Second World War Tea Rationing

“those who refuse to give up coupons, will not be allowed to have tea!”

Royal Adelaide Board Minutes, 22 July 1942

It was common during the Second World War, for there to be shortages and restrictions on certain household items and foodstuffs. Tea, which was an imported good, was particularly disrupted, due to ships and cargo being sunk by the enemy. As a result, Australia introduced rationing to assist in managing and distributing these limited items equitably.

In June 1942, tea was the first item to be rationed. An adult tea allowance was half a pound or 226 grams every five weeks. This equated to approximately three small cups of tea a day. Coupon books were given to all Australian citizens, where they paid with money the cost of the item and then surrendered the required number of coupons.

Tea rationing at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, initially took up a lot of the Hospital Board’s time, trying to sort out all the implications this caused to the institution.

One month after the introduction of tea rationing, the hospital applied to the Government Chief Storekeeper for four tea coupons for all fulltime staff living onsite. Unfortunately, they were only approved for three. This caused some unrest amongst the staff, resulting in a notice sent out to everyone stating that “those who refuse to give up coupons, will not be allowed to have tea!”

Tea rationing continued to cause problems and it was reported that by the end of July, tea supplies would be gone in 6 days! To assist the situation, relatives of patients were bringing in coupons and giving them to the hospital.

“The question of tea supplies was further discussed and it was decided the difficulties under which the Hospital is working in this regard be brought under the notice of the Deputy Controller of Rationing”.

Royal Adelaide Hospital Board Minutes, 28 July 1942

After several Board members met with Mr Bowen, Deputy Controller of Rationing, it was agreed that an allowance of 2 ounces of tea per week per patient would be made. Coupons were collected from the patients and then returned to the Rationing Commission.

“Patients would be required to produce their ration books to show whether coupons have been used before their admission to Hospital.”

Royal Adelaide Hospital Board Minutes, 5 August 1942

Tea continued to dominate the hospital Board’s attention in August, with the Lay Superintendent asked to interview the domestic staff regarding their tea consumption. It was reported back to the Board, that the Laundresses have tea three times a day and the Wardsmaids had tea five times a day. It was agreed that this was far too many and staff be notified that two cups a day per staff member should occur going forward.

By the end of August, the Lay Superintendent Mr Barrow, reported that the:

“work of rationing clothing, tea, and sugar had grown to such an extent and it can no longer be performed without excessive overtime, and that an additional clerk be engaged to handle it.”

Royal Adelaide Hospital Board Minutes, 2 September 1942

After the temporary clerk position was given government approval, the Board requested her to present a monthly report on the hospitals rationing position.

By November 1942, tea and sugar supplies at the hospital, were once again depleted. The Board again made application to the Rationing Commission for extra rations of sugar and whether the Hospital would be permitted to hold a reserve stock of at least 500 pounds of tea. This was approved.

After that, the rationing of tea and sugar concerns died down and there were only a few entries in the Board Minutes, with tea rationing reported as ‘being satisfactory’.

When the war ended in 1945, there were still problems with food supplies returning to normal. Sugar, in 1947, was the first to have its rationing removed and tea was the last item to have its restrictions lifted in 1950.

Matron’s Copeland Spode Tea Set Ca 1926 – first belonging to Matron Eleanor Harrald and then subsequently used by Matron’s and Director’s of Nursing until 2011.

By Margot Way, CALHN Health Museum