Don’t Panic

In 1941, there was a good reason for food shortages – U-boats.

26 March 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch produces a HTBS ‘nothing (much) to do with rowing’ post, in The Dry Season Bottom-of-the-Barrel Series.

Revisiting my 2011 three-part biography of Geoff Morris, who, as Morris K. Morris, won the 1923 Diamond Sculls at Henley less than 18 months after taking up the sport, I was reminded that in 1951 he returned to the UK after living in the United States for 14 years. I noted some surprise at this, writing:

He left America, a land of plenty, to return to live in a dreary and run-down Britain, a country still suffering from the effects of war and which only fully abolished food rationing in July 1954.

To illustrate this, I posted a picture of a British adult’s food ration for an entire week in 1951.

Vegetables were not restricted during rationing and there was heavy reliance on bread and potatoes to bring the daily energy intake to 2,600 calories. Rationing ensured that what little there was available was fairly shared.

Those who are currently causing shortages by unnecessarily bulk buying food and other items, leaving many shops looking like something out of the old Soviet Union in a bad year, should note that those on the restricted diet produced by wartime and post-wartime rationing were healthy and well nourished; we need far less food than we think we do.

These women, pictured in 1939 taking their gas masks out on the river with them, managed to row on wartime rations.

In 1939, Cambridge University scientists fed some volunteers on one egg, one pound (450g) of meat and four ounces (110g) of fish a week, one-quarter of a pint (140ml) of milk a day, four ounces (110g) of margarine, and unlimited amounts of potatoes, vegetables and wholemeal bread. They also did intensive exercise to mimic physical war work. It was found that the subjects’ health and performance improved and that the only negative result was a distinct increase in wind. If we adopted similar dietary restraint now, there would be no food shortages, we would be healthier – and the flatulence would assist with social distancing.


  1. Australia has run out of toilet paper! Go figure when it is locally made from local raw material in abundance. Might have to use gum leaves or old newspapers (old since news now digital so can’ use iPad).

  2. Brilliant, Tim, you might like know that I still have some ration books amongst family papers! There was a downside, though, lack of calcium did inhibit the full and healthy development of bones and teeth, noticed later in life amongst some older folk.
    Thanks for the posting, much appreciated.

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