Wartime Rations – Day Five

Britain declared war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939.  Although that declaration was followed by fighting in Norway and U-boat attacks on British ships in the Atlantic, so little happened for the next few months, that people in the UK started referring to it as The Bore War.

That all changed on Friday, May 10th 1940.  At 2am, the Germans invaded the Low Countries.  Three weeks later their grip on mainland Europe became absolute when the last soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force – including my dad – were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk.   It would be four long years before the British Army set foot on French soil again.

In 2009 I walked the 22 kilometre length of the Dunkirk beach with a friend. Unknowingly at the time, I took this photo of his dog tags very close to the spot where he actually stepped out on to the sands.

dunkirk beach

Getting back to my rations today.  No surprises when I tell you I had porridge for breakfast, eh?  Lunch was leftover Woolton Pie from last night with some Bubble and Squeak.  And then, treat of all treats – I had a piece of chocolate this afternoon.  My sweet ration is 3ozs of sweets/chocolate a week and I can’t tell you how wonderful that one single ounce of chocolate tasted.

Dinner was Beef Hot Pot and Beetroot (I’m really getting to like beetroot) followed by Apple and Rhubarb Crumble. Filling and tasty.

Rhubarb crumble Beef hotpot

A friend was telling me about how her father, who grew up in the countryside on the Isle of Wight during the war, was able to eat an egg for breakfast every day. When he got married and moved to the mainland, he was quite upset to discover his ration was now down to one egg per week – if they were even available.   When I mentioned this to Anne, she told me the following story.  I’ve never heard it before, and I think it’s a classic.

From Anne.

About the man from the IoW and his eggs – Yes, I’m sure that country folk fared better than us townies.  It isn’t easy to raise chickens in a city tenement, or to pot a rabbit or a pheasant with a shotgun.  Once when I was wandering alongside a stream in Kippen I came across a shot pheasant, dead but still warm, grabbed it and hid it under my coat till I got back to the house.  Mary (my mum) said she had no idea how to start preparing it so I’d better get on the bus to Glasgow and take it home.  Once there, I got the job of stripping off the feathers and then Mum, Dad & I had a good meal.  Took some of the best feathers back to Kippen to play cowboys and Indians.

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Wartime Rations – Day Four

Dinner tonight (after my usual breakfast and lunch) was Woolton Pie.  Trust me, an hour ago, things weren’t looking good on the cooking front.  I’ve never been great at making pastry, so attempting potato pastry for the first time… Let’s just say, I think it will take a bit of practice.

Woolton pie

But then, when I actually sat down to eat, things improved.  I certainly can’t complain about being hungry eating wartime rations.  In fact, I couldn’t finish my meal tonight, not because it tasted bad  –  despite how it looked, it ended up being pretty good after all – but because there was so much of it.

Britain faced several hard years of austerity after the war when even bread and potatoes became rationed, but after that, slowly  – slowly – things started to improve, although it wasn’t until July 4th, 1954 that rationing finally ended.  Fourteen years of rationing. Hard to imagine.

Which got me wondering when rationing ended in France and Germany, so I checked it out on Wikipedia: France in October 1945 and in Germany in 1950!  Can you imagine how galling that news must have for the British population. The Daily Mail newspaper commented, ‘Germany – the battered, shattered, defeated Germany – is to abolish rationing… Austrian shops are bulging with goods that the women of victorious Britain would like to see.’

Thoughts from Anne:

I married in the summer of 1947 and found myself with a kitchen when rationing was still quite severe.  At the butchers’, the butcher chose for you: he delivered a half pound of mince on Tuesday and two not very large lamb chops on Friday, and that was it for the week.  Rob came along in October 1948, but Blue Book rations had gone up a bit by the time he started having a little solid food – starting with fruit at about 3 months.  I can’t remember whether or not tins of prepared baby foods were available then or not, all I know is that I spent hours shoving fruit and veg through a fine strainer.

If you have any family stories of wartime rationing, please send them to me.  I would love to hear them.