Make do and mend

In June 1941 even clothes were rationed each person being allowed 60 coupons for the year this was further reduced to 48 at one stage, the coupons could be used for any sort of clothes but availability also played a part, a dress would require seven or more coupons, depending on how much material was used and two for a pair of stockings, a mans suit would use up to thirty, almost half of the allowance. The coupons were about postage stamp size and printed on sheets of paper with some being in booklet form, the retailer had to cut the stamps from the sheet of paper using scissors.

Apart from the clothes being ration so to was the amount of cloth that could be used, turn-ups at the bottom of trouser legs were banned, pockets were also reduced in number and seams cut the minimum as were lapels and I don’t think you could have a double breasted jacket which had been fashionable prior to the war, dress lengths were also shortened and knicker elastic, often much to the embarrassment of the ladies, was in very short supply. ‘Make do and mend’ was the slogan and to that end you had very little alternative but to do so,

Clothes were then made of natural materials such as wool, cotton, linen and silk and apart, I believe, Rayon was made from cellulose the only man made fibre at that time was Nylon manufactured in the USA but unavailable in this country. Almost all women and girls had been taught from an early age how to knit, sew and darn but they were time consuming tasks, most households had a hand operated sewing machine, and even the most ‘cack-handed’ could manage to knit a scarf, which was usually made up of wool remnants. These skills came very much to the fore during the whole period of the war and after. Mum was good at sewing and darning but not quite as good at knitting which Dad made up for being excellent at both knitting and crochet, which he used to do to occupy his evenings during the weekdays whilst he was away from home.

The same holes in woollen socks and gloves were darned time and time again not always with matching wool, rips and tears in dresses, shirts and trousers were either sewn together or patched, the patch more often than not of different material and unmatched, new trousers had the seat patched from day one to prolong their life which as with new shoes having metal studs, heel and toecaps hammered on, as already mentioned. It did not make any difference how well off you were, make do and mend was for everybody and patches were to be seen on rich kids trousers just as often as on the poorer classes, although much of the repairs for the better off was carried out by the less well off, nevertheless, it was a great equaliser.

To prolong the life of jackets, leather patches were added to the elbows and a strip of the same material was sewn around the cuffs and sometimes the lapel which was the case of Mr Lush one of my teachers as already mentioned. Apart from the upkeep of the clothes there was the problem of wear and tear on things like sheets, blankets, curtains, towels etc., which, I’m told were also subject to clothes rationing and became increasingly threadbare as the war wore on. Sheets, which were mainly made from cotton or linen, would wear thin in the middle, so before they fully wore through mum would cut the sheet down the middle along its longest length and then sew the outer edges together and then re-hem the new outer edges. Towels which had become beyond repair were cut down to make flannels, dish clothes and house clothes, blankets were patched. Nothing was discarded until it was an utter rag and often when it reached even that stage would be used to make rag mats with larger pieces sewn together the make patchwork quilts.

Women’s magazines were full of knitting and clothes patterns and advice and methods of reusing nearly everything including the best ways to use leftover food, it was the women who bore the brunt and the task of feeding and clothing the family with all this extra work combined with the shortages and worry on top of the daily tasks which were normal, every task in just running a house in the thirties and forties was labour intensive unless you were well enough off to employ a daily help.

There was huge shortage of tobacco during the war and although I don’t think they were rationed, the shortage meant that a tobacconist would impose his own limits to how many he would supply to each customer, There was still the different brands with their different ‘slogans’ like ’Senior Service Satisfy’, ‘Players Please’ and ‘Craven ‘A’ does not affect your throat’, Before the war the main brands carried cigarette cards covering a very wide range of subjects, the cards had a coloured picture on one side and a description on the other, I think there was fifty two cards in anyone set. Dad did not smoke a quality brand that carried a card nevertheless we children managed to collect a great many cards. To encourage children to collect a given series the tobacco companies produced booklets which had a frame for each card, with the description that was on the back of the card, next to it. I remember picking up discarded packets in the hope that it still had a card in it, which they often did but the tobacco companies in order to prolong the time a series ran made the last few cards difficult to find, therefore, one could collect forty eight of the cards reasonable easily but the last four would be near impossible to get. At the end of a series it was possible, at a price, to send away for the missing cards, which I never did.

I think the cheapest brands were ‘Players Weights’ and ‘Woodbines’ which I think were in packets of ten and even five and much smaller than modern cigarettes, also they did not have filters and the war time packets did not have foil inside the packet, at one time even the printing disappeared with the brand name more or less stamped on the plain cardboard in quite small type. Such was the degree of the shortage that many men kept the butt ends in a tin and when they had sufficient would use them to roll more cigarettes. Rolling your own was also common using Ritz Cigarette papers and either doing so between the fingers or having a rolling machine which generally made a better job of it, the success of hand rolled cigarettes very much depended on the skill of the smoker, some were hopeless at it either having to little tobacco so that the result was more paper than tobacco with half of the cigarette going up in flames once lit, other suffered from too much tobacco so that it was not properly sealed and therefore they could not draw air through it. You could by tobacco specially for rolling your own which had a different consistency to pipe tobacco, I think that at that time pipe smoking was as popular as cigarette smoking and many men had a pipe rack up on the wall in the their kitchen or living rooms, with three or four pipes with different bowl sizes and shapes, the thing about pipes was that in their lighting a great cloud of smoke was released and as they often went out relighting them produced another cloud, many wives regarded them as being filthy and I think they were probably right. Cigars were I think still available but extra hard to come by, but Winston Churchill was rarely seen without one.

With tobacco being in such short supply dad decided to grow his own, I think he probably had about six ‘nocotinus’ plants which had a lovely smell and although they grew well producing a fair number of large leaves the problem came with drying and curing them which is more difficult than one would expect I think mainly due to our damp climate. He did produce some sort of tobacco although it did not look exactly like the manufactured stuff and it was not at all suited to cigarette making and had to be used in a pipe. To make his product more palatable dad mixed in some of his home produced honey and stuck this gooey mess in his pipe but I don’t thing it was very successful as I think that it was his one and only attempt to grow his own.