing wasn’t the high-tech extremely accurate monster it is today, so although the Germans knew the targets they were aiming for, it was still a rather ‘scatter’ affair with bombs going off anything up to a mile from the intended target! Add to this the bombs that sometimes jammed in bomb-bays, which crews worked to free before they had to land back at their bases. These could quite literally land anywhere, depending on how long it took for the crew to free them, so as long as there were hostile aircraft somewhere in your vicinity, you were in a state of some stress!
Happily, my parents and I survived the war, with the nearest bomb destroying a house two roads away from ours, but I still get a funny feeling when I hear the fire siren on our local CFA station go off – it sounds exactly like the air raid warnings we used to get during the blitz. Not a sound you can forget, even seventy five years later!
Did you experience wartime hardships?
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