'Help Win the War on the Kitchen Front'

In the event of a war, Britain could no longer rely on imports as it had done before, and many men involved in food production would be drafted into the armed services. It was vital therefore, to ensure that the civilian population were fed and could still procure essential supplies.

Rationing

Clothing ration book - inside page

Clothing coupon book. In 1941, clothing was added to the list of rationed items, as was coal, gas and electricity in 1942. A ‘Make do and Mend’ scheme was sanctioned by the Board of Trade in 1942 and pamphlets were issued advising people on methods for lengthening the life of their clothes. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. 96683422.

Plans for rationing began in 1936, and became a reality in January 1940. Ration books were used to limit the purchase of foods such as meat, butter and sugar. As the war continued additional foodstuffs were rationed, including jam and cheese in 1941, and tea and margarine in 1943. One Flixton resident remembered ‘We were issued with ration books and we had to work out how to make 2oz butter, 2oz marg and 1 egg last each us one week.’

There were Food Offices in Altrincham, Sale, Urmston, and Stretford to administrate rationing in the local areas. Altrincham Food Office, situated on the corner of Woodlands Road and Burlington Road, was responsible for 25 local parishes, including Mobberley, Mere, Partington, and Dunham Massey. In 1943, they launched ‘flying squads’: officials who distributed ration books throughout rural villages, to save country dwellers from having to travel into Altrincham. On 24 May 1943 the Manchester Evening News reported that ‘About 40,000 books and cards have to be distributed in the area.’

Food rationing ended completely in 1954, with meat being the last item to be de-rationed.

Dig for Victory

Dig for Victory leaflet

Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. SAL/10/2/4/3/3/1.

To increase food production the government initiated the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, encouraging the public and local authorities to grow fruit and vegetables in any land available to them. Leaflets were issued giving advice on how to garden productively.

Urmston led the way and were so successful in their domestic cultivation that they offered a £5 prize to a charity sponsored by any town that could surpass their effort. The ‘Urmston fiver’ went to Gravesend, in Kent. In a report to the Ministry of Agriculture in 1940, the two towns were producing the most home-grown food per household in the country. Mr J. W. Sharp, a blind piano tuner of Link Avenue, in Urmston, was awarded the Minister of Agriculture’s ‘Dig for Victory’ diploma for cultivating such a fine allotment.

He digs his plot, sows the seed, keeps the land free of weeds and wheels home his produce with unerring skill. He also maintains the garden attached to his house where he had built a green house containing the only vine in the district. His allotment is a war-time model containing, as it does, a large store of winter vegetables.

- Stretford News, 24 August 1940

Dig for Victory leaflet

Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. SAL/10/2/4/3/3/1.

Letter relating to the accounts of a British Restaurant in Altrincham.

Letter relating to the accounts of a British Restaurant in Altrincham, 25 May 1946. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. ALT/10/2/4/1/1.

British Restaurants

British Restaurants were communal canteens set up in 1940, initially to feed the urban working poor and to improve the quality of their diet. They provided a meal at cost price without the need for ration coupons. The Ministry of Food called them ‘an entirely new development since the War’. They proved very popular and continued to function after the end of the war. A typical meal consisted of soup, meat and two veg, followed by a sweet, such as a steamed pudding or rice pudding.

They have been cited by historian Nadja Durbach as an important cultural development, loosening women’s ties to the kitchen and opening up a narrative on traditional domestic roles.

In these days of endeavour to equalise the war effort between all people it was manifestly unjust that the woman who was taking her part in the industrial front should also have to carry the burden of the home. The British Restaurant relieved her of a large part of that work in a thoroughly economic matter and ensured that school children both of whose parents were at work should be properly fed.

- Lady Simon on opening ‘The Gateway’ restaurant in Urmston in 1942. Quoted in the Manchester Guardian, 12 January 1942.

Local authorities got to work setting up their own British Restaurants, often converting buildings previously used for other purposes. A British Restaurant was opened on Ashburton Road in Trafford Park that could cater for 500 diners at one time. A bombed building in Stretford’s Victoria Park was also converted. Urmston’s surveyor E.L. Leeming designed a new building for the purpose, but it was to be constructed using salvaged materials from homes destroyed in the Blitz.

Urmston people, lunching at the new British Restaurant which is being built near the station, may find themselves entering through their own front door, looking though their own window frames, or walking on familiar floorboards.

- Manchester Evening News, 12 September 1941

Detail: plan for the proposed conversion of the Co-operative Hall, Sibson Road, Sale into a British Restaurant.

Detail: plan for the proposed conversion of the Co-operative Hall, Sibson Road, Sale, into a British Restaurant, 1942. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. PLA/1/369.

When the war ended, in 1945, proposals to close the restaurants were met with resistance. In September 1945, Alderman Wardle, chairman of Stretford’s British Restaurants, argued that they were still functional and satisfactorily profitable. Early the following year, a meeting was held between officials from Sale Council and the Ministry of Food, in which it was decided that Sale’s restaurants would stay open for a bit longer. In 1947, some were closed and some converted into ‘Civic Restaurants’ which continued to feed the public into the 1950s.

Sources

BBC People’s War website. WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.

Belfast Telegraph, 17 August 1940

Broughty Ferry Guide and Advertiser, 21 September 1940

Nadja Durbach, ‘British Restaurants and the Gender Politics of the Wartime Midday Meal’ in Mark J. Crowley (ed), Home Fronts – Britain and the Empire at War, 1939-45 (Boydell and Brewer, 2017)

Felicity Goodall, The People’s War, (David and Charles Ltd, 2008)

Imperial War Museum, ‘What you need to know about rationing in the Second World War’, 2018, <https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-you-need-to-know-about-rationing-in-the-second-world-war>  [accessed 15 April 2020]

Manchester Evening News, 19 July 1941

Manchester Evening News, 12 September 1941

Manchester Evening News, 28 February 1942

Manchester Evening News, 16 May 1942

Manchester Evening News, 15 July 1942

Manchester Evening News, 5 December 1942

Manchester Evening News, 10 March 1943

Manchester Evening News, 24 May 1943

Manchester Evening News, 4 August 1943

Manchester Evening News, 28 January 1944

Manchester Evening News, 5 February 1944

Manchester Evening News, 5 May 1944

Manchester Evening News, 24 May 1945

Manchester Evening News, 5 September 1945

Manchester Evening News, 6 February 1946

Manchester Evening News, 15 June 1946

Manchester Evening News, 20 August 1948

Manchester Guardian, 12 January 1942

Nottingham Journal, 28 December 1940

Robert Nicholls, Trafford Park: The First Hundred Years, (Phillimore and Co, 1996)

'Help Win the War on the Kitchen Front'