A peek at the past: Extracts from a reader’s memoirs

Guest Post:

Extract two: WW2. Rationing


https://fontsinuse.com/uses/1542/world-war-ii-british-ration-book

Rationing was very strict.   We had 10 pennyworth of meat each per week.  Oranges when available were only for the holders of green ration books (the under 5s)  We each got 1lb of jam and 1 egg per month.  1/4lb of tea per month, two ounces of Butter a week, and four ounces of margarine. Bacon was 2 oz. per week.   Even bread and potatoes were rationed at times.

Clothing was on coupons, and I recall I once even had wooden soled clogs with yellow leather uppers. I was so proud when my mother made me a coat from a grey army blanket.  She lined the hood and did the facings in red tartan.   Old knitted woollen garments were unravelled, the wool washed, and reknitted.

It was very unpatriotic to have more than five inches of water in the bath.  Soap was rationed, and I remember in 1944 finding some gritty soap powder in a sack in a market and my mother being SO pleased because it was off the ration.  One did not ask too many questions.

Cigarettes were almost unobtainable as they all went to the military. Pubs closed because they ran out of beer quite often. Coal was rationed.   We had to always clear our plates at mealtimes because  “Brave men have DIED to bring that food to you”.

We had blackout blinds all around the house, with patterned curtains over the top of them.

Air raids became an almost nightly occurrence. We were trained to fold our clothing at night in the order that it could be put on quickly and leave our gasmasks handy too.

wandw.wikidot.com

When the sirens went we would get up, but after a while, not go into the shelter unless there was a lot of anti-aircraft gunfire.   My father would go out and see the local Air Raid Warden, and often come back and get us quickly into the shelter because there was a “Red” on.

In the shelter, we would sing.  One song was remembered by my mother as being an old Music Hall one, “When Father Papered the Parlour”—–     “When Father papered the parlour, You couldn’t see Pa for paste, Dabbing it here, Dabbing it there, There was paint and paper everywhere,  Mother got stuck to the ceiling, Sister stuck to the floor. You never saw a bloomin’ family So stuck up before !”

Even as small children we became used to the sound of the engines on the planes. If it was “one of ours” it would have a steady hum.  Those of the German planes had a throbbing sound.  Although we lived three miles from the city, we got some bombs.  There was a Royal Ordnance Factory near Crossgates named Barnes Bowe, and they used to target that, and often either aim badly or get rid of their bombs on the way home.

We would watch the local Home Guard men doing their training exercises through the local woods and fields.  As children would, I secretly planned that when the Germans came I would be terribly brave and carry messages for them because I reasoned, no-one would suspect a child.

Churchbells were only to be rung as a warning of invasion. Although we didn’t know it, thousands were killed in the air raids, but the numbers were minimised for reasons of morale, and there was a fine for people found guilty of “spreading alarm and despondency”.  The pictures at the cinema were thinly veiled propaganda, but we were too naïve to acknowledge it.  Winston Churchill as Prime Minister was an excellent leader and rallied us to greater effort.  His famous speech, “We will fight on the beaches, we will fight in the fields, and in the hedgerows, ………..We will NEVER surrender! “  was so often quoted.

At intervals, we would have to go to some officially appointed place and get our gas masks adjusted for some new gas.  They screwed another filter on the bottom of the “snout”.

At school, we followed the progress of the war through Europe by coloured pins stuck into a huge map, and the geography and the place names became very familiar as they were fought over. Not having television then, we saw the newsreels at the cinema via Movietone British News or Pathe Gazette.

There were huge concrete tank traps and pillboxes erected on the main roads in and out of town.    Bus and tram windows were covered in woven mesh to prevent shattering with the bombs, and just a small “peephole” was left for passengers to see their progress on the journey. Our windows at home were crisscrossed with paper strips like trellis work.

Wikimedia Commons
File:Troops from the Grenadier Guards constructing sandbag defences around government buildings in Birdcage Walk

Public buildings were all sandbagged.

On radio we listened to such shows as “Workers Playtime”, and “ITMA”, and “Happidrome”, and community singing and “ Monday Night at Eight”

As time went on we began to see army trucks with green-clad prisoners of war, which made us feel better.  Many of the Italian prisoners worked on local farms and married local girls after peace came.

A big change was about to happen in my life.


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