Friday, September 14, 2012

Ruth gets to grips with rationing

This week's episode of Wartime Farm saw historian Ruth Goodman getting to grips with the availability of ordinary foodstuffs, rationing and the role the Women’s Institutes played during the war.

In Swindon the first meeting of the Food Control Committee took place during the second week of September 1939.  It was already anticipated that there would be rationing of butcher’s meat, bacon, butter, margarine, lards, fat and sugar.

Chairman of the new committee, Swindon Mayor Harry Hustings, announced that plans for the registration of customers was under way and that forms would be sent to every household within the week.  Ration cards would be issued and it was hoped that food queues would be shorter than during the previous war.  Mr Hustings commented that as far as he could see there would be little opportunity of profiteering in food stuffs.

The rationing of coal as of October 1 was announced and supplies, along with gas and electricity for domestic and small consumers, would be limited to 75% of that used during the corresponding quarter of 1938.

Local garages reported an increase in sales as motorists attempted to beat the deadline for one last fill up. It was reported that at one Swindon garage "the rush was so heavy that a long queue of cars was lined up."  It was later confirmed that petrol rationing had been postponed for a week.

During November relays of volunteer workers, including secondary school children working under the supervision of the local food officer, date stamped and addressed the new ration books. With butter, bacon and ham the only items on the list of rationed foods, a Government announcement was expected that a modified scheme delayed until the middle of December was all that the situation demanded. Householders were instructed to register for these items, including sugar, with their chosen retailers as soon as they received their ration books.

In the summer of 1940 members of Stratton St Margaret Women's Institute bottled more than 800lbs of jam while Blunsdon women took part in a marathon jam making exercise to ensure that none of the local fruit harvest went to waste.  Members made more than 1,000bs of plum jam ably assisted by a couple of young volunteers. Nita McLellan 14 and thirteen year old Tonie Bowly were chief jar washers at the event and were responsible for sealing down and labelling nearly one thousand pots of jam.

And local schoolchildren soon got involved in the Dig for Victory campaign. Holy Rood pupils were pictured digging for victory at their newly acquired allotment ground in Upham Road. The hard work proved well worth the effort and the youngsters were rewarded with a bumper crop of vegetables.

With home grown veg set to play an increasingly important role on the menu, the Advertiser published tips for a better yield.  Success was all in the preparation, as gardeners were told to dig at least to the full depth of the spade and to make good use of their compost heap to ensure productive soil.  In 1941 householders were encouraged to plant fewer potatoes and to concentrate on root crops, onions, leeks and particularly winter greens.  One third of a plot planted to potatoes should be the maximum, was the general advice.

"Efficient cultivation, combined with economy in the use of seed, will greatly assist in the national welfare and in the campaign for a greater quantity and better quality of home produced food," reported the Advertiser with readers advised to visit a demonstration allotment plot to see how it should be done and to pick up tips.

Wartime Farm is shown on BBC2 Thursday at 8pm.

The National beverage goes on ration

Swindon housewife Lois Smith grows a bucketful of rhubarb in her kitchen cupboard

While Mr H.W. Townsend grows a bumper crop of onions in his garden at Clifton Street.

Members of Stratton St Margaret and Blunsdon Women's Institute making jam

Nita McLellan and Tonie Bowly

Holy Rood school boys hard at work

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I am the volunteer Online Parish Clerk for Stratton St Margaret. I see you have some Wartime WI pictures on this site, could I use them as part of this History Project.

    To see current content please go to

    If you have anything else on Stratton that could help the project that would be appreciated.


    Nigel Chalk