Posted in Kafevend Blog

When we think of rationing, our minds no doubt turn to WW2. It took only a few months after the beginning of the war for rationing to begin. Petrol was the first resource to be rationed, but it didn't take long for it to start affecting the population's larders. Foodstuffs such as bacon, sugar, biscuits, milk and tea to name just a few were rationed as the war progressed.

Rationing had taken place during WW1 in the UK too, but not to the same extent as in WW2. There were a few attempts to conserve food. For example, it was illegal to eat more than two courses for lunch in a restaurant. Fines were also introduced for people found feeding pigeons or stray animals. Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare programme prompted new measures at the beginning of 1917, one of them a system of voluntary rationing. Bread was rationed as 1918 began, and a few more foods were rationed by July, but they didn't have too long to go before the war ended.

WW2 was a different matter entirely. The Germans turned to unrestricted submarine warfare much earlier on. The fight against the German U-boats lasted most of the war, and is now known as the Battle of the Atlantic. The U-boat fleet sank 3,500 merchant vessels as well as 175 warships, killing around 72,000 sailors. The Germans lost 783 of their U-boats and 30,000 sailors- three quarters of the men in the U-boat fleet. Despite these sobering statistics, vital supplies were still able to reach the UK and as the Allies gained the upper hand in technology they also managed to fight back against the U-boats.

Though many foodstuffs were rationed, fresh fruit and vegetables were not included in the list. Certain items like oranges and lemons became scarce or disappeared entirely, but there was a successful drive to get civilians to help alleviate the problem by growing their own, known as the "Digging for victory" campaign. Areas of land such as railway sidings, sports fields and golf courses were transformed into agricultural patches to supplement rations. Interestingly, the wide scale of rationing in WW2 in the UK actually improved the health of the population, as everyone had access to a varied diet.

Tea was limited to just 2oz (57g) per person per week by 1940, providing around three cups of rather weak tea per day. Coffee was not amongst those items rationed in the UK, but in the United States where it was the drink of choice, coffee was limited to 1 pound every five weeks by the end of 1942. It was the American soldiers who came to the UK who helped in part to promote a resurgence in coffee drinking in the country with their instant coffee rations. Whilst they found it a poor replacement for the drip brew back home in America, we Brits thought it was a real novelty.

Although the war ended in 1945, rationing did not end entirely in the UK until 1954. Happily, the tea ration had been increased by this point anyway, meaning there were far more cuppas to go around!

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