After the declaration of war in September 1939, three groups of food were initially rationed in January 1940; sugar, bacon and butter. This was followed by meat, fish, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, milk and canned fruit. Many factories were converted into making munitions for the war effort.
Wartime sweets rationing
Sweet rationing came into effect in 1942. There was an Allowance of seven ounces (200 gms) for everyone over five years old. This was the equivalent of just one sweet a day for most products in the Woolworth’s range. By the following year, sweets were becoming scarce and even having sufficient coupons was no guarantee that there would be enough sweets in the shops to buy.
In summer 1940, Cadbury’s were assuring customers that their chocolate biscuits were available in all stores. Three years later, they ran adverts in Picture Post magazine, saying that supplies were severely limited and asking customers to remember that growing children needed the nutrition from milk chocolate the most.
As raw materials were in short supply, chocolate manufactures were forced to substitute products and improvise ingredients. For instance, Cadbury Dairy Milk as withdrawn in 1941 when the government banned manufacturers from using fresh milk. In its place there was Ration Chocolate Bar, made with dried skimmed milk powder, which I’m sure you won’t find on your favourite list of chocolate bars these days.
The ration chocolate bar
In ‘A Child of War’, written in 1987, the author George Macbeth reminisced that sweets were the great loss and had his own firmly held views on the dubious taste of Ration Chocolate.
‘There was no longer an everlasting, teeth-spoiling fountain of sherbet and liquorice, or of Boy Blue cream whirls, or of Cadbury’s Caramello. Sweets were hard to come by, and then limited to a fixed ration.
One of the worst casualties was chocolate. The traditional division into milk and plain disappeared, and an awful intervening variety known as Ration Chocolate was born, issued in semi-transparent grease-proof wrappers, and about as appetizing as cardboard. In spite of a lifelong sweet tooth, I could never eat it.’
What production of chocolate that did occur was strictly on a geographical basis due to transport restrictions and the need to ration petrol supplies. So, if you liked something made by Rowntrees of York and you lived in London then tough luck.
Chocolate bars on the home front & in the war
So much for chocolate and the lack of it on the home front. You were more likely to get your hands on a bar of chocolate, however variable its quality, if you were in the army. The US army, to be more precise. Yes, those WW2 films of Yanks in battledress, chewing gum, and wooing the local land girls with supplies of delicious chocolate and sweets not found in the British shops are largely true.
However, like some of their other promises, it appears that the chocolate didn’t always live up to expectations…
D ration chocolate bar
The “D ration bar”, was a blend of chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk powder and oat flour, made by Hershey. It was an essential part of the emergency rations issued to US troops as part of the D day invasion of the beaches of Normandy. It weighed four ounces (112 grams) with 600 calories, was designed to be high in energy for mobile field operations and was manufactured to withstand high temperatures. Due to the fact that the recipe didn’t allow it to liquefy sufficiently, Hersheys had to design and make special chocolate moulds.
All of which made it difficult it eat and with a taste that isn’t fondly remembered by most.
Reports are that the mix of fat and oat flour made the chocolate bar a dense brick, and the sugar could not hide the extremely bitter taste to the dark chocolate. Designed to withstand high temperatures, the bar was difficult to bite into. Soldiers resorted to slicing off shaving of chocolate with their field knife.
For those of you interested in the actual ratios of ingredients, the formula for a large batch of the D chocolate ration bars, was 160 parts chocolate, not less than 54 percent cocoa fat, 160 parts added cocoa fat, 30 parts oat flour, 20 parts dry powdered skim milk, 70 parts vanillin crystals, and just enough sugar to make it palatable.
These days there the amount of sugar in chocolate is much higher, mainly because it’s cheaper than cocoa mass and other cocoa ingredients.
The ration chocolate bar also had one-sixth part vitamin B1, which may have been healthy but didn’t add to the overall flavour. This could be considered as a pretty healthy probiotic chocolate in it’s day, although not the tastiest.
Chocolate bars had a waxy or greasy taste which may have due, in part to the increase in the melting point from 92 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Bars came with instructions that they were to be eaten in small quantities over a half hour period, (which was perhaps just as well) or could be dissolved in boiling water.
In fairness to Hershey, one of the US army’s other stipulations was that the chocolate bar should taste ‘a little better than a boiled potato!’. It seems that the army wanted a bar that didn’t taste so good that it was eaten as a treat and therefore not conserved for emergencies. No wonder US troops used to refer to it as ‘Hitler’s Secret Weapon’.
However, the combination of ingredients and taste requirements did have one unexpected benefit. The Tropical bar, specially designed to withstand the intense heat of the tropics and the desert, came into its own as practically the only foodstuff that soldiers in the Far East could eat when they were ill with dysentery.
The sheer scale of chocolate production for the military is staggering. By war’s end, Hershey had made while around 40.2 million 2-ounce and 4-ounce D Ration bars, and 380 million Tropical Chocolate Bars – that’s a lot of cure for dysentery.
The war may have ended in 1945 but chocolate and sweet rationing didn’t. It was to be another long eight years until 5 February 1953 before the 12 ounces a month ration was finally abolished. Sugar itself was not de-rationed until September 1953.
Suddenly, there were more queues but this time without the need for coupons.
How a generation of post war children finally got sticky fingers and sweet teeth and their parents war time dreams finally came true is the subject of our next blog – Chocolate and Sweets in the 1950s.
Traditional Sweets & Chocolate History
- Wartime Sweets History >>
- History of Traditional Sweets in 1920s & 1930s >>
- History of American Sweets >>
- Traditional Sweets in 1970s >>
- History of chocolates in 1980s >>
This blog post was originally written on 26 June 2016 and last updated on 5 April 2023