Liverpool Blitz: Shopping on the ration

During the war many things like clothes and food were in short supply, especially items imported from abroad (the ships were needed for the war effort). Rationing was a way of limiting the sale of these essential items so that everyone had a little of the things they needed each week.

Fire reduces a building to a skeleton
A fire reduces this building on Church Street to a skeleton. 21/22 December 1940
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Everyone in the country, even the royal family, was issued with a ration book that allowed them to buy a certain amount (weight) of each rationed item. People took their book along to their local shop and there exchanged coupons and money for a certain amount of the rationed goods (not everything was rationed). The Government encouraged people to buy their goods at the end of the week, so if there was a delay delivering supplies for the following week they would not have to go without.

You couldn't just walk into any shop and buy your ration - you had to visit the grocer and butcher you had registered with. This meant that each shop had exactly the right amount of food delivered for its customers, but it also meant that shopping was difficult for people who worked a distance from their home.

Rationed foods included sugar, butter, margarine, jam, syrup, treacle, cheese and sweets. Fresh meat was rationed by price rather than weight - you could buy £x worth- but the cheapest meat wasn't rationed at all. Ice cream manufacture was made illegal in September 1942 (it was considered a luxury, not a necessity). Bread wasn't rationed during the war.

Furniture was rationed as were clothes. The government encouraged everyone to 'make do and mend' - patching holed clothes, unravelling old jumpers and reusing the wool etc. Tobacco and alcohol were limited by their availability, as were tyres and petrol.

It was often difficult to make ends meet while you were on the ration. Mothers would have to sit and work out what they could buy with their family's coupons. Housewives were encouraged to be more creative with limited ingredients. In general people, especially children, had healthier diets during the war. This was partly due to a diet with more vegetables, plus the milk and vitamin rationing schemes.

Lewis's is reduced to a shell
A major Liverpool landmark, Lewis's on Ranelagh Street, is reduced to a shell. 3 May 1941
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Rationing was meant to ensure an even and fair distribution of life's essentials, but in practice some people did better than others. There was always someone who was able to get a little more of something or a luxury item like a tin of pineapple, and it must have been quite demoralising if you saw your friends and neighbours with these extras. As a result some people wanted more food rationed so that everyone could have a little more, however only food that had a guaranteed supply could be rationed.

Not everyone had the same rationing problems. People who lived in the country could often get hold of milk, butter, potatoes and eggs, so people from the city often travelled to the countryside to buy them as well.

Rationing didn't end with the war. The country was poor and supply was still limited, so rationing continued on some foods until 1954.


Have a go at this food rationing activity.

Or this clothes rationing activity, Make, Mend or Spend (requires Flash plug-in).




Emily Banks talks about getting extra rations.
(windows media | mp3 | read transcript)