The total war of World War Two put significant strains on the militaries as well as the home fronts of both the Allied and Axis powers. Total war forces both the military combatants and the civilians at home into the greater war machine. One of the common results of a total war situation is the destruction of shipping and supply to enemy nations. Germany spent a lot of military resources on submarines and warships used to blockade and attack Allied shipping. Great Britain was particularly affected by these attacks considering that most of their food was imported.
In the years leading up to the war, Britain imported nearly 55 million tons of food but soon after the war began, the German navy had successfully reduced this number to around 12 million. These extreme shortages necessitated the need for food rationing and on National Registration Day, the British government collect information on the inhabitants of every household. The next year, rationing was placed into effect. Every British person was issued a ration book. People had to register with a local supplier or grocery and bring their ration book with them as they purchased goods. The shop clerk would stamp these books to indicate the items purchased, ensuring that each person only received their government mandated share. At first, bacon, tea, sugar and cooking fat were rationed. Eventually, a variety of foods were restricted such as: eggs, meat, milk, and canned vegetables.
Food was not the only resource that was rationed for the war effort. Petrol for motorists was rationed as early as 1939 and the government issued out separate ration books for oil. Clothing also received its own rationing books by June 1941. Rationing was also strictly enforced. Those who unlawfully used their ration books to acquire more than the allotted amount were punished with imprisonment of up to a year. Merchants who failed to uphold and record rationing were subject to hefty fines and possible imprisonment as well. Most citizens were given the same amounts of each rationed item, but children and pregnant women were allotted more for health reasons.
Rationing in Great Britain was a social change that was to outlast the war by at least nine years. Foodstuffs were still in scarce supply by the time victory in Europe was achieved. A lot of Allied resources went to maintaining populations in continental Europe that were affected by the war as the Western powers worked to rebuild war torn areas. This meant that food and oil were still rationed in the United Kingdom well into the 1950’s. Finally, by 1954 the final rationing of oil was lifted, and British people could resume life as it was in the pre-war era. The effects of rationing can still be seen today in the modern U.K. as British cuisine had to adapt and grow in the later 20th century as resources became more readily available
Picture: A British ration book beside one person’s rations for a week. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/world_war2/food_and_shopping/