Before the Second World War Britain relied heavily on imports of food from around the globe, principally America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. One of Germany’s military aims was to sink merchant shipments and ‘starve Britain into submission’. Thousands of British merchant ships were lost, food became scarce, and rationing was introduced in January 1940.
The Dig for Victory campaign was organised by the Ministry of Agriculture. It called for everyone in Britain to ‘do their bit’ by digging up their lawns and flower beds to plant vegetables. They also encouraged people to keep an allotment; 1.4 million allotments were established which produced over 1 million tons of vegetables. People were also encouraged to keep chickens, rabbits, goats and even pigs in their back-gardens or small-holdings.
The system of rationing was introduced early in the war. Each person was presented with a ration book containing coupons and every householder was required to register with their local shops. Shopkeepers were provided with enough food for their ‘registered customers’.
Initially, only bacon, butter and sugar were rationed, but this was soon followed by meat, fish, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, milk and canned fruit. Later during the war, other goods such as clothing and shoes were rationed.
Although most people considered rationing to be fair, it was far from perfect and illegal black-markets flourished.