Stronger Than You Think

It was 80-years ago that I became involuntarily engaged in a world-wide war. I was 15 years old, four months short of my 16th birthday, when I listened with my mother and father and 18-year-old sister as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany.

It started a conflict which later enveloped the world in the Second World War.

There have been many other wars since WW2, but none encircled the globe until December 2019 when a strange new virus attacked a city in China and within months, spread with lethal force around the globe. At the time of writing this report, it shows no sign of abating.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes daily appearances on the front steps of his Ottawa residence, where his wife has tested positive for the COVID-19 and is serving a period of compulsory isolation, an integral part of government programs worldwide to halt spread of the virus until a cure or preventive vaccine can be found. Ignoring or defying compulsory isolation orders can result in heavy fines or prison sentences.

Personal hygiene is being emphasized as another essential step in the battle for control with an additional caution that personal contacts should never be closer than two arm lengths. It and the appeal for frequent washing of hands are two essential precautions – and,sadly, could be most ignored by the public.

The reality that no one can estimate how long this “virus war” will last makes for trying times for citizens who since WW2 and massed bombing of civilians ended have witnessed minor conflicts around the world, but have never been embroiled in front line fighting when loyalty and caring for each other can spell the difference between life and death.

Loyalty and caring for each other were all civilians could do in 1939 when leaders of democratic governments called for both, even as the world collapsed about them.

It was not always easy to respond, especially for families with a husband on far away battlefields and with wives at home caring for children and often aging grandparents. In my British homeland and across Europe in those dark days, rationing alone was an enormous challenge for every woman with a family to look after – often in a city a badly shattered ruin from nightly bombing.

In the UK weekly rations were recorded in “stamp books” which could be used at only one store selected by the customer and approved by the storekeeper.

Once rationing began citizens could register, shop and walk home each week with (for one person): One egg, four ounces of bacon, eight ounces of sugar, two ounces of tea, one ounce of cheese, two ounces of butter, four ounces of margarine (uncoloured), two ounces of lard and for those with a sweet tooth “preserves,” such as marmalade, but only eight ounces a month.

The meat ration was so small the authorities listed it by price rather than weight. It was one shilling a week which translated into six or eight ounces depending how friendly your butcher.

And, lest we forget, the famous UK “striped mint” sweets – eight ounces to 16 ounces a month depending on supply.

Now, let’s do a quick leap over the decades from then to now. The morning I started to write this, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth praised the people of the UK for again “coming together as one” to fight the present plague; United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez had a similar message; the President of the United States dreamed that tomorrow the world will have spun back to normal by Easter; and, my own PM, Trudeau, remained confident “the people” can win this fight as they won the last Global battle if they understand it may take a while.

How long? To conquer the bug some experts figure 18 months to find and distribute a cure and defence.

By comparison, the burden of surviving the rationing (and other) vicissitudes of WW2 commenced in January, 1939, (three months after the declaration of war) and lasted until June 1948 when the last food item “bread” was removed from the list.

Morale shaking rationing had lasted longer than “blitz” and the fighting and “the people” had bent on occasion, but never broke.

“People coming together” had made it possible to end well, as they can and will again.

5 comments

  1. Hi Jim,

    Although sixteen years younger than you there are two additional things I remember well at the time of rationing. All over the UK allotments were developed for growing vegetables. Our family even had two goats so that we could have goats milk to drink.

    I have a book titled “How we lived then” by Norman Longmate. ” A history of everyday life during the Second World War” First published 1971. He drew on the experience of 1000 people whom he recruited through the press. Nine-tenths of the population of Great Britain remained civilians throughout the war. The book is an attempt document their experience and for me fascinating to dip into.

    Thanks for your continued updating us with stories and commentary about the present and the past.

    Shaun Peck

  2. Hello Jim Hume, Thank you for your interesting informative and personal story on WW2. I am sorry that you and everyone had to experience it. From Fraser Valley e-library I recently read Clementine by S. Purnell and
    The Last of the Duchess. I learned a lot about the history and was often unhappily surprised at the personalities of the various people.
    All the best to you, Dale Odberg

  3. I was born only several hours before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour but my memory goes back to the latter years of the Second World War and its aftermath. Many forget that there was also rationing in Canada, but it’s something I remember. I grew up on the Canadian Prairies where farm families produced their own meat, vegetables and dairy products. However, the consumables they could not produce were rationed.

    The main rationed item was sugar and there seemed to be a black market for it, abetted by corrupt shopkeepers. There was little accountability.

    Alcohol was also rationed and because both husband and wife were issued ration coupon books women had to enter liquor stores to redeem their coupons, even if they had no intent of consuming their purchases. It was a strange experience for many of them.

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