THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

22 August 2018

Emergency Rations in the India Office during the Second World War

In February 1939, tensions in Europe were running high, and in the offices of British Government departments thoughts were turning to the possibility of war with Germany.  One issue raised was what provisions existed for the staff working in Government buildings in Central London in the event of air raids.  A file in the India Office Records at the British Library contains interesting correspondence on the subject.

Essential Staff - TelephonistsIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

A sub-committee set up to enquire into the matter decided that it was not necessary for large stocks of food to be held by Government Departments, but that the Luncheon Clubs in the various Government offices should arrange to increase their stocks sufficient to provide meals for 50% of their regular customers for a 48 hour period.  The response of the India Office was put in a secret letter of the 15 May 1939 to the Treasury.  This states that the India Office Luncheon Club was a small business run a by a caterer named Miss Lane, who served about 230 lunches a day to staff from the India Office, Foreign Office and Colonial Office.  She had made assurances that she had a stock of supplies sufficient to meet the sub-committee’s requirements, and that she was alive to the necessity for keeping fresh supplies.   

India Office Luncheon ClubIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

A year later, in June 1940, the Treasury informed the India Office that this arrangement had been reviewed in light of the new situation, and that Departments would be issued with a number of “Voyage and Landing Rations” by the Army Authorities.  The aim was to provide an emergency ration for essential staff who may have been required to remain at their offices or who were unable to obtain meals in the normal way.  The allotment to the India Office was 100 such rations for one day.  The following order was shortly received from the Army Supply Reserve Depot at Deptford, and carefully stored in the basement: 36lb preserved meat, 75lb M&V (meat and veg) rations, 75lb biscuits (Spratt’s), 6lb tea in tins (Brooke Bond), 14lb sugar (Tate & Lyle), 8lb margarine, 13½lb cheese in tins, 14lb of jam (Tickler), 12½lb chocolate (Cadbury, Fry), plus 20 tommy cookers (a small portable stove issued to British troops).

Ration Voucher (1)IOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

Ration Voucher (2) IOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

As London and other British cities were battered during the Blitz, the arrangements were adjusted accordingly to provide sleeping accommodation and food in the event that essential staff could not return to their homes. In July 1941, it was decided to store enough rations for three days.  Under the new arrangements the scale of rations for one person for one day was 6ozs preserved meat or 12ozs meat & vegetables, 8ozs biscuits, ½oz tea, 2ozs sugar, 2ozs condensed unsweetened milk, 2ozs cheese, 2ozs jam and 2ozs chocolate.

Daily Scale of RationsIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

The rest of the file is mostly taken up with correspondence on the regular return and replacement of expired rations.  However, it also contains a fascinating War Office booklet from 1943 on the use of special ration packs, and a press cutting from the Daily Express on self-heating soup!

   War Office booklet croppedIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc



John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
File E/1022 Provision of emergency rations for India Office, 1939-1945 [Reference IOR/L/SG/8/524]