1946: British bakeries sell out before bread rationing begins

Credit…International Herald Tribune

From the Herald Tribune Bureau.

LONDON, July 20. – At seven this morning British housewives started lining up in front of almost every bakery in Britain and within hours they had bought up to the last crumb the last unrationed loaf to be sold in this country for the months to come.

The uncertainties of how bread rationing will work, even if it will work, and the natural rush to buy freely for the last time have combined to give bakers their craziest buying rush in history. Everything was very orderly, as the British housewives went through a long and sad training in queuing. But orders for seven, eight, ten or twelve loaves of bread were common.

The reaction of the bakers, however, was not so patient. All over England and Scotland they were saying the same things.

Bread cannot be kept

“People have gone mad,” a baker in south-east London told a reporter. “They seem to have the idea that they can keep the bread until Monday, but with the quality of today’s breads, it won’t keep.”

“The bins will be full of bread by the middle of next week,” said another London baker. “It’s chaos. I have never experienced anything like it. They are just asking for bread.

In Liverpool, a reporter was told: ‘I normally sell bread until four o’clock on a Saturday, but all I can do today is clean up and do some inventory. I put an extra reserve, but had a terrible time. Everything was gone before noon.

Stores sell out quickly

Those that lasted until the middle of the day were exceptions to the rule. Many stores were sold within half an hour and very few were still stocked after ten in the morning.

Bread rationing will use several other leaves in the extensive British food books, which were designed to handle just about any type of rationing a government could imagine. The squares already printed on these sheets now become “units of bread”, and for each large loaf of one and three-quarters pound, four BUs must be sold.

By American standards, the ration size is fantastic – fourteen such loaves a week for a family of two adults and three teenagers. Bread consumption in Britain today is 48% higher than before the war and in a heavily rationed country, it is almost the staple of the diet.

Shortage of scissors

Not only have complaints about the extra rationing been heard from all sides today, but bakers are also saying they are struggling to get scissors that they will have to cut coupons for next week.

However, the program starts faltering on Monday. Everyone redoubles their courage in the hope that this will not last long.

– The International Herald Tribune, July 21, 1946.

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