The front cover and coupons from inside a Ministry of Food Ration Book belonging to Christine Crawford, 438 Lisburn Road, Belfast. 1953-1954

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The front cover and coupons from inside a Ministry of Food Ration Book belonging to Christine Crawford, 438 Lisburn Road, Belfast. 1953-1954 © PRONI Reference: D/2003/D/3/1/7

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Due to severe shortages of a whole range of commodities, and to ensure that everyone got a fair share of what was available, the Government was forced to introduce rationing of essential and non-essential food, clothing, petrol and even furniture. Ration books were issued. These contained coupons and shopkeepers cut out the relevant number of coupons when a customer bought goods.


The German U-boats (unterseeboats) began attacking supply ships bringing food across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain in an attempt to starve the country out and secure victory.  In order to ensure that there was enough food to go around the Government was forced to introduce rationing and the public had to get used to a reduced supply of a wide variety of foodstuffs. Food rationing was to last for 14 years ending only in 1954.

In January 1940, bacon, butter and sugar were rationed, then meat, fish, bacon and ham, sausages, butter, cheese, tea, sugar, cheese, eggs, milk, rice, breakfast cereals, flour, biscuits, jam, treacle, syrup, dried and canned fruit, and sweets and chocolate were added to the list of rationed food. What did this mean? Each person was allowed to buy meat to the value of 1s. 2d (roughly 6p in today’s money), two ounces (approx 50g) of butter  per week, four ounces of bacon and ham, between two and three pints (1200ml-1800ml) of milk, two ounces cheese, one fresh egg each week, eight ounces of sugar and two ounces of tea.

In an attempt to make up the shortfall the public were encouraged to Dig for Victory.  People were asked to dig up their front and back gardens and turn them over to growing vegetables.  Schools and universities joined this campaign and cabbages, carrots and potatoes appeared where once there were green lawns. Pigs, chickens, rabbits and even goats were reared in gardens in towns and cities. Ironically, the war-time diet, while monotonous - even boring - was one of the healthiest of recent times. With unhealthy fat and sugar in short supply and only wholesome ingredients available people were forced to eat healthy meals and the nation’s health improved.

The less scrupulous turned to the black market and a lively smuggling trade developed between Northern Ireland and Eire. Tea and sugar were smuggled south in return for butter and bacon which travelled north.


Rationing of clothing was introduced on 1 June 1941 two years after rationing started. Each item of clothing was given a value in coupons and each person had roughly 48 clothes coupons per year. For example, a pair of children’s shoes required two coupons, a cardigan five coupons and a skirt four coupons. People were encouraged to 'Make Do And Mend' a Government-run campaign that advocated repairing your old clothes rather than buying new ones.

War-time brides-to-be found these restrictions particularly trying when they attempted to assemble a wedding trousseau. Clothes rationing meant that the workers employed in the manufacture of clothes could be re-deployed in munitions factories thus providing vital aid to the war effort. The material for making clothes had to be imported and because of the disruption to shipping was in short supply.  Clothes rationing ended on 15 March 1949.