Children all over Britain were delighted when, after more than a decade, sweets rationing finally ended on February 5, 1953.

This article tells the story and has some marvellous pictures from the early 1950s.

During rationing, families were allowed only 12 oz of chocolate and hard candies per month.

A brief attempt at repealing sweets rations occurred in 1949, although it lasted only four months, as demand outstripped supply.

The 1953 repeal succeeded because the British government worked closely with sweets manufacturers with regard to sugar supply, which had increased but was still rationed to an extent.

Rationing in general

With regard to rationing during and after the Second World War:

– In 1939, researchers at Cambridge University were busy determining what foods Britons could eat and in what quantity. They found that a diet mainly comprised of fibre and starch gave those participating in the experiment too much flatulence.

– Petrol was the first item to be rationed. By 1940, bacon, butter and sugar were rationed.

– Sweets were rationed in July 1942. That same summer meat, tea, jam, cheese, eggs, lard and milk were also restricted and could only be purchased with coupons from a ration book. The purchase of other items, such as dried fruit, cereals and biscuits, relied on a points system.

– Criminals who dealt in black market items made considerable sums of money during this time. However, as early as 1941, 2,300 ‘spivs’ — as they were called — had already been prosecuted.

– After the war ended, Britain experienced bad weather, consequently, poor harvests. Bread and potatoes were rationed in 1946.

– Rationing began to end in 1948. Bread was the first to come off the list that year. Clothing followed in 1949 and petrol in 1950.

– Petrol rationing was in place again briefly between 1956 and 1957 during the Suez Crisis.

How people got by

A few comments from those lived through the Second World War follow the article. One person still has his ration book. Others have also shared their memories:

bear: Cadbury’s chocolate bars, not the blocks but the 1d strips were my first off coupon sweet … Having been born during the war this was my first taste of chocolate or any other sweet.

Survivor: We had no sweets during the three months before Christmas as we saved them for that event. Also we walked or bussed every where and so had no problems with our weight. On the ‘down-side’ in 1947 I suffered gingivitis following measles due to a shortage of vitamin C.

Ian: I buy blocks of marzipan as a sweet because when I was a kid during the rationing we had a neighbour that worked in a bakery. She used to bring me marzipan to eat in lieu of sweets.

Why rationing?

Rationing occurs when a nation cannot produce enough of its own food.

During the Second World War, Canada and the US had to send wheat to the UK.

Postwar agricultural programmes turned to mass-production of home-grown grains and chicken.

However, even today, Britain is capable of producing only between 60% and 70% of home-grown foodstuffs (statistics vary). This is not too different to our capabilities during wartime.

We rely too much on foreign imports, because they are much easier to acquire. If a prolonged crisis period evolves again, we would probably have to reinstitute rationing. I cannot imagine that would go down very well with our instant-gratification generation.

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