Ryan Taylor Memories of Wartime Rationing
War rations


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By Ryan Taylor

Gordon and Rosemary Ambrose of Kitchener are experienced grandparents. They know the kinds of questions they’ll be asked, and they’re prepared.

So when two of their grandchildren (from different cities) came to them recently with school projects dealing with their lives during the war, they each went to a file drawer and produced a manila folder labeled "World War II." The answers the children needed were inside.

Rosemary grew up in Galt and was ready to discuss gasoline rationing. Gordon is from the east coast, where danger of bombing raids made a blackout necessary. This involved closely covering all windows at night, to ensure that no peep of light was visible in the sky, inviting enemy planes to leave their calling card.

Marilyn Lambert of Kitchener also remembers the blackout. Her father, a clergyman, was a local official in charge of monitoring the neighborhood’s blackout curtains. The difference was that Marilyn grew up in Flint, Michigan. That might be seen as the farthest range of any Japanese, or perhaps Italian, bombers.

"It was good to know Flint was safe," she says.

Her most vivid memory of World War II also involves rationing. Of the various materials-metal, rubber, gasoline-which were hard to get, the one that most affected people was food. Butter, sugar, meat and flour were all scarce and each individual was alloted only a certain amount per week.

The foods that were not rationed were often ones that the public viewed less favorably, such as cabbage. A British fighter pilot who seemed to have super-human night vision easily brought down a series of enemy planes. He was instructed to attribute his success publicly to the eating of carrots, of which there was a plentiful supply. In fact, he was using a new invention-radar.

One day, little Marilyn was given the task of going to the store with the ration token for the evening meal’s meat. She set off, but dawdled beside the chicken coop. Her mother was patriotically raising chickens to augment the family’s meat supply.

Marilyn dropped the token and a quick chicken, interested in the shiny trinket, ate it. Aware of what she had done and its effect on the coming meal, Marilyn was careful to keep a close eye on the culprit while she called for her father.

She confessed all and named the offending bird. Her father did the only possible thing and killed it, searching for the token. It was not found. Perhaps somehow Marilyn’s eye had wandered from the guilty chicken to an innocent bystander.

Marilyn’s husband, Ron, asks, "Do you feel guilty about the death of that chicken?" and Marilyn now confesses, "No, not now, but I did then." The token never did turn up.

Anyone who lived through food rationing will understand the little girl’s terrible experience. Like the Ambroses, Marilyn will be sure to pass on her experiences to her own grandchildren.

As we gather around our unrationed Christmas tables, it’s worth sharing our experiences of the war, whatever war we lived through. We often hear tales of battle but civilians, young and old, also had interesting experiences. People who were not there may not realize that even those as far inland as Flint or Galt felt the effects of the war every day in their own lives.

Whether your experience was at school, on a farm, in Alternate Service, in the front line or nursing in a tropical hospital, share it with your family this Christmas. Then we can all appreciate what it will mean when we have peace on earth.

My best holiday wishes to everyone, and their families, near and far.

Column copyright © 2002 Ryan Taylor

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