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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Fuel shortages and outages
of 1940s war-time Britain

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In the austerity of 1940s wartime Britain and the years of even increasing austerity afterwards, cooking was not straightforward. Quite apart from having to manage of food rations which were minimal, many women still cooked on a coal-fired range, and coal was rationed.

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The gas oven

To save gas we were asked to cook on the coal fire if possible. Sometimes the gas pressure was so low that it was quicker to boil a kettle on the coal fire anyway. In our house, boiling kettles and making toast was always done on the coal fire. We put a large biscuit tin into the grate and piled the hot coal up around it, which made a make shift oven.

Peter Johnson

My mother cooked with a gas oven - which was a relatively recent development. Although the gas supply was never cut off, the pressure was frequently lowered without warning, so that ovens couldn't get up to temperature. My grandmother once had to rescue our Sunday roast when my mother was out by taking the meat out of the oven and putting it into a saucepan to boil it.

Baking cakes and pies were often spoilt in cooking when ovens couldn't get up to temperature. This was particularly unfortunate because the ingredients couldn't be replaced because of rationing.

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Gas as a poison

The gas was never cut off completely because of the risks of it not being immediately re-lit when it came on again. One risk would have been that people might die because gas was poisonous at that time.

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

Pat Cryer, webmaster

Because this gas (coal gas) was poisonous, 'putting one's head in the gas oven' (without lighting the gas) seemed to be the most common suicide method. During the war, I often heard people saying that they felt like doing it, although I don't think I knew anyone who actually did it. When ovens were converted to natural gas, this particular suicide methods was no longer an option.

Another risk would have been that unlit gas could cause an explosion if it came in contact with a naked flame, for example, if someone unknowingly lit up a cigarette. (Cigarette smoking was not just common, it was normal.)