When people talk about the problem of obesity on television these days my mind sometimes goes back to those wartime days in 1941 when I was 15.
With Hitler’s submarines sinking a high proportion of merchant ships in the world’s oceans, food became very short. Fresh fruit from abroad almost vanished. No lemons or oranges for a start and most little children had never seen a banana. Housewives queued for hours to get a couple of eggs. Sometimes, instead, they were offered a tin of dried egg powder which the Ministry of Food said was equivalent to 12 fresh eggs.
Cakes and Yorkshire puddings made with this stuff came out as flat as they went in. On the other hand Supply Pressed American Meat (Spam) was more popular. This looked like fresh meat and tasted okay. Everyone had a ration book with coupons in it for bacon and ham, (4oz a week), sugar (8oz), butter (2oz), cooking fat (8oz), tea (2oz), cheese (1oz), jam (2oz) plus a shilling’s worth of meat. Of course, the butcher might find an extra half pound of sausages under the counter for a regular customer.
Butcher Corporal Jones in the Dad’s Army programme had a little extra under the counter for the buxom Mrs Fox with whom he had a special relationship. There was also a ‘points’ allocation. You had 16 points a month which you could spend on biscuits, cereal, tinned fruit or fish. This was hardly generous as the purchase of a tin of salmon would use up a month’s supply.
It would have been easy for drinkers to kick their habit as a bottle of whiskey cost a working man’s weekly wage, and it became common to see a sign in a pub window saying ‘No Beer’. What might have been good for childrens’ teeth was that sweets were rationed in 1942 to 12 oz a month.
Sensible children took their ration in fruit drops, aniseed balls, gobstoppers or humbugs which lasted longer. Chocolate was wrapped in greaseproof paper as tin foil was needed in the armament factories. Rationing didn’t stop at food and drink. Clothes rationing was introduced two years after the war started. Every man, woman and child was given a yearly allowance of 66 coupons.
A man’s suit took 26 coupons and a lady’s woollen dress 11. One coupon got you a tie or two handkerchiefs.
Small boys would have been pleased in February 1942 when soap rationing started. Each person was allowed 3oz of toilet soap every month. A bar that size lasts me about a fortnight these days. The slogan ‘Dig for Victory’ appeared everywhere on posters.
All the available pieces of land in gardens, recreation grounds, railway embankments and allotments was dug up for vegetables. A friend of mine had a plot in Greenwich Park in front of the Queen’s House. He grew potatoes and swedes but got a bit fed up with carrying buckets of water from the tap by the boating pond 100 yards away.
There was an abundance of carrots. The Government was alarmed by the large number of people being killed by accidents in the blacked out streets and, to encourage people to eat carrots, started the rumour that carrots helped you see in the dark, even saying that Cats’ Eye Cunningham, the ace night-fighter pilot, practically lived on them.
Surprisingly, in the years 1939-42, when I was evacuated to Tunbridge Wells and being looked after by two middle-aged spinsters, all this rationing didn’t seem to worry me. I remember that we kept our butter and cheese rations on separate plates in the larder and eventually the gardener killed the very old tame rabbit which was made into a pie by the cook, and very nice it was too, surprisingly we all seemed to have enough to eat.
Occasionally Margaret, one of the sisters who had taken us in in 1939 and who did voluntary work in the local hospital, would bring home a bowl of beef dripping. Lovely grub spread on toast with a sprinkle of salt.
Looking back all those years I think that the shortage of sugar and fat might have benefited that generation of wartime children. I certainly don’t remember anyone who was at school with me being called Fatty.
In the advert for Peek Frean’s fruit pudding the worried looking housewife who’s an air raid warden (like Mr Hodges in Dad’s Army) hasn’t time to cook her husband a hot dinner. Her marriage is crumbling until one of her colleagues tells her that P.F.’s tinned puddings are delicious and can be cooked in an hour.
They only cost a shilling (5p) and are off ration. There’s a choice of flavours, Christmas, light fruit, dark fruit, date, ginger and sultana.
Personally I’d go for the one with dates in it every time.
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