There were no supermarkets. You went to different shops for different items. For fruit and vegetables, you went to the greengrocer. For meat, to the butcher. For fish, to the fishmonger. For bread and cakes, to the baker. For groceries such as jam, tea, biscuits and cheese you went to the grocer. Other shops sold clothes, shoes, medicines, newspapers and all the other things people needed to buy.
In most shops, the shopkeeper or shop assistants served customers from behind a counter. Many shops were small family businesses. Most big towns had department stores.
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Food rationing began in 1940. This meant each person could buy only a fixed amount of certain foods each week.
Much of Britain's food came from other countries in ships. Enemy submarines sank so many ships that there was a shortage of some foods. Rationing made sure everyone got a fair share. You had to hand over coupons from your ration book, as well as money, when you went shopping. When you had used up your ration of one food (say, cheese or meat), you could not buy any more that week. Vegetarians could swap meat coupons for other foods.
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What could people buy?
People had to register with local shops to use their ration books. Often long queues formed as soon as people heard that shops had more supplies. The first foods rationed were bacon, sugar, tea, butter and meat. Lots more foods were rationed later, including sweets! One egg a week was the ration in 1941. There were no bananas, so younger children did not see their first banana until the war ended.
Clothes were rationed too, so clothing factories could switch to war work. Paper, petrol and other things, such as soap (one bar a month) and washing powder, were also rationed.
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What foods would we have missed?
Frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, burgers and chips perhaps. Remember, there were no home freezers! Potatoes were not rationed, so you could make your own chips - if you could find some oil or fat to cook them in. In summer, people were asked to eat more salads, to save cooking fuel.
With eggs rationed, people tried dried egg powder. One packet was equal to 12 fresh eggs. Dried egg made good scrambled eggs, but it was bad luck if you only liked eggs fried or boiled. Unfamiliar foods appeared too, such as Spam (tinned meat) from America, and snoek, a fish from South Africa.
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Grow your own food
Many people grew vegetables at home or on allotments. Children helped 'Dig for Victory' by digging, planting and weeding. Some children worked on farms picking potatoes and fruit.
Some families kept chickens, ducks and rabbits (to eat). People started 'Pig Clubs', collecting food leftovers in pig bins to feed the pigs.
There were plenty of potatoes and carrots, and lots of suggestions for new ways to cook them! 'Potato Pete' and 'Doctor Carrot' advertised these foods, to encourage people to eat more of them.
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The main countries and leaders that made up the Allied powers were:
- Great Britain – led by Prime Minister Winston Churchill
- The United States – led by President Franklin D Roosevelt
- France – led by Charles de Gaulle
- The Soviet Union – led by Joseph Stalin
- China – led by Chiang Kai-shek
The three main countries and leaders that made up the Axis powers were:
- Germany – the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler
- Italy – the Fascists, led by Benito Mussolini
- Japan – known at that time as the Empire of Japan, led by Hideki Tojo; the emperor of Japan during World War II was Emperor Hirohito.
World War II began when the UK and France declared war on Germany, after German troops led by Adolf Hitler had invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 to claim land there as their own. Hitler had already invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia, so the war began over his plan to take more land for Germany.
The Siege of Leningrad is a famous event during World War II. For 900 days – from 8 September 1941 to 27 January 1944 – the city of Leningrad in Russia was surrounded by German troops. That meant everyone inside the city had to stay there, and that there wasn’t any way for food or other provisions like medicine to get in. Many hundreds of thousands of people died during this time (600,000-800,000) because there wasn’t enough food or heating to go around, but the people who lived in Leningrad refused to surrender to the Germans even though life had got so hard.
In 1940, the French port of Dunkirk was the location of a big turning point for the Allies in World War II. Hitler’s armies bombed Dunkirk heavily, and many Allied troops were waiting on the beach to be rescued because they didn’t have the resources they needed to fight back. From 26 May to 4 June, over 550,000 troops were ferried to safety across the English Channel – the code name for this was ‘Operation Dynamo’. Some British civilians (people who weren’t in the army) even used their own boats to help save as many people as they could. The rescue operation helped to boost morale in Britain, where they really needed some good news. This helped in going into the next major event in World War II, the Battle of Britain.
The Royal Air Force were the stars of the Battle of Britain, which is the first military battle to be fought entirely in the air. In ‘Operation Sea Lion’, Hitler planned to invade Britain and add another country to his list of conquests. But, first he had to fight off the RAF, which is where he ran into trouble. Britain’s RAF beat Germany’s Luftwaffe, but after a long series of battles from 10 July-31 October 1940. The whole thing is called the Battle of Britain because it’s what made Hitler eventually change his mind about trying to invade the UK, and he went after Russia instead. The RAF pilots showed tremendous courage and bravery as they kept fighting the Luftwaffe even when it looked like they might lose.
June 6, 1944 is also known as D-Day. On that day, the Allied forces launched a huge invasion of land that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi troops had taken over. It all began with boats and boats full of Allied troops landing on beaches in the French region of Normandy. They broke through the German defences and carried on fighting them back through Europe for the next 11 months until they reached Berlin, where Hitler was then hiding.
The Battle of the Bulge took place from 16 December 1944-25 January 1945, and was the last major effort by Hitler to defeat the Allies. He had hoped to break up the parts of Western Europe that the British, American and French troops secured by splitting the area in half – this would mean that the armies wouldn’t be able to get supplies across to each other, and would make them easier targets for Hitler and his armies to fight against. But, all Hitler did was to make the Allied line of troops ‘bulge’ in the middle as he fought to push them back, and the line didn’t break completely. So, he didn’t accomplish his goal, and the Allies won the battle.
Names to know
Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) – British Prime Minister from 1937-1940; Chamberlain was Prime Minister when Britain declared war on Germany.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) – British Prime Minster from 1940 to 1945, then again from 1951 to 1955; Churchill was Prime Minister during most of World War II. Churchill is famous for his speeches that inspired people to keep on fighting.
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) – German dictator during World War II, and leader of the Nazi political party
Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) – Italian dictator during World War II, and leader of the Fascists; Mussolini was also known as ‘Il Duce’ (‘the leader’), and joined forces with Hitler as one of the Axis powers.
Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945) – United States President during most of World War II
Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) – leader of the Soviet Union during World War II
Hideki Tojo (1884-1948) – Japanese leader and military general during World War II