Food and Rationing
Among memories of the Occupation by those who lived through it, one aspect stands out above all: the food which was available to the population, with supplies dwindling to zero after D-day saw the Channel Islands isolated from France, from where supplies had been sourced until then.
Although some commodities had been rationed before the Germans arrived in Jersey on 1 July 1940, stocks of food were quite high, large quantities having been brought to the island in anticipation of invasion. But hopes that this foresight would result in a ready availability of essential foodstuffs were quickly dashed when the Germans immediately commandeered a considerable proportion to feed their troops. On 6 July official rationing was introduced with butter, sugar and cooking fats limited to 4 ounces each a week per person, and meat to 12 ounces per person. Other commodities were subject to unofficial rationing by shopkeepers.
Despite unsuccessful attempts to bulk out flour for baking with potato, stocks quickly began to run down and although a week's supply was received from France in September, this was recently harvested and too moist for immediate use.
A purchasing office had been set up in Granville by Jersey and Guernsey to obtain as many essential supplies as possible. The sale of vehicles abandoned by evacuee owners to the Germans for shipment to France provided the necessary finances to fund this operation. Before the war Jersey had obtained virtually all its supplies from England and it was not easy to tap into the French market, reduced as it already was by the impact of occupation.
Despite the best efforts of the islanders manning this operation, supplies were difficult to find in war-torn France, which was itself experiencing shortages. The meat ration had to be reduced to 8 ounces per person in September 1940 and supplies of foodstuffs were so low that many shops only opened for a few hours a day.
The Germans had first call on cigarettes and tobacco and there were virtually none available for the civilian community by the end of 1940. Troops were rationed to 20 cigarettes a day but civilians to the same quantity in a week.
During November the cooking fat ration came to an end, no margarine was available and the total ration of fat was down to four ounces of butter, which was halved in January 1941. Prices of locally produced vegetables began to rise steadily and the Department of Essential Commodities decided to control all prices.
The Germans wanted to make the island self-sufficient in food, and plans were put in place for the potato crop to be reduced in 1941 in favour of growing wheat and other crops. On 17 February bread was rationed to 3 lb a week for children under 10, 6 lb for manual workers, and 4½ lb for all other people. Before the Occupation, with a population of nearly 60,000, the weekly consumption of flour was in the region of 70 tons, but shortages in other items of food resulted in a jump of 118 tons weekly for the reduced population of 40,000. The consumption of the occupying forces is not included in this figure, as they had rye bread, for which they brought their own materials.
The serious shortage of meat resulted in experiments in supplying soup in milk bottles in lieu of the ration, but this proved to be so unpopular that it was not continued for long. Jam was rationed at the rate of one pound per fortnight, but this was for the children only.
The shortage of food was beginning to take its toll and several inquest verdicts showed that deaths had been caused by undernourishment.
There was a thriving black market, particularly for pork raised locally. Any which went through official channels for slaughter at the abbatoir was taken by the Germans and the only pork officially available to islanders was of poor quality from France. The States tried to implement measures to eliminate unofficial slaughtering of animals but attention turned from pigs to cattle, and there was no shortage of people willing to take the risk of buying on the black market.
The black market also sold goods smuggled in from France, xcess stocks of some of the more fortunate households — and the heavy demand resulted in extremely high prices or such items as sugar (15 shillings a pound) and tea. There were numerous house robberies and food was the usual target.
A small industry sprang up converting potatoes into potato flour, which made a good substitute for cornlour.
As 1941 wore on, shops opening was limited to Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Butchers opened on Fridays and Saturdays only. News of sudden availability of commodities brought people rushing to the shops to get their share before stocks were exhausted. In May the meat ration was cut to 4 ounces but the first tablets of soap - one each - for months went on sale.
Farms were regularly pillaged of vegetables, and in one instance a live pig was stolen in broad day light.
Rations fluctuated as more foodstuffs became available, and the meat and butter rations were doubled towards the end of 1941. Bread was being made from the local wheat, but there were many complaints about its quality. But Christmas brought some cheer, with a small issue ot tea, a doubling of the sugar ration and chocolate and sweets for the children. Even the tobacco and cigarette ration was increased. Everyone did their best to bring some festive cheer into their lives, but these were very difficult times.
For those who could afford it, extra 'luxuries' were available on the black market. Prices were astronomical, with pork at 15s a pound, chocolates £5 a pound, dried fruit 10s a pound, sugar at 15s and tea at £4 a pound. A cup of tea with a spoonful of sugar was a veritable extravagance. Add to this a general drop in earnings, except for those working for the Germans, and it can be seed what priority families placed on their food - not that there was much else to spend their money on. The black market was generally justified on the basis that it provided food for locals which would otherwise be taken for much less money by the Germans. Some farmers came in for tremendous criticism, however, for supplying food at inflated price direct to German soldiers. It was activities such as these which led people to denounce neighbours and even friends for harbouring forced workers or using illicit radio sets.
When the Germans caught people trading on the black market penalties were severe, but no publicity was given to these cases and details only filtered through to the community alongside all manner of unsubstantiated rumours.
However, 1942 was to start badly, with the introduction of potato rationing at 7 lb a week, and then 5lb after another fortnight, as stocks had to be sent to Guernsey which was entirely without potatoes. With the vegetable forming the basis of most meals, this was a harsh blow. News filtered through that Guernsey was suffering more than its sister island, with food stocks lower, and potato peelings being sold on the black market.
Towards the middle of 1942 there was again some improvement in the food position; the potato ration was increased to ten pounds for about two months, and an ample supply of other vegetables was available. There was also an increased distribution of milk.
The severe dietary restrictions were probably no bad thing for those islanders who started the Occupation overweight, and weight losses of several stone were not uncommon. Times were very hard, however, for those already suffering poor health, whose cause was not helped by unbalanced diets lacking in the specific nutrients they required. Meodicines were also in very short supply and only available to those most in need.
Another Christmas came and went, but this year the issue of extra rations was by no means as generous as the previous one, lwith very few sweets and chocolates available, no tea or coffee, and a small portion of cheese being about the best the island could afford.
Although some farmers were sympathetic towards the plight of the Russian forced workers and took enormous personal risks to feed and even hide them from the Germans, others saw them as a significant threat. Two Russians were killed in an attempted robbery and unofficial civilian guard parties were organised in the country parishes to protect rural properties from raids. Later in the war the same defenses were to be deployed to protect crops and lifestocks from marauding German soldiers, who were as hungry as the rest of the population. The banging of dustbin lids in the otherwise quiet countryside was a sure sign that Germans were on the prowl and lifestock should be brought inside for protection.
Supplies of food from France were constantly under threat of attack by RAF raids on shipping in the Channel. A reduction in the bread ration was seen as a retaliation by the Germans against the innocent islanders. This was denied, and whatever the truth of the matter, the ration was restored after a few weeks.
Life continued on similar lines, with a small distribution of extra foodstuffs at Christmas 1943, but the event which would have the greatest adverse impact of all on the community was only six months away. On 6 June 1944 - D-day - Allied troops invaded the Normandy coast. The sound of bombing could be clearly heard over ensuing weeks in Jersey and news received by those still possessing illegal radios spread quickly. Was the war coming to an end? How soon would the Channel Islands be rescued.
It was a bitter blow to discover that, even though the Allies soon occupied the whole of the Cotentin peninsular and could actually be seen from Jersey on a clear day, they were not about to be diverted to reoccupy the islands. Far from it; there very occupation of the ports which had hitherto provided Jersey with its only supplies of imported food meant that the island was completely isolated from the outside world, and its occupants risking starvation.
Foodstuffs which had previously been scarce were now non-existent, and the Channel Islands were effectively in [Post D-Day state of siege|a state of siege]], with the Allies making no attempt to recapture them and the Germans having no intention of surrendering. The populations of the islands were squeezed in the middle, heading to starvation, and the German troops were, if anything, even more badly affected.
One by one, foodstuffs and essential commodities ran out, with no hope of replenishment until the end of the war. Gas supply ceased on 4 September and some 50 public ovens were opened by the States in various parts of St Helier. From October 1 the electricity supplky became uncertain and the current was shut off each evening. On 31 October the sugar ration was reduced to two ounces a week. There was no fuel ration in November and people started cutting down trees and bushes and removing woodwork from empty houses. Employees in unheated public buildings had to work in overcoats. The laundries closed down on 12 November, the salt ration was suspended the following day. On 21 November the Germans visited farms to make an inventory of foodstuffs, which could then only be disposed of by permission of the Platzkommandantur.
On 5 December hopes were raised with the news that a Red Cross relief ship was about to leave Lisbon with food supplies. The following week the Germans removed all potatoes, wheat and other produce from farms to stores in St Helier and on 18 December they began slaughtering Jersey cattle for meat for the troops. On 22 December all owners of poultry had to hand over a sixth of their stock to their parish Constable.
On 30 December the Red Cross ship Vega, which had called first at Guernsey, arrived in Jersey with food parcels for the civilian population.
Other accounts of food supplies
Bailiff's secretary Ralph Mollet's diary sections
Escapee Dennis Vibert's 1941 report to the British Government
Phil Le Sauteur's diary sections