Rations and ‘comfort parcels’ for Scottish relatives were part of Jean Nicholson’s childhood memories in wartime Sydney, when her family were living at Eastwood. This is an extract from her brief memoir of those years.
Food was rationed from 1942. Mum had coupons that were exchanged for rationed items. The grocer or butcher would clip the coupons for the requested amount of food. Tea was the most important, as coffee was then unknown. Tea was ½ lb (250g) for 5 weeks, no such thing as tea bags. Sugar was 2lbs per fortnight (2x500g) and if we managed to find something else sweet we had to pay coupons for it. Butter was 1lb (500g) per fortnight and not always available when cows weren’t being milked….
MAKING DO, MENDING, AND HAND-ME-DOWNS
Material and clothing were not readily available. There were no school uniforms, kids wore whatever they had. My clothes were either made from my sister’s, or an older cousin. I was dressed in warm, pleated tartan skirts with a bodice attached with a pleat at each shoulder and halfway up the bodice. There were also seams that could be let out. I had a coat that had been my sister’s. Jumpers and cardigans that had holes were unravelled then washed, dried, made into balls of wool and reknitted. When the war ended Mum dyed curtains to make dresses for us to wear at our dancing concerts, They were held to raise money for an Oddfellows Lodge, where War Veterans lived.
REMEMBERING RELATIVES WITH FOOD PARCELS
There were two grocers in Eastwood, but one was a lot more expensive so Mum shopped at Moran and Cato’s, where she had a good relationship with the owner. He knew we were sending food parcels to Scotland. He was a friendly man, and would slip me a broken biscuit while we were waiting. Biscuits came in a big tin. If tinned butter came in he would save it for those who were sending food to the UK. If tinned meat came in that too was saved.
My family had divided up their Scottish relatives between them. Mum sent parcels to Dad’s half-sister and stepmother, another to a cousin, Jessie Semple, who had rheumatoid arthritis and a daughter in a TB (tuberculosis) hospital. Grandma sent them to another cousin, and an aunt to her husband’s family in Newcastle. My Junee aunt sent them to yet another cousin.
Mum would put sugar, mixed fruit, or tea into Glucodin tins, pack whatever else she had scrounged, sometimes putting preserved eggs in.
Everything would then be packed tightly into a square Arnott’s biscuit tin, around which she would wrap and sew calico, and then wrap in brown paper, tied tightly. She did the same thing for Grandma, as Grandma didn’t sew. Instead, she knitted socks all the time on four needles.
We were lucky, all our parcels made it over to Scotland where the calico was used to make things. At the end of the war a tray cloth beautifully embroidered arrived, made from the calico, along with a brooch made from curled wire. They were from the lass who had TB. I still have both.
People could pay to have parcels sent by the Australian government, but I’m sure the personal touches from Jean’s family were greatly appreciated. And by the way….lambs tongues?? 🤑
Food shortages continued in the UK long after the war ended. The following poem was written by Sir A.P. Herbert for Punch Magazine in 1947;
Back to Jean, and more on rationing.
Do you remember the slogan many years ago. ‘Feed the man meat’ ? My father ate most of the meat, with fried chops or stews. My sister and I got a tiny bit on the bone. We did get the mince, except when a cousin from Lithgow turned up. He and his sons were miners with huge appetites, so my sister and I had to eat other foods. Mum used to put oatmeal in the meat dish to fill them up.
Oh dear, what a challenge it all was. It’s good to be reminded. Thanks so much for sharing your memories Jean.