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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Why rationing and shortages
continued in Britain after WW2

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Anyone who did not live through the times of rationing and shortages of the Second World War would tend not to realise that the austerity in Britain continued in an even worse form for years after the war ended.

In fact rationing did not end completely until 1954, nearly a decade after the end of the war, and the UK was the last country to end rationing. One reason was certainly that the USA withdrew its support for Britain when a Labour government was elected in 1945. This, though, was not the whole story, and is another credit to the generosity of Britain - see the box below.

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Safe seas again, so why less imported food?

After the end of the war with the seas safe, Australia and New Zealand were able to ship out large quantities of beef, lamb, butter cheese; and the Irish, who did not take part in the war, were able to supply us with fresh dairy products once hostilities had ended. Most of our beef, both frozen and tinned came in from Argentina. Yet it was decided that we in Britain should go on a further reduced allowance in order to send supplies into Europe. Why? The next section explains.

Why Britain diverted much of its imported food to Europe

1944 advert for Spam processed pork.

Advert for Spam in Picture Post, 1944. It was hardly necessary because so little other meat was available.

By the end of the war there were millions of displaced people in Europe from slave camps and concentration camps who were starving to death and who had to be fed and made safe from infection. The problem was gigantic. Holland, Belgium, Germany and Denmark - all occupied by Germany during the war - had been reduced to starvation diets by the war. In Holland people were reduced to eating grass, and even cats and dogs. This I have since been told during visits there.

Our reduced diet in Britain

Having diverted imported food to Europe, we in Britain seemed to live on corned beef from Uruguay. The brand was Fray Bentos, which became a household name.

Tins of Fray Bentos corned beef, an English staple in the shortages after WW2

Tins of Fray Bentos corned beef. Photographed in Swansea Bay Museum. Processed meat in other packaging was not Fray Bentos which was sold only in 12 oz tins.

We no longer had the powdered eggs and spam that we had enjoyed from America.

Paying off the National Debt

Britain had borrowed vast sums of money to finance our part in the war, mainly from the USA, and they were seeking re-payment. It took some 50 years to pay off this National Debt. We were crippled by the war and in some ways have still not recovered, even as I write at the beginning of the 21st century.

Peter Johnson


If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster