Tea Rationing – 9th July 1940
During the Second World War, food shortages led to the introduction of rationing. In January 1940 everyone received a ration book containing coupons which they had to present every time they bought bacon, butter and sugar. This new way of shopping ensured that everyone got their fair share. As time went on more foods such as meat, tea, lard, cheese, biscuits, and dried fruits were rationed and the amounts available per person fluctuated. On 9th July 1940 (exactly 80 years ago today), the Belfast Telegraph reported that tea was rationed to 2 oz. weekly.
In March 1941 John Potter added to his scrapbook, a short newspaper article announcing that jam had also been rationed.
Our oral history collection contains many stories about food and rationing across Northern Ireland. On many accounts, rationing was not experienced as severely in NI than in the rest of the UK. Farmers were able to produce extra for their families and neighbours, while still contributing to government orders and some people crossed the border to smuggle food home on the train or by bicycle. We have heard some of the inventive approaches people adopted to ensure they got away with it and did not have to surrender their smuggled goods.
Joe O’Loughlin (W&M19) recalls that tea was plentiful here compared to the Republic of Ireland while in Northern Ireland it was difficult to get whiskey, he told us of ‘an old lady from Tyrone whose family had a pub in Bundoran and she used to travel by train up to Dungannon to see her family and the poor dear liked to keep herself warm in the wintertime, so she had one of those crockery hot water bottles to keep warm’. This meant that ‘of course she got all the sympathy of the customs man and that sort of thing… but up to Dungannon her hot water bottle was full of whiskey and then it was emptied out, dried out and filled with tea leaves for the return journey’.
Tins of dried eggs became available as they took up less space on ships, and we have recorded mixed reviews of them. Mabel Williams (BBP 29) enjoyed mock banana sandwiches; ‘it was a wonderful one, towards the end of the war they got a little something like essence of vanilla but it was essence of banana and I think you used it on mashed turnip or something, it was called mock banana and people tried to use it for sandwiches.’
Many interviewees mention that they had small allotments or back gardens converted into vegetable patches, which was greatly encouraged by the government’s Dig for Victory campaign. This made food supplies more sustainable and therefore the country was less reliant on imports, which were under threat from U-Boats.
American food became a novelty to many due to the volume of American troops stationed across Northern Ireland. For many the war years mark the first time they tasted Coca-Cola or chewing gum. Maureen McAllister (US75 1) recalls going to Langford Lodge for a party as a member of the Women’s Junior Air Corps (WJAC) and vividly remembers the food. ‘The tables were there and everything was on them… fruit, chocolate cake and there was all the different cakes on it… all sweet stuff, all the things we couldn’t get… oranges… other different biscuits… it was lovely and it was amazing to have the things that we didn’t have, not because the war was on but because you didn’t get them, they weren’t in any of our shops.’
The American presence also offered opportunities to local entrepreneurs. James Connolly Stewart (US16) recalls Americans were keen on whiskey especially ‘Old Comber Whiskey’ as he states ‘’Old Comber’ was still being distilled and the local entrepreneurs gave them (the GIs) little sampers of ‘Old Comber’ and they said (imitating American accent) “Boy, this is really good stuff”. Then they sold them full bottles of Old Comber but it was actually cold tea, so I would think that that led to some punch-ups as well.’
Do you or a loved one have memories of wartime food and rationing? If you would like to share your story, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at email@example.com or on 07588 634847.