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Monday, 3 February 2014

Clothes Rationing - a real life story from Bradford Libraries


It is still cold outside. But it is not the cold that I find problematic (I'm used to having a cold February). It's this dreadful wind. It speeds down the streets, chilling the bones. It swirls down the roads, making the traffic collapse. Hopefully, it'll stop by the end the week, and my mind will fill up with joy of awaiting spring.

This story is respectfully taken from BBC people's war site ( I understand and honour site's terms and conditions; WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC) and I wanted to share this emotional story of everyday women's struggle in WWII, and how they managed to stay stylised and chic.

Here's the story:

Coupons for clothes were more of an irritation than a real hardship. One could manage using a great deal of time and ingenuity and it was really surprising how smart (superficially at least) people managed to appear. You took care of your clothes when it was impossible to replace them. I draw a veil over the state of our underwear.
I quite forget the actual number of coupons issued. I believe it was about 100 per annum. Dresses and coats cost 25 coupons each, costumes the same, shoes 20, blouse, shirts and jumpers 18, handkerchiefs 1 - there were no paper hankies in those days. Stockings were 12 a pair, socks 8.
'Make do and mend' was the order of the day. The stockings did nothing for morale, they were quite dreadful thick cotton 'plated' with rayon. We preferred to tint our legs with dilute gravy browning and draw a 'seam' up the back with eyebrow pencil.
Knitted goods were unravelled and re-knit, holes were embroidered over. Growing girls had multicoloured dresses because two were made into one. Coats were scarce at 25 coupons each. For a while there was a supply of army blankets (very rough) 'off coupons'. They were eagerly bought, only £1, and dyed in metal buckets on the gas stove and made into surprisingly dashing coats.
Coupons were like gold and moved freely on the 'black market' at exorbitant prices. Brides (and there were plenty) depended heavily on friends and relations to scrape up a trousseau.
Driven into a corner and desperate for something chic for summer wear, I dug out some circular pillow cotton unused in a drawer. With it I created a short sleeved costume, embroidering the jacket with multicoloured flowers for contrast. Out I sailed one sunny day, feeling really quite smart and attracted many wolf whistles - I found out why when I glanced sideways into a reflective shop window. The whole thing was quite transparent against the light. Of course it needed lining but no coupons for that, so I could only wear it on a dull day, which rather took the edge off things!
I am reminded of an extract from a 'love' poem in Punch:
'Were I the warden of all the Marches

I would bring oranges, sour and sweet, 

And a twisting pin, and a box of matches

and lay them down at your feet'
Such strange things disappeared. No hair clips or curlers, no safety pins, no matches, no leather-soled shoes - wooden soles instead.
You could go into the grocers and find the shelves filled with custard powder and tins of mustard, but no milk, sugar or beef! A rumour went around that a shop in Darley Street had some Wellington boots! A queue formed at day break half the length of Darley Street.
That prestigious shop 'Marshall & Snelgrove' had a beautiful window display of THREE glass Christmas Tree baubles - all too expensive to even contemplate. People made their own Christmas decorations. I made quite a nice sideline of pipe cleaner and paper fairy dolls which went on sale at 'Brown Muff & Co' in a special display. There was a photo in the local paper with the story... 

Decoration for the table, tree or the mantle piece, hand made crepe paper figures, made by a Bradford woman are selling as fast as she can make them. Between five and six inches high, these expressive little figures, very cleverly angled only cost 2s 3d each. They are prettily coloured and show an ingenious use of material; moreover, they stand without any trouble. The little Spanish dancer in the group pictured is full of movement. Notice the tilt of her head, her lace paper fan and the swirl of her cerise and white frilled skirt. The witch would be fine for a Halloween party. Dressed in green and orange, she has white cotton wool hair which looks most effective against her black hat and cloak and a tinsel ribbon on her stick. The Christmas fairy is very gay in a pale blue dress with silver bodice, a bright silver star on her white hair and pink and white wings dusted with silver..."
Nobody grumbled, though. You don't grouse at deprivation when you know that everything bought was paid for with seamen's lives, bringing it here.
Those who owned a bit of land 'dug for victory', growing vegetables, keeping hens etc. There were bins in every back street for leftovers to be turned into pig swill. Nothing was wrapped up by shop keepers. A very smart lady was seen walking down The Headrow in Leeds, nonchalantly swinging a lavatory brush from her finger. There was no litter in the streets then.
Then there was the blackout... Cars were only allowed a horizontal slit in their covered headlights so it behoved the pedestrians to be very careful as they could not be seen when crossing roads. Not that there was much on the roads but army transport and delivery vans - nobody had any spare petrol.
Yet it was safer for a woman to be out in an evening than it is now. Though a well endowed and physically fit friend of mine was attacked by a Private from Belle Vue Barracks one night, she made short work of him and added insult to injury by taking his forage cap and returning it to his C.O. at the Barracks next day. That however was very exceptional - lamp posts and telegraphs poles were more dangerous than pedestrians. People seemed much better tempered during the war and were so well behaved standing patiently in queues for necessities for their families.
How we appreciated little luxuries. During sweet rationing I saw an elderly businessman dreamily licking a lolly in the street. A little rationing would be good thing now, I think when I look round and see grossly flabby, overfed adults and children. People generally seemed more healthy. Everyone seemed to joke and laugh more then. There was always the thought that life was precious and you were lucky to be alive when fighting forces and civilians were dying daily before their time.
ITMA on the radio did as much to keep up morale as any of Churchill's speeches. With the nightly reports, purporting to come from the official German press (I think its name was 'Damandblaster Biterbittern' and contributions from Colonel Chinstrap, Nicholas Ridicolas, Mrs Mopp and of course Funf the spy, Tommy Handley reduced the might of Germany to a laughing stock. He deserved a Baronetcy if ever anyone did. The most curious thing to me is that nobody, so far as I was aware, ever even contemplated losing the war. We never do lose wars do we? Or do we?

Here is a rationing list I found, from 1941:

I hope you liked it.
♥♥ Pinky Honey


  1. I did. It is a gripping and deeply memorable read and stark look back at the realities of war. Thank you very much for sharing, sweetheart. You truly find some of the best historical offerings that the web has to offer.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thank you so much for your words, Jessica.
      I considered not publishing this one, since it's quite the grim reading material. At the first read, it made me somewhat sad and gloomy; 1940's (as much as many of us love them for the frocks and tunes) are the war years.. sad years. That's why I pulled it off once I posted it; I thought it'll be to depressing.
      But, there is a ray of Hope in the text as well, and it was so well written, I decided to give it a go.
      I'm glad you like it.


  2. I really love reading about rationing during the war. Although I don't believe it should have been mandatory, people in America at least would have rationed as much as they could for the war effort. I still have my Grandparent's and even my aunts {she was born in 1944} ration coupons, many of which are still attached to the book.

    1. I'm sure there are a lot of stories about rationing you can hear from the older folks. I used to ask my grandparents, while they were still alive, to talk to me about the times.. And as much as I enjoyed listening to the tales, I know I'd never ever want to live the days.