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World War II
Rationing in Britain

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World War II: Rationing in Britain

This is a fascinating subject, because it gives an insight into what it was really like for ordinary people – the ones who weren't fighting – during the War. At least when they weren't being bombed. In truth however, there aren't really all that many quiz questions that can be asked about it. The first section on this page covers those questions that I have heard asked; the second gives as detailed a timeline as I've been able to piece together, in an attempt to summarise the complete story.


The first commodity to be rationed in Britain (16 September 1939) Click to show or hide the answer
Rationed from July 1946, for two years, but not during the war Click for more information Click to show or hide the answer
Sweet rationing ended Click to show or hide the answer
Sugar rationing ended Click to show or hide the answer
The last food to come off rationing (June 1954) Click to show or hide the answer

There may be an inconsistency in the last question. A page from the Imperial War Museum, archived on Wayback Machine, states: "butter, cheese, margarine and cooking fats [were de–rationed] in May 1954; and finally meat in June 1954." Cook's Info, however (see below), gives 4 July 1954 as the date when "all remaining rationing [was] abolished". There are several foodstuffs that are listed in the table below as being rationed, but not as coming off rationing – for example milk, jam and biscuits. Were they still rationed until 4 July 1954?

The IWM would seem to be the more authoritative source, but the Cook's Info page is undoubtedly very well-researched. This is an inconsistency that I've been unable to resolve.

Anyway ... if you ever get asked this question in a quiz, the answer above is invariably the one that's expected. (I did once make a note that the last foodstuff to come off rationing was bananas; but this appears to be wrong. Cook's Info says that bananas were never rationed during the war as they simply weren't available.)


I found it surprisingly hard to find detailed information on this subject. The best source I found was on a website called Cook's Info. But even this is not complete; and there are some inconsistencies – for example, things that are mentioned as coming off rationing but not as being rationed in the first place. (Anything that's listed as being rationed but not as coming off rationing is covered in the final entry – at least in theory.)

16 September 1939 Petrol Between 4 and 10 gallons per week (depending on needs)
8 January 1940 Butter 4 oz per week
Sugar 12 oz per week
Ham or bacon 4 oz per week
11 March 1940 Meat 1s 10d per week (estimated equivalent to approx. 1 lb)
July 1940 Tea 2 oz per week
March 1941 Jam, marmalade, syrup, treacle 8 oz per month
5 May 1941 Cheese 1 oz per week
1 June 1941 Clothing Rationed
June 1941 Cheese Increased to 2 oz per week
July 1941 Sugar Doubled to 1 lb 8 oz per week
1 July 1941 Petrol Private use prohibited
November 1941 Milk Rationed
January 1942 Rice, dried fruit Rationed
9 February 1942 Condensed milk, breakfast cereals, tinned tomatoes, tinned peas, soap Rationed
March 1942 Gas, electricity Rationed
26 July 1942 Sweets, chocolate Rationed
August 1942 Biscuits Rationed
December 1942 Oats Rationed
1943 Sausages Rationed
27 May 1945 Bacon Reduced from 4 oz to 3 oz per week
Cooking fats Reduced from 2 oz to 1 oz per week
Meat Part of the allowance must be taken in corned beef Click for more information
1 June 1945 Petrol Private use allowed again (but rationed)
21 July 1946 Bread Rationed
1947 Potatoes Rationed
25 July 1948 Flour, bread Rationing ends
March 1949 Eggs Rationing ends
15 March 1949 Clothing Rationing ends
26 May 1950 Petrol Rationing ends
19 May 1950 Fruit (tinned and dried, jellies, mincemeat, syrup, treacle, chocolate biscuits Rationing ends
September 1950 Soap Rationing ends
3 October 1952 Tea Rationing ends
5 February 1953 Sweets Rationing ends
April 1953 Cream Rationing ends
September 1953 Sugar Rationing ends
May 1954 Butter, cheese, margarine, cooking fats Rationing ends
June 1954 Meat Rationing ends
4 July 1954 Everything else Rationing ends

© Haydn Thompson 2017–18