A shopkeeper cancels the coupons in a British housewife's 1943 ration book for the tea, sugar, cooking fats and bacon she is allowed for one week.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress

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  • On January 8, 1940, the British government began rationing goods to cope with wartime shortages. One of the main strategies of the Axis powers was to intercept shipments of food headed for Great Britain, an island that must import a large percentage of its food. To deal with the resulting shortage, citizens were issued ration books containing coupons. When buying food, the purchaser gave the seller a coupon along with money; each household was allowed a certain amount of rationed goods per week.

    Among the rationed items were bacon, butter, sugar, tea, jam, cheese, eggs, milk, canned fruit, and meat. As the war went on, clothing and gasoline were also rationed. Rationing in Britain did not fully end until the mid-1950s, as the world began to recover from the economic damage caused by World War II.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Axis Noun

    alliance of countries that opposed the Allies during World War II. The Axis was led by Germany, Italy, and Japan.

    cope Verb

    to handle or deal with problems.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    Great Britain Noun

    large island in Western Europe consisting of the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales.

    intercept Verb

    to stop the progress of something, and often take it over.

    island Noun

    body of land surrounded by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: island
    ration Verb

    to supply people with a fixed amount of food or another good or service.

    World War II Noun

    (1939-1945) armed conflict between the Allies (represented by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (represented by Germany, Italy, and Japan.)