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Food and Rationing


During the war the Germans made very good use of their U-boats (submarines) to attack Britain's war effort. They tried to sink the merchant ships that were used to carry various foods and supplies to Britain. (The Germans used a similar tactic during World War 1 and in 1917 Britain almost ran out of food!) To stop food shortages in the Second World War the government encouraged British people to grow their own food and to turn all spare land into allotments. Gardens, flowerbeds and public parks: any available space was used.

‘The Meadows, the Edinburgh Meadows was all converted into allotments. You had an area and it was allocated to you and you could grow certain vegetables on it.’

There were 520 plots on the Meadows, but there were many other areas around Edinburgh that were used as emergency allotments during the war. These included Balgreen Park, Bruntsfield Links, Victoria Park, Joppa Quarry, Meadowbank, Craiglockart, Craigentinny Golf Course, Inverleith Park and many more.

Dig for Victory

This was known as the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. It had two main advantages for the war effort – firstly, if people grew their own food Britain would not starve, and secondly it meant that ships could carry important war supplies (like guns and ammunition) instead of imported foodstuffs. With the lack of imported foodstuffs, exotic foods, including fruits like bananas, became extremely rare. Alternatives to bananas were developed which used mashed parsnips and banana essence. They were used to make banana sandwiches but were not very enjoyable and in no way replaced the real thing. When bananas reappeared in the shops some children had never seen them before and didn’t know what to do with them or how to eat them.

How would you describe a banana to someone who had never seen one before?

‘I had my first banana when I was six and I never had another until I was thirteen.’

‘Ma son was three when the first bananas came into Rankin’s and he wis tryin’ to eat it wi’ the skin on and he didna’ know what it was.’

The war meant shortages of many things, not just food, and the public was encouraged to save energy and recycle as much as possible: Make do and Mend was the motto. Families were urged to collect waste paper, bones and metal: paper was used for cartridge wads, rifle cases, food containers; bones were to be used to make glue for aeroplanes, explosives and fertilizer; and metal could be used in aeroplanes, tanks and guns.

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