ww1-school-workshops ww1-website-header-button alternate-red-enter-button



'Rationing' is the term used to describe the sharing out of food in a country, normally in times of war.


Though many people think that this first happened in the Second World War, it actually began in the First World War because of German submarine attacks (called U-boats) which sank many British ships delivering food from other countries to Britain.


Before the war, the British government had not anticipated this would happen, so it took it a long time to come up with the scheme, meaning the war was nearly over when it started in January 1918.


The food shortage in Britain at this time was very bad, with many ships being sunk and food being lost to the bottom of the Ocean to the German ‘Blockade’ (when one country stops another from receiving goods from ships).   This was a major and very effective strategy by the Germans, and also by the Allies, who ran a similar blockade against the German-held ports.

January 1918


Although the scheme came into the war quite late, the effects of the German U-boat campaign was felt much earlier in the war and in April 1916, Britain only had six weeks of wheat left to make bread for its people.  This led to the Government creating the 'Defence of the Realm act' which gave it lots of powers to help the country to save food, such as taking over land for growing fruit and vegetables, and introducing a ‘Women’s Land Army’ to replace the jobs lost when men had left to fight.


However this wasn’t enough, and in 1918 the Government decided to issue ration books which ensured that the food and other goods were shared out equally.  Although people still had to use money, the books limited them to buying only food and other goods to the value of the remaining tokens they had in their ration books, even if they had thousands of pounds to buy food with.


By this time in the war, the food shortage had got really bad and people in poorer communities were starting to suffer the effects of ‘Malnutrition’, a shortage of food.


The first thing to be rationed was sugar and by the end of April meat, butter, cheese and margarine were added to the list.  Ration books were issued and everyone had to register with a butcher and grocer.  The effect of this was almost instant, and people’s health began to improve. Rationing had been a success that helped Britain to survive the war.

ww1 school workshops ration book