Tom on food rationing

Although he lived on his own for most of his adult life, Tom was not one to bother a great deal about food. That isn’t to say he didn’t like his food. On the contrary, his comfortable build indicated that his intake of calories exceeded his daily requirements. And he must have cooked occasionally but I don’t remember him ever talking about it. When at work he lunched at Botham’s Cafe, in Skinner Street if that was possible, and of course he had a constant stream of invitations to the annual dinner of this or that local society or organisation. And there was always a pie and a pint to be had at one of the town’s hostelries. They used to say that Whitby had more pubs per head of population than any other town in the country, though I was never sure that was true. When, in later years, Tom spotted a BBC TV series charting the changes in Britain’s food habits over the past 50 years, in particular how the population coped with rationing during and after the Second World War he was prompted to get out his trusty typewriter.

“No aspect of life in wartime Britain had a bigger impact on the people than rationing which covered clothes as well as food and many other things. Everyone was given a ration book with coupons. These were required before rationed goods could be purchased. Basic foodstuffs such as sugar, meat, fats, bacon and cheese were directly rationed by an allowance of coupons. Housewives had to register with particular retailers.

The Government regarded women as a very important part of the war effort and described those not in the forces or in the factories as part of the home front or the kitchen front.

Rationing meant having more food than before in some cases such as poor families brought up on a diet of fish and chips and bread and jam who changed to a more healthy diet. For most people the down-to-earth diets proved healthier than their pre-war regimes.

Toffs whose servants were called up had to learn how to cook. One young Ministry of Food advisor had the unenviable task of re-educating the Women’s Institute on jam-making, an encounter reputedly fiercer than the bloody Western desert battle of Tobruk! “Young women, I was making jam before you were born!”

When the war ended in 1945 many people expected rationing to end almost as suddenly but in fact it went on until 1954, almost as long again as the war itself. This was bitterly resented by many people who blamed it on mismanagement by the landslide post-war Labour Government. A persistent thorn in their side was the Housewives League, largely composed of middle-class women who fought a relentless battle against the Food Ministry. Later the League was taken over by the Tory party.

All rationing ended in 1954 (from the Whitby Gazette)

Bread rationing was one of the most hated regulations. When rationing finally ended, nine years after it was first imposed, one northern grocer, William Brown of Whitby, hung a string of flags outside his shop in celebration. Jubilant scenes were almost as joyful as those on VE day and VJ Day.”