Leicester in WW2

A Fruitless Search - the missing chapter. Here (to give a flavour of the rest of the book) is an unfinished chapter that had to be cut early on due to lack of space.

With the news of the German attack upon Poland Leicester newspapers carried a series of public notices. The first announced that the Ministry of Agriculture was compiling a list of animal foodstuff dealers in order to form a committee to review the distribution of feed in the event of war. Another revealed that the Board of Trade was setting up Food Control Committees in each local authority. These were each to comprise 15 members; five from the retail trades and the remaining ten to include at least two women and “representatives of all classes in the area”. They were to be overseen by a Food Executive Officer. The Leicester Co-Operative Society was not slow in using the uncertainty to steal a march on their rivals:

Rations. Arrangements are in hand for Leicester Co-Operative Society members and the general public to receive adequate supplies of food and fuel during the war. Registration forms have been posted to all members, but if you do not receive one by Wednesday next, you should obtain one at the L.C.S. branch at which you trade.

As already announced officially, it is necessary that you register now for coal and supplies. The L.C.S. has been organised for some time to cater for members’ requirements in war conditions. You can help the organisation by registering at your branch immediately.

As a result of the hurried imposition of the blackout Leicester’s major retailers put an advertisement in the newspapers:

To enable the staffs to reach their homes before dark, the following shopping houses have decided to close their premises at 7.30 pm tonight: Lewis’s, Marks and Spencers, F.W. Woolworth and Co Ltd, British Home Stores.

The also carried an announcement on behalf of Leicester market informing the public that “Until further notice no artificial light will be allowed. Patrons are urged to shop early”. The Leicester Evening Mail subsequently reported:

Some evening shoppers at Leicester market have expressed annoyance at the attitude of stallholders who, as darkness approaches, have refused to sell goods and confined their energies to “packing up”.

In response “Worker” of Ross Walk/Kensington Street wrote:

I see in the Leicester Evening Mail that the authorities are to be approached about the earlier closing of the shops. I sincerely hope that this does not come about, as I go to work, and not having enough dinner time to enable me to do my shopping then, I do not know when I should be able to do it, as I work late, and generally do not get home until 7 or 8 o’clock. Surely we have enough worries in these harassed times without having to worry about how we should get our food in?

A heated debate followed within the letters pages, but one of those writing in offered a salutary reminder that although Leicester’s people were trying to come to grips with the impacts of the new conflict, there were many in the city still feeling the effects of the last:

I should like “Shop Assistant” to know I don’t go work to gain pleasure or pocket money. Unfortunately, like many others, I have to work to support a husband invalided in the last war. Does your correspondent realise shorter hours mean shorter pay?

In the first week of September 1939 consumers were informed that they would shortly be limited to 75% of their pre-war consumption of coal, electricity and gas. Local shops also reported that they had almost run out of supplies of batteries for torches, which – despite it being a breach of the lighting regulations – many people were now using to light their way in the blacked-out streets. These were not the only rules that people wished to circumvent. Under the byline “A Sweet Ruse” a Leicester Evening Mail columnist also recounted:

Many people suddenly developed a sweet tooth when there was talk of rationing sugar and, quite contrary to public policy, attempts were made to get in a store. A business acquaintance told me last night of a dodge that was tried several times at his premises. The customer would enter the shop with a basket of fruit, and after an enthusiastic “good morning” the assistant would be asked to weigh the fruit. Told the weight she would enquire “Now, how many pounds of sugar do I require? I'm making jam you know”. The trick called for a tart reply...

At the same time 500 Leicester shopkeepers protested to the Food Control Committee that attempts to regulate the price of granulated sugar would leave them with a barely discernible profit. Nonetheless, the lack of commodities rapidly raised demand, and through it, their value. Captain Charles Waterhouse, M.P. for Leicester South, had asked for help in reporting “profiteering”:

It would be a great help to me if constituents would write to me giving full and accurate details of any case of which they have personal knowledge and where possible, enclosing invoices or quotations. I should treat all such communications as confidential to myself and the government department concerned, to whom I would at once refer the case for proper investigation.

Already in 1940 there had been questions in Parliament on the massive jump in the cost of food, the price of eggs at Leicester market being used as one of the national barometers of change. It was noted that whereas ten dozen English standard eggs had retailed at between 1s 2d and 1s 4d in the first week of March 1939, by the first week of March 1940 they had risen to between 2s 6d and 2s 9d. That said, the retailer’s mark-up on 120 eggs bought wholesale was still only 3d-6d. In August 1941 Daniel Lipson, M.P. for Cheltenham, tabled a question in Parliament to Major Lloyd George, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food asking whether (in the light of an increase in reports of food speculation) he would introduce a licensing system for all food sellers, both wholesale and retail. Major Lloyd George was unmoved:

Retail food traders are already required to be licensed under the Food Control Committees (Local Distribution) Order 1939. As regards all other dealers in foodstuffs, including wholesalers, I would refer my Honourable Friend to the answer I gave to my Honourable and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester East (Captain Lyons), on Wednesday, 14th May. Since then the licensing of wholesalers for canned fish and tea has been announced… I cannot accept the contention that food speculation is increasing (to which other members of the house gave an incredulous “Oh!”). I am sorry, I cannot accept the contention. I am not speaking without knowledge. The fact is that practically all important commodities are now price-controlled. The difficulty before price control was that speculation was made much easier. In the case of some of these price control orders licensing accompanies the order. In future that may be extended. Licensing without control would have the effect which the Honourable Member wishes to avoid.

Mr Lipson asked if this meant that the black market had ceased to exist, to which Lloyd George retorted “I never said that. There is no Ministry that I know of who will get rid of it altogether”.

One way however by which the Government could at least alleviate the impact of food shortages and price fixing on the population was by exhorting them to grow more. To this end the Ministry of Agriculture used the Defence Regulations to force all kinds of land, including public parks, to be converted to allotments. Leicester’s newspapers were enthusiastic:

Leicester has long been in the van of the allotment movement, and members have always shown a readiness to cooperate in providing produce for local charitable institutions. This fine spirit has also been expressed in the supply of seed to the unemployed and others in needy circumstances. It has been calculated that a man with a well cultivated allotment is able to provide produce for his family for three parts of the year. This new move will be an opportunity for the gardeners to put their backs into a real job with even greater vigour and thoroughness. The local earth is waiting to yield its harvest. We do not know what the future has in store, but bounteous nature will come to our aid should there be lean times in the land.

As part of this the Corporation were asked to relax the restriction upon council house tenants against keeping hens. Debates in Parliament and allotments aside, John Goodwin’s diary entries for 1940 probably speak more eloquently than any other source on the impact of the gradually worsening situation upon the daily lives of civilians not just in Leicester, but throughout Britain:

29th January, Monday. Inches more snow. No trams or buses though yet, so had to walk to Frog Island. Knocked factory off at 5.30. Increased ration of bacon. Price preventing many people buying. Wireless reports biggest dislocation of all kinds of traffic for half a century.

9th February, Friday. Very cold again. Trying to snow. To Jones, market, for dinner and laid in a joint of venison for weekend.

10th February, Saturday. Very sharp frost. Called and got “macon” and “Ulster Fry”, two emergency foods for trial. Venison for dinner, and very nice too.

22nd April, Monday. Doctor came but would not let me get up. Mr Lead came bringing bottle of whiskey he had secured for me.

23rd April, Tuesday. Budget day. 3d on baccy, 1d on beer, 1s 9d on whiskey.

23rd July, Tuesday. Interim budget 1d on beer and 12d on tobacco. Luxury buying taxes.

7th October, Monday. Made three visits to tailor for alteration to suit & now have to go again tomorrow.

14th October, Monday. Dinner at canteen and strolled through Abbey Park with Hill brothers. Saw gunfire in direction of Coventry after midnight. Butter ration down to 2oz.

25th October, Friday. Eggs now at 4d each.

27th December, Friday. 7 o’clock bus to catch 8 train. Stocktaking, but half place working. Extended search for tobacco, very scarce, on way to tram. Quiet night but London visited. We had alarm for ½ hour at dinner time.

If anything, 1941 was to bring even grimmer news, especially as German U-Boats intensified their stranglehold upon the Atlantic seaways:

2nd January, Thursday. Snowing most of day. Used tram. Announced meat ration to be reduced. Alert three times after 9.40pm.

8th January, Wednesday. Thawing today. I toured town lunch time for something meaty for tea but found nothing. Meat ration further reduced today to ½ per week.

11th January, Saturday. Rain morning, turning fine. Failed to get sausage, shop crowded. Alert 11.35-12.00. Quiet night.

24th January, Friday. No “sweet” at canteen dinner owing to lack of fat.

7th April, Monday. Dull and cold again. Budget day. Income tax rate increased and level lowered but the extra to be returned after war. No extra on beer or tobacco, to general surprise. Alert (first since 19th) 8.50-3.

30th April, Wednesday. Cold wind and dull to finish a cold month. 80% of British Expeditionary Force claimed to have been evacuated (from Crete). Arrival of oranges in the country cause of sensation.

1st June, Sunday. Whit Sunday. Evacuation of Crete and rationing of clothes announced.

Memo (for week ending 19th July). Food situation reasonable but fruit very dear and tomatoes very scarce at controlled prices.

26th July, Saturday. Poured rain all day. Leads came after tea. Singing and reminiscences till 11.30. Arthur and I managed to get last beer from “off” (closing early owing to shortage).

Memo (for week ending 9th August). Acute scarcity matches and flints. A few oranges at 4d each. Gooseberries 4s lb, cherries 4s.

26th August, Tuesday. Cool and windy. Must register for winter supply of 2 lb onions.

20th September, Saturday. Able to get sausage from the old shop, Lea’s, which shows (food) position is easier.

2nd October, Thursday. Weather still fine. Reports of executions for sabotage etc in all occupied countries. Announced fats and sugar ration to be increased.

16th October, Thursday. First gale of autumn early and then fine and sunny. Margaret’s Ma and Dad came by train, owing to reduced petrol ration. Jerry through outer defences of Moscow in one sector.

20th October, Monday. Grand day. Canteen dinners up to 1s. Alert 10.25-11.45. First since August 12th.

2nd November, Sunday. Very lazy, in pyjamas till noon. Cold, nothing doing outside. (Aeroplane) Spotting Frog Island. All canned meats and fish to be rationed from 27th inst.

With America’s entry into the war in December 1941, the Spring of 1942 brought some immediate respite for Leicester consumers, if only in the limited form of tomatoes:

1st March, Sunday. Canned tomatoes for breakfast, the first (American) since supplies of Italian ran out a year ago.

11th March, Wednesday. To work on bus, slight rain. Announced white bread to be banned in April. Sir Stafford Cripps going to India to make offer to people of self-government. Japs pressing on in Burma towards Australia.

13th March, Friday. Quite mild today. Haircut at lunch and secured a pound of herrings (which have been very scarce). Beginning to talk of Japanese attack on India next.

22nd March, Sunday. Eric and Olive came over last run with car prior to laying up for rest of war. Excitement in afternoon when shed and house on fire between us and Roberts. Did not turn out all day.

14th April, Tuesday. Nice day again. Budget day. Staggering news. Tobacco up 7 ½ d an ounce, making 2s per ounce. Anxiety over cabinet changes in Vichy France “Quisling” Laval becomes Premier, which means closer to Nazis.

15th April, Wednesday. Fine again. In town lunch time, trying for tobacco at old rate but none to be had. Planted “Greyhound” cabbages and put in mushroom spawn.

22nd April, Wednesday. Dull. In town lunch-time for flower seeds and razor blades, which are scarce. Flower seed sowing, lawn-mowing. Commando raid on Boulogne.

4th May, Monday. Change of wind brings warmer conditions. Margaret and Nellie into town, ran me into paying for new coat for wife.

27th June, Saturday. Warm. Town afternoon with Margaret after slacks but no stock at Co-Op, where there used to be hundreds. Churchill back from U.S.

1st July, Wednesday. Cold first but warm day. Town after dinner. Large queues for strawberries and cherries. Plenty tobacco now in shops. Sebastapol about overcome. Position in Egypt about same.

17th July, Friday. Dull and drizzly, turning to steady rain lunch time. Intended fishing in Soar whilst (aeroplane) spotting but rain didn’t let up soon enough. Russians doing better on Voronegh section but “taking it” near Rostov.

21st July, Tuesday. War news much same as recently. More shouting for “second front” to help Russia. Rationing of sweets (2 oz per person).

3rd October, Saturday. To work, bus, met Margaret in town for dinner at Hartopp’s. Market and met Kay, and then to station to meet Les and Grace 2.10. In Lewis’s for look round and cup of tea, then home for tea. Grand day.

John Goodwin’s diary gives a vivid account of the situation from the point of view of customers, but Jack Wood, son of the Aylestone butcher Frank Wood, recalled that such times were extremely difficult for retailers too:

My father started in the butchering when he came out of the first world war, he was in the Tank Corps and he set up with a little van, built up a round in the Aylestone area, and he carried on with that until about 1924, and then his brother in law came in to the shop to look after that whilst he tried to build up the round out at Desford. That was all very well until 1938, when I started work. I didn’t particularly want to be a butcher, my dad more or less forced me into it, but at fourteen years old, you’ve not got much choice. I finished up doing everything. In those days there was no plastic, all your shop was white wood. And after you’d scrubbed it, you had to scrub it again with clear, salty water to get the white to come up in the woodwork. And time and time again, round about 6 o’clock at night, when the shop was open, your mates were outside “When are you coming? When are you coming?”, and the old man would come strolling inside, look at the floor you’d just scrubbed, drag his foot across it, get a load of scum up, and next thing you know it would be “Go and get another bucket of hot water”, and you finished up doing it again. I don’t think it did me any harm in the long run, but it was tough going.

As supplies of meat were gradually constricted, Jack particularly remembered the sacks of boneless Argentinian beef which were delivered to the shop. Still frozen solid when they were delivered on a Thursday, they had scarcely thawed when it came time to prepare them for sale on a Saturday, which made cutting a problem. Jack’s father relied heavily on Gilbert, whom he had taken on as a boy, and Jack had come to accept his lot, either working in the shop or delivering orders to customers in the Aylestone area on his bicycle.

I gradually got used to the job, and when I wasn’t delivering meat on the bike myself, I used to be out in the van with Gilbert and we used to do the Desford-Newbold Verdon run. Things were going quite smoothly. We always used to stop at a house in Newbold Verdon about 6 o’clock on a Friday, and the old lady there used to give us a cup of tea and a big lump of home made cake. I used to look forward to that all day long. Anyway, things were going pretty well until the war came, and then up until about 1941, I was surprised – after Dunkirk, you’d think things would get a bit tough - but we were allowed out in the van to Desford until 1941. I’d just got my driving licence, been driving for about three or four months, and Gilbert turned up one Friday. He’d got an enormous abscess on his neck, and no way could he do the round that day. My dad thought he’d got to do it, but of course, being keen on driving I said “Let me do it”, and he reluctantly let me go. It was a hell of a day, because there was a bit of ice and snow about here and there. I managed to struggle through the day, and got home. Instead of getting home around about 7 o’clock like Gilbert used to do, it was about half past eight when I got back. And the old man was waiting for me “Where the hell have you been?”, and when he looked in the back of the van, no “Thank you for doing it on your own”, he chews me up for selling too much meat, which of course was on ration. You couldn’t win with him! But about early 1942 Gilbert got called up into the Army, and then they took the round off us because of petrol restrictions. We just had to give the whole thing up. It was then just mainly the shop work, which, I was just helping the old man out till the end of `42 when I went into the Navy.

Such experiences were common to all retailers though, and as the regular advertisement by G. Folwell and Son Ltd (pork butchers) read:

You have grown accustomed to seeing our advertisement. Well, we are still here, and still doing business in the same place – Market Place to be exact. What with rationing regulations, restrictions and reservations, our difficulties don’t diminish – but we are still doing our best to “meat” the situation for our numerous butchers.

And despite rationing, in some respects life in the city was remarkably unchanged from pre-war years. The Christmas 1942 edition of the Royal Army Pay Corps magazine Pay Parade reported:

Fowl Fare - A colleague tells me that the Wing Party held by Wing 6 (Group 2 Light Anti-Aircraft) was not only a wing affair, but also included legs. But please don’t get me wrong. What I mean is that the “do” commenced with high tea at Lewis’s, and the bill of fare included chicken and chips. (On second thoughts I had better not say too much about it in case somebody tells Lord Woolton).

In January 1943 the Borough Watch Committee received two items of news:


A circular letter is submitted from the Ministry of Fuel and power intimating that the Minister has decided that the issue of petrol for such taxi-cabs that are not required to serve the essential needs of the public must be discontinued.

A letter is submitted from the controller intimating that consideration has been given to the provision of an additional British Restaurant in the centre of the city. A complete sectional building for this purpose has been offered to the welfare sub-committee together with facilities for obtaining the requisite equipment. Consideration has been given by the officials concerned to obtaining a central site and it has been decided that the appropriate position for the proposed restaurant is the central car park. The controller accordingly asks if this committee will approve in principle the erection of the British Restaurant on the car park.

The car park in question was on Lee Street in an area of the city where Victoria slum housing had been cleared before the war but redevelopment work had not begun. Permission was duly granted and the restaurant provided cheap meals which were “off ration” to the city’s workers. The diarist John Goodwin tried the restaurant himself and pronounced it “very good”, but despite such innovations, his entries for 1943 showed a continuing preoccupation with rationing and its effects:

30th January, Saturday. Took Margaret and Kay down to “Save Fuel” exhibition and shop gazing. First day time bombing of Berlin. Two visits which upset broadcast of Goebbels and Goering on anniversary of Nazi accession. German people told they are up against it and must emulate the British in adversity.

13th April, Tuesday. In town to beat budget increase on tobacco (5d oz). Can’t get watch repaired. Meeting to start women (aeroplane) spotting.

1st May, Saturday. Fruitless trip to Aylestone after sports coat advertised for sale. Everybody after clothing, as everything else scarce.

20th May, Thursday. Saw ad of suit and sports coat in paper (Kimberley Road) and went after them, but too late. Reveals competition for couponless clothing.

29th June, Thursday. Warm. Mabel and Arthur came for a few days from Ilkeston. M and I took them to Spinney Park. Arthur and I indulged in fruitless search for beer.

9th Nov, Saturday. Grand day. Sunny, cold, but clear later. Kay and I got blue-stales (a type of mushroom) and fish on going home from work. Lucky, as fish is very scarce.

The August 1943 edition of Pay Parade had reacted with alarm to recent reports concerning a further rationing measure, and how this might affect Leicester drinkers:

A percentage of potatoes can be used in brewing certain types of beer.” (News item). What a ghastly and revolting thought. Fancy going in to the Belvoir Bar, and asking for half of mild and “Please see that it’s King Edwards”. Imagine the dear old lady at the Town Arms saying “How would you like a drop of Arran Pilot, me duck?”. We cannot - not even in our wildest dreams - visualise a Staff Sergeant holding a foaming glass to the light and commenting with a smacking of the lips, “Ah ha, good stuff this my boy – look at the eyes!”

The relative scarcity of alcohol in the city during 1943 might however have had positive outcomes, in that the Licensing Session were subsequently told that only 56 people had been proceeded against for drunkenness during that year, the lowest on record. In the same edition of Pay Parade that had carried worrying news about the possibility of potato beer, there was also an article concerning the efforts of Royal Army Pay Corps staff who had been busily tilling their allotments on Victoria Park:

Major General Riley and the Regimental Paymaster, Colonel Spilsbury, were among the many who viewed the exhibition of vegetables, held in Newarkes, on August 9th. Both the General and the Colonel commented favourably on the results achieved; possibly they thought that it spoke well for the enthusiasm of the gardening fraternity that in the middle of a hectic Main Issue period with all its added burdens, time was found in off duty hours to achieve such a capital display.

Mr A.J. Corke, Horticultural Adviser to the City of Leicester, who judged the show remarked that the exhibits were among the best he had seen this season. Afterwards the produce was sold for the benefit of the Red Cross. With Lieutenant Goulding as auctioneer, £5 12s. was realised. Lieutenant Cartledge was officer in charge of the show, with L/Cpl Warren secretary.

Results were as follows:

Potatoes: Sergeant Jannett; 2 Private Farmer.

Onions: 1, Private Sear; 2, Private Newitt.

Carrots: Private Lockwood Jones.

Marrow: Private Wilby.

Shallots: Private Chadderton.

Cauliflower: Corporal Reynolds.

Cabbage: Sergeant Dugard.

Runner Beans: Private Framp.

French Beans: Sergeant Smith.

Peas: Private Davenport.

Beetroot: 1, Private Lockwood Jones; 2, Sergeant Horsfall.

Lettuce: 1, Private England.

Mixed Vegetables: 1, Major Mark; 2, Corporal Reynolds.

Sergeant Daft won a special prize.

The Detachment Gardening Section is of the opinion that a number of N.C.O.s and men would wish to take an allotment providing it is situated within reach of their billets. Enquiries are proceeding in several areas on the outskirts of Leicester for the possibility of allotments being available, preferably several together in each area.

Amongst the winter gloom of early 1944, in addition to the now more promising war situation, his diary entry for 24th January John Goodwin did have some very welcome sartorial news to impart:

Gale and showers, heavy at times. Terrific at night. The new bridge-head near Rome now said to be secure. “austerity” restrictions on suits lifted. Can now have turn-ups.

Although turn-ups were allowed, the continuing shortages nonetheless meant that some people were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to obtain clothing. Under the unusual headline “Strange Woman Pushed Furs up her Coat” in January 1944 the Leicester Evening Mail reported that a 45 year old woman had pleaded not guilty at Leicester City Assizes to a charge of attempted theft from the Co-Operative on High Street of furs worth £17 4s. The court heard from a shop assistant that the accused had entered the adjoining Mantle Department with another woman at 2.00. They had quickly left but the other woman returned again at 2.25, immediately after which the accused entered and enquired about childrens’ shoes. She promptly went away again but shortly afterwards was seen by the assistant standing behind a counter in the Mantle Department. She was hiding furs inside her coat whilst the other woman was taking others from the adjacent storage cupboard. The shop assistant shouted out to them that she’d call the manager, but as she attempted to stop them, was punched in the face by the first woman, who promptly ran away. The assistant did however manage to grapple the accused who shouted “That woman is the thief, I’ve never seen her before! The other woman was pushing the furs under my coat!”.

Jack Wood described some of the efforts made by shopkeepers to circumvent the official channels and obtain stock, which were not without their humour:

I know the old man, he thought a hell of a lot for his customers. He’d got this knacker man out at Gilmorton. Every now and again, he’d give him a buzz, and he’d be over there fetching an illegally killed beast to help his customers out, apart from which he was getting the money out of it anyway. But one funny instance…during the war they used to have periods when beef was very short, and another time you couldn’t get lamb, and then they put a restriction on pork. They thought it best if all the pigs, instead of being killed for meat, if they were all raised bigger for bacon, it would help things out a bit. Then, naturally the old man had got some people offering him bits of pork and that… the old man got half a dozen pigs one weekend. He let this chap Albert (who had another shop) have one of these pigs, stuck it in his fridge, and I think the following week, word got round to the shop, the inspectors were on the prowl. They regularly called at shops to inspect all the meat to see if you’d got anything illegal, because most of the meat you got was all stamped. Albert was absolutely having eggs, and his son said “Oh, give it me!”, and he took this pig upstairs and he said “I’ll get it hidden somewhere”. Anyway, the inspector came, searching round the house, in the shop, he went round the kitchen and out the back buildings. Then, when he came back, he even wanted to go upstairs. Albert was having a bit of a fit, but his son said “Oh, that’s alright, I’ll show you, come up with me”. About half way up the stairs he said “Now, will you do me a favour? Be very, very quiet, my Auntie’s in this front bedroom, she’s not very well, we’ve got her tucked up in bed, and we want as little noise as possible, so if you could just quietly go round?”, the chap says, “Oh yes, that’s alright”. He quietly goes upstairs and opens all the other bedroom doors and then he opens this one and just peeps in. He can see this person lying in the bed there, quietly came out, and off he went, gone. Albert looked at his son and he said “What did you do with the pig?”. He said, “That’s ‘Auntie’ in the front bedroom”.

Nonetheless, newspapers were filled with prosecutions of retailers and shopkeepers. In 1944 a Glenfield shopkeeper was fined £8 by the Leicestershire magistrates on eight counts of making false statements to the Blaby Food Office (in that she had sent in fewer points coupons than stated on the return envelopes). The chairman, Alderman Timms remarked that he couldn’t help thinking she must have been the most popular person in Glenfield, as she had been getting credit to purchase more rationed foodstuffs than she was entitled to, and the people of Glenfield had therefore been getting more than their share. In another case that same year though it was difficult not to feel sympathy, in that a Glen Hills grocer was fined £5 at Leicester Police Court merely for “failing to keep an emergency stock of 14 days’ supply of specified goods in the event of an emergency”, an offence under the Food Rationing Order. Nonetheless, in other areas the authorities seem to have been much less forceful in enforcement than their modern counterparts. Newspapers at the end of February 1944 carried a polite notice from the City of Leicester Gas and Electricity Department (Millstone Lane):

Consumers will please not that the Gas and Electricity Accounts outstanding for the Christmas Quarter 1943 are now overdue, and it is respectfully requested that payment be made forthwith.

John Goodwin’s diaries for 1944 and 1945 carried very little mention of rationing – they were mostly concerned with the war news, with the following exceptions:

24th January, Wednesday. Fine snow all day. Small supply of outcrop coal delivered. Shivered by fire-side.

12th May, Saturday. Dense mist early so went out minus coat. Thin rain till lunch. To Granby Street for flannels. Margaret, Florence and I saw “Song to Remember”. After supper to Crown Hill Rise street dancing. Stayed till 1 o’clock. Very hot from lunch. Record for mid May.

1st June, Friday. Still cool. Several heavy showers. France climbs down and firing ceased in Syria. Basic petrol ration restored to private motorists.

The petrol situation might have improved, but any respite was temporary. Leicester’s citizenry was to struggle under rationing for the next nine years, the parlous state of the economy was the main enemy, rather than the U-boats. Before the war, Britain had been used to cheap imports, many from the Empire. After the war, she could no longer to pay for imports, cheap or otherwise. As a result, despite American financial aid (in the form of the Marshall Plan), the shortage of commodities saw levels of theft in 1947 five times those of 1938.