So keep your ration Book in Hand
And we’ll drink tea across the land
And an extra cup for Granny too
And all our dashing lads in blue.
– British poem about tea rationing –
“War is hell.” It’s a quote that’s often attributed to Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, who made a good point, and it’s one that you can hardly argue with. While the disruption of supplies of tea in certain wars of yesteryear perhaps could not quite be considered hellish it was certainly a major inconvenience for citizens of one of the great tea-drinking nations of all time.
October 3, 1952 might not be one of the most important days in British history, but for this nation of tea lovers it wasn’t such a shabby one either. As the BBC announced on that particular day, the wartime tea rationing that had been in place for the last twelve years was finally about to be lifted. As an added bonus prices were not expected to rise now that controls on tea consumption were being dispensed with. Even with rationing in place, as the BBC noted at the time, the citizens of the United Kingdom and Ireland were still responsible for consuming about one-third of all tea grown worldwide.
While the British were not subjected to tea rationing during World War I attacks on shipping by German submarines disrupted supplies. The British government responded by taking over imports of the commodity and imposing controls on prices. Two days after World War II commenced the government again took over control of supplies of tea. When supplies began to be disrupted in 1940 a ration of two ounces per week per person was instituted for anyone over the age of five. Though rationing would stay in place for another seven years after the war, the fact that the amount of the ration was eventually increased to three ounces helped to ease the pain.
Tea has apparently not been rationed since then but it’s interesting to note that one of the issues that British disaster planners tackled during the Cold War was the potential effect that a nuclear war might have on the nation’s supplies of tea.
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