Wartime Rationing

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Why was food rationing introduced during the war?

Before the war, over half of Britain's food came from other countries by ship. However enemy submarines sank so many ships that there was a shortage of some foods. Rationing of certain foods made sure everyone got a fair share as each person could buy only a fixed amount of certain foods each week. Shoppers had to hand over coupons from their ration book, as well as money, when they went shopping. When a ration of a food was used up, they could not buy any more that week.

What was the impact of wartime rationing on coal miners?

The Ministry of Food recognised that men working in factories and mines needed extra rations than those doing light work. It calculated that a man doing heavy work required 3000 calories a day. The following amount of food / week was provided:

Bacon/ham: 8 oz; Meat: 19 oz; Cheese: 8 oz; Butter: 8 oz; Margarine: 12oz; Milk: 3 pt; Sugar: 16 oz; 1 egg/week.

In addition 16 points were available in each ration book to buy the following items: tinned meat (eg Spam), tinned fish, rice, tinned fruit, condensed milk, breakfast cereal, biscuits, and vegetables.

How much energy did a miner burn?

Coal miners burn up a significant amount of calories,. A ten stone man doing general office work may burn only 100 caloires / hour compared to a miner doing the following tasks: 


Shovelling coal                               476

Drilling coal                                    442

Erecting supports                            408

General tasks                                 402

Walking with a heavy load               350


What would the total caloric needs be for an average coal miner?

A miner who has to walk several miles to get to the coal face carrying his heavy gear where he spent the day shovelling coal might burn the following amount of calories:


Walking one hour to coal face carrying 0.5 to 1 stone in weight of gear       350

Shovelling coal onto the conveyor belt for 5.5 hours (476 cal / hr)              2600

Walking one hour to pit top carrying 0.5 to 1 stone in weight of gear           350

At home (light activity, walking, sleeping)                                                 1500                   

TOTAL CALORIES                                                                                                              4800

How did coal miners make up their caloric deficit?

The wartime rations only covered 3000 calories of a miner's needs. With some miners burning between 4000 - 5000 calories per day, foods that were not rationed had to be consumed to make up the deficit. 

Bread, flour, potatoes, vegetables were not rationed so miners ate a lot of these foods to meet their caloric needs. An example of a day's meals:

  • Breakfast: Several slices of bread with either dripping; an alternative food was a watery gruel (oatmeal)
  • Lunch: 3 - 4 sandwiches again with dripping, sugary tea. Eventually miners were able to get a hearty meal from work canteens as large employers were compelled to provide them. Miners were able to get a packed meal to take down the pit. (Miners generally prefered not to eat a big lunch to avoid indigestion which would affect their productivity. The typical lunch of sandwiches and tea came to be called the Pitman Diet)
  • Dinner: a hearty meal with a lage portion of a hot dish made with a small amount of rationed meat, thick with vegetables, potatoes and gravy, more bread, and tea or coffee.

Beer was not rationed so miners often stopped at the local pub after work. The drink greatly contributed to caloric intake

What other food regulations governed miners diet?

The most controversial and disliked regulation involved bread. Though it was not rationed until after the war ended, white bread was replaced with brown bread because of its more nutritious content. However its high fibre content made bread mushy, grey and harder to digest than white.

 Another rule governing bread was that it could not be sold to a customer until it was a day old as a way of controlling the amount people ate. According to the government, just-baked bread is difficult to slice thinly and people were more likely to eat it immoderately.

How did the mining community cope with rationing?

Gardening had long been a passion in mining communities. Many miners grew vegetables at home or on allotments, thanks to the highly successful government campaign, Dig for Victory, which became a catchphrase. Flowers disappeared from front gardens to be replaced by vegetables, schools cultivated lawns and waste ground, and parks began to resemble markets gardens.

Radio programmes and every newspaper carried recipes making use of scarce ingredients. Some had intriguing names such as Beetroot Soup, Carrot Jam, Oatmeal Sausages and Eggless Cake, while others used plants dismissed as weeds. eg like dandelions and nettles.There were plenty of potatoes and carrots, and lots of suggestions from the government on new ways to cook them. 'Potato Pete' and 'Doctor Carrot' advertised these foods, to encourage people to eat more of them.


Some families also kept chickens, ducks and rabbits (to eat). Miners who kept their own hens for eggs had to give up their egg ration in exchange for a permit for chicken food. There was a substitute dried egg supplied by the government in silver tins. One packet was equal to 12 fresh eggs. It could be used to make an omelette when mixed with water.

Some families kept a pig at the bottom of their garden and fed it with scraps but they were not allowed to kill it without permission, and half had to be given to the Ministry of Food. Pig Clubs were started, with people collecting food leftovers in pig bins to feed the pigs.

Bacon worked out at one rasher each per week. Meat was rationed, but not by weight but by price. When the family put all the coupons together they could get a joint of meat, and have it hot one day and cold the next. Occasionally a rabbit was available for which there was a long queue. Sausages were not rationed but they were mostly made from bread and scraps. Liver was not rationed but many butchers saved it for their favourite customers.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationing_in_the_United_Kingdom
  2. http://1940sexperiment.wordpress.com/rationing-diet-sheets/
  3. www.calorielab.corn/burned/?mo=se&gr=11=ti=occupation
  4. Robert Wilson, The Coal Miners of Durham and Northumberland: their habits and diseases.
  5. www.maag.ysu/oralhistory/cd2OH989.pdf
  6. Tonks P. My ancestor was a...coal miner. Society of Gewnealogists enterprise Ltd.2010.
  7. http://www.bpears.org.uk/Misc/War_NE/w_section_03.html
  8. http://www.exetermemories.co.uk/em/_story/story_26.php
  9. http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=wartime+food+rationing+images&hl=en&qscrl=1&rlz=1T4NDKB_enGB519GB542&site=webhp&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=2wX9Ud-dL8WYhQeWwIGYBA&ved=0CC0QsAQ&biw=1003&bih=519

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