On this Day 14th June 1941

The Day the Egg was Rationed

The Cornishman of 12 June 1941 carried an article titled “Eggs to be Rationed”. This was no idle speculation or scare story, the last day for registration for the egg rationing scheme was 14 June, just two days away. You could register with any 'egg retailer' and the retailers would “receive supplies in accordance with their registered customers, which means that there will be fair distribution.” Poultry keepers were asked not to register so that eggs could go to those who needed them.

Child's ration book, WW2Eggs were not the first foodstuff to be rationed; bacon, butter and sugar came first, followed by meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, lard, milk, canned and dried fruit and eggs. The first product rationed was not a foodstuff, it was petrol. By August 1942 almost all foodstuffs were rationed apart from vegetables and bread, bread actually survived unrationed until after the war but the ordinary white loaf was replaced by the unpopular wholemeal “national loaf”.

It's estimated that less than one third of the food available in Britain before WW2 was produced at home, the other two thirds being imported by sea in ships which immediately became a target for the enemy once war broke out. Hence the need for rationing. It wasn't all simple to manage either, many foodstuffs need fairly rapid delivery, eggs being an example. The Cornishman of 7 August 1941 carried an article entitled “Why Eggs Are Scarce: Millions Wasted”, which detailed the huge amount of waste in egg transport and distribution. “Seven million two hundred thousand eggs were hurled into a disused pit shaft at Skelmersdale, Lancs, on Wednesday. All of them were bad.” The paper reported that Lord Woolton, Minister of Food, expected that a quarter of eggs coming from America would be unfit to eat. “So”, ended the article, “if you get a bad egg in your ration you are officially advised to take it back to the shop.”

Dig For Victory, another initiative to ensure the food supply and support morale on the home front in WW2Something else which arrived from America was dried egg, not a universally popular product but then neither was whale meat or snoek, the latter being a species of mackerel imported from South Africa. The shortages spawned a plethora of recipes and recipe books to make the most of the available foodstuffs (just have a look on the internet) with possibly the most infamous being the Woolton Pie created by the head chef at the Savoy in London. In a country where meat pies were such a popular dish, the all vegetable Woolton pie was not universally well received and disappeared pretty quickly once rationing was ended.

Egg rationing, which was set at one egg per person per week (if available) plus one packet of dried egg per person per four weeks, ended on 4 July 1954 together with all other food rationing.

For an insight into food rationing in St Just take a look at the BBC People's War Project.


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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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Sally Corbet

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