When WW2 started in 1939, Britain imported 20 million tonnes of food per year. This included 50% of its meat, 70% of its cheese and sugar, nearly 805 of its fruits and about 70% of its cereals and fats.
With shipping being attacked, imports became few, this being a bid by the enemy to starve the nation into submission.
Rationing was implemented to deal with these HUGE shortages, where families would register with their local shopkeepers and, in theory, these stores would receive enough rations to feed those registered.
First to be rationed after the outbreak of war in September 1939 was petrol. On January 8th 1940 butter, bacon and sugar were rationed, shortly followed by meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk and canned fruit.
The war ended in 1945 and although peace and petrol were restored, rationing actually became harsher for some years after.
Bread, which had previously remained off ration as well as potatoes, were rationed in the late 40′s. Sweet and sugar rationing ended by 1953 but only on July 4th 1954 did all rationing of food end.
Interestingly enough, cheese production was heavily affected during the war. Most milk went to make ‘Government Cheddar’ which nearly wiped out some more indigenous varieties.
Government control of milk prices affected cheese variety well into the 1980′s