Food rationing in La Manche during the Second World War
For 5 years, ration coupons will be the most valuable of all pieces of paper
The German occupation quickly aroused a considerable number of requisitions of all kinds, particularly in agricultural products. La Manche, a rural department, soon suffered from supply problems. As precious as banknotes, these paper tickets filled the wallets and – in part – the bellies of the “Manchois” (inhabitants of La Manche) for 5 years. This was one of the responses to the shortage of food and everyday consumer goods that took hold: we ration, each ticket gives the right to a share. But not everywhere or for everyone…
If we add to the requisitions, the decrease in agricultural production in the department and the decrease in the quantities imported, especially in cereals, we understand the food supply difficulties which affected La Manche, from 1940. We can also guess the inflation which results from this .
A very organized and targeted rationing according to the status of each
Considered in March 1940, revised and definitively installed on July 15, rationing of foodstuffs is the government’s response to supply problems in France. A General Food Service is then set up in La Manche. Tedious and complex, rationing is generalized to most market products: bread, meat, sugar, coffee, rice, fat, cheese, pasta but also wine, tobacco, clothing, shoes, fuel, etc … Manchois are classified in different categories according to their age and status, children, adolescents, adults, the elderly, forced laborers, farmers, each group having a different ration. Constantly refined, the legislation obliges town halls and merchants to keep a multitude of registers, in order to properly classify, distribute and distribute the different ration tickets, every month. Housewives in La Manche now only talk about tickets!
Self-sufficiency and self-consumption spare the rural populations of La Manche
However, one cannot say that the population suffered from rationing in the region, at least that which had contacts with the agricultural world. This one, first of all, produced for the market, but still widely practices self-consumption, so much so that some withdrawn farms still live in near-self-sufficiency in 1939. There is only a shortage of foodstuffs that one does not can’t produce like sugar or coffee, or that you don’t grow enough like wheat, for example. Cities and large towns have certainly experienced a little more difficulties, but it is important to put things in perspective. La Manche is in fact at the heart of a rich agricultural region, so it does not experience the same food pressures as Caen or Paris, for example. In addition, many city dwellers have rural origins and it is not uncommon to raise rabbits or poultry for personal consumption, even in the city. In Carentan, for example, on the outskirts of the city or just behind the house, many families still cultivate a vegetable garden, the products of which are welcome additions. Most people have friends or family in the countryside, who can provide a little extra for the meager official rations. On the whole, the peasants of La Manche try to render service to their relatives, by selling at market price, sometimes a little more expensive, but always outside the official circuit, which limits the quantities to be legally distributed. It is true that this kind of practice goes against General Food, it can even be compared to “black market”, by the victims. For the others, it is more barter, exchange based on relationships, a service worth others. These practices are then referred to as friendly exchange or the “gray market”.
General supplies for a fair distribution of resources
The Prefecture’s distribution bodies fix the quantities that they must deliver to the General Supply to the farmers, to ensure a fair distribution. They apply requisition as well as blocking of goods when they are lacking in the region. La Manche, for example, prohibited the exit of rutabagas from the department in February 1941 to ensure better supplies for the populations. The same thing is still done in August 1941, for the fodder this time and even for the cider a few weeks later! This system also applies to other branches of the economy, companies, craftsmen or industrialists. Transporters are particularly penalized by the lack of petrol, while masons deplore the constant decrease in the quantities of cement allocated by their professional group.
Everywhere goods are becoming scarce, especially those that cannot be produced in the department. The city of Coutances, for its quota of shoes in September 1941, requests 1,500 allocations for its citizens. She only receives 160 pairs, while people are asked to repeat their requests the following month. The wooden clog continues to be the main means of putting on peasants’ shoes. But there are no more nails! Elsewhere the wave of shoes with wooden soles is spreading, not as a fashion, but as a response to necessity. Only the smartest are wearing one of these famous pairs of military shoes, picked up in June 1940, near Folligny station!
Inflation penalizes the weakest
However, a limit weakens this whole system, linked to selling prices. Indeed, Vichy imposes the sale on the market at official prices, generally below the usual price, in order to avoid inflation, the “illicit rise” it is said at the time. Direct purchasing from the producer is therefore now prohibited. Employees, workers, civil servants and retirees are the ones who suffer the most from rationing, as their wages and pensions have not kept up with the cost of living up to the same extent. Thus, while prices increased fivefold between 1940 and 1944, wages increased by less than two. So these people are seeing their purchasing power wane, while their opportunities for farm transactions are diminishing. They are therefore reduced to contenting themselves with legal daily rations, sometimes improved, but rarely.
Rationing service, difficult but essential in these times of war
So, for all the commodities and goods that are not produced in the region, La Manche is undergoing a considerable crisis, which leaves people dependent on the meager quotas allocated to them, while economic activity is considerably slowed down. However, credit must be given to this rationing, that of allowing activity to be maintained, even if reduced, thanks to the fair quantities distributed to each, according to their status. Indeed, without this system, some would not have known what to do with their production while others would have missed everything. In the food sector, this system also allows a fairer distribution, in other words, everyone managed to eat their fill, even if the quantities seemed insufficient. Poorly perceived as restrictive and restrictive, the rationing service quickly became essential.
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