A rationed Christmas in 1918

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Food became more scarce through the duration of the war, but it was in 1918 that major rationing was introduced.

Food was in short supply throughout the First World War, but while supplies were limited, nobody died of starvation. Shortages worsened in 1917 as German U-boats targeted our merchant ships, sinking them with vast quantities of food from other countries.

Special measures were introduced – fines were issued for making white flour instead of wholewheat or for allowing rats to invade wheat stores. Alcohol was limited by reducing pub opening times and alcohol strength as it was thought that war production was affected by drunkenness. It was also an offence to buy drinks for others!

Even the end of the war did not improve things – in fact, they got worse.

During the war itself, only sugar had been rationed, but in February 1918, rationing of  butter, margarine and all types of meat was introduced. The food shortages were reflected even in the adverts in the Richmond Herald. The well-known grocers, International stores, wrote: ‘Peace has arrived, but the plenty of pre-war days will not return yet awhile’ and asked their customers to be patient until normal times were restored.

On 7 December 1918, the Richmond Herald reported the prosecution of Mortlake butchers for selling meat above the ration limit. Weekly allowances were 2 lb of meat, ½ lb of sugar and ½ lb of fat. To share the food fairly, each person was given a ration card, which could only be used in certain shops. Those who tried to cheat were fined or could be sent to prison.

But in December, Richmond Food Committee agreed to raise the allowances for meat and butter over the Christmas period and also allowed hotels to serve food over Christmas up to 10 pm rather than 9.30 pm. (Surprisingly rationing was controlled locally.)

However, even in Christmas week, the local dairy, Hornby and company (pictured), asked their customers to reduce their order, as supplies were very short, unless milk was needed for children or invalids.

With the continuing food shortages, the National Kitchens, set up in 1917, were still needed and there were three National Kitchens in Richmond.

However, there were bright notes at the end of the year. Penningtons, well-known local estate agents, announced that there was marked improvement in the housing market. The Belgian refugees, many of whom had been living in East Twickenham since autumn 1914, were now able to return home and there was a very well attended Regatta on Boxing Day. Rationing and price controls were slowly phased out, ending finally in 1920 with the abolition of sugar rationing in November and ending the remaining price controls in December.

(c) John Moses

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