AS panic-buying overwhelms UK supermarkets, with a range of products now being sold in limited numbers, minds cast back to the rationing system of wartime.

It began in the First World War?

During the war, a combination of factors led to food shortages, including the sheer mass of food sent to the soldiers fighting on the front line. By 1918, Britain was sending more than 67 million lbs of meat to the Western Front monthly.

Supply was an issue?

Less food was coming in from other countries to Britain as supply boats were often attacked by German submarines, adding to food shortages at home, as well as the destruction of farm land.


This was one of the early main causes of food shortages that sparked panic and price hikes as farmers and other suppliers held back stock, either to profit or in the belief that they would need to eke items out. The government granted powers to act if food was being withheld from the marketplace, so the Board of Trade could impound it.


As is the case today, the newspapers were full of pleas from government and officials for people not to buy more than required.


Very long queues became the norm outside shops and in 1918, new laws were set to ensure a fair way of sharing food so that everyone got what they needed, with each person given a ration card – even King George and Queen Mary – to ensure an allotment of key foods. The rules were strict and anyone found breaking them would be prosecuted.

The Second World War?

Rationing began on January 8, 1940, with people having to register at their chosen shop. Aside from petrol, the items first rationed were 4oz of bacon or ham, 4oz of butter and 12oz of sugar a week. From May, rations included 1oz of cheese and in the summer, 2oz of tea was allowed. By 1941, milk was rationed. Tins of powdered egg were given out bimonthly, as was powdered milk.


It was never rationed and campaigns by the Ministry of Food tried to encourage use of it and other items – even sheep’s heads.


Sweetie rationing came into force in 1942, allowing 7oz to everyone over five-years-old, with many adults – notably OAPs – handing in their coupons to be distributed to youngsters to ensure they would not be turned away from the sweet counter empty handed.

Rationing did not end with the close of the war?

The process of ‘de-rationing- began in 1948, but it was not until July 4, 1954 that rationing came to an end with the restrictions on the sale and purchase of meant and bacon lifted.

Rationing could happen again?

The Government has insisted Britain has enough food to keep going but stores are placing maximum limits on selected products and shoppers have been urged to “behave responsibly”, but ultimately, Health Minister Matt Hancock said “we stand ready to take further measures if necessary.”