Based on experiences in Edgware, north London in the 1940s
Advert for Golden Shred Marmalade in a 1943 magazine saying that it will
become available again after the war.
Although the Second World War and its aftermath was a time of severe
and shortages in Britain, various luxury goods were available for those with
money and influence who were prepared to break or bend the law. Very occasionally
a few treats were also made legally available to the general public. Mostly,
though, luxury items were withdrawn. The advert on the right, for Golden
Shred Marmalade is an example.
treats on ration
Even foods that might today be regarded as staple became treats during the
war because of the severity of the rationing. I am sure that I must have
enjoyed my one egg per week - two until I was five - but I can't remember.
What I do remember, though, was the treat of 4 oz of sweets per week.
Because I was so young, my mother bought mine from the local
Maynards, and I
was given them every Sunday after Sunday School. For years, they were known
in my family as my 'Sunday sweets'.
We also got 2 oz of sugar a week, and I mention this specifically because
it was so little that few people used it to sweeten food. (My parents used
the artificial sweetener 'Saccharin' in their coffee until the day they died
because it had become habit during the war.) Instead sugar was saved up to
use with home-grown fruit to make jam - and the jam was a treat!
Goods 'under the counter'
'Under the counter' was a well understood expression in war-time Britain
and its aftermath. It meant that the shop really did have certain special
goods available, but they were hidden and only offered to customers who
could do them a bit of good in return. Only much later did I learn that the
obvious teachers' favourites
at school, who in my view were no different from the rest of us, had parents
who managed shops. As far as I
know, my mother was never offered anything from 'under the counter' because
she wasn't able to give anything in return.
'treat' foods from overseas
occasionally 'luxury' goods came in from overseas. It saddens me now to think
of all those merchant seamen who risked their lives to bring in anything
that wasn't an absolute necessity. Their ships were at constant risk of
being sunk by German submarines.
Bananas - a rare luxury in 1940s wartime Britain.
When there was a shipment of bananas, word got round and all the women queued
up for them. My mother was very eager for me to try them, as I never had, but
it was a strange taste to a palate unused to them, and I didn't like them. My
classmates all reported the same.
There were apples and drinking chocolate from
Canada. These were distributed at school for children to take home. This
was towards the end of the war, I seem to remember.
But my mother didn't give up: she would often tell me how much I would like
this or that food when I would eventually be able to try it. One such food was
ice-cream. Once she saw a marshmallow type of cake in a wafer cone and bought
it for me because it looked like an ice-cream cornet. It was horribly sickly-sweet
and I didn't want that either.
I don't believe that my school
ever saw any of the apples or drinking chocolate from Canada that John Cole
The black market
Luxury goods always seemed to be readily available on the Black Market, ie
illegally and at a high price. From time to time my mother was offered them
by neighbours who "knew somebody who knew somebody else". The offer was never
explicit - because that would have risked being caught at breaking the law.
Rather it was hinted at through saying things like, "Of course Mrs Clarke, if
you are ever really short, I know someone who can probably do something to help".
She never followed any of the offers up. She would never have considered anything
illegal, and anyway, money was too short. Black market goods were always excessively
This website Join me in the 1900s is © Pat Cryer.