During World War Two bread was a staple ‘belly filler’ for those living under the restrictions of rationing. However, a great deal of the flour to make bread came from abroad and had to be shipped in. The impact of U-boats in the Atlantic meant that imported wheat was in short supply. Grain grown in the UK had to be used as much as was possible with little wasted. Pre-World War Two, white bread had been a popular staple food and any other form of bread was viewed with suspicion. During World War Two the government introduced the wheatmeal loaf so that every bit of the wheat crop was used. Many years after World War Two such high fibre loafs of bread became popular but they certainly were not during the war even if there was an acceptance that all of the internal wheat crop had to be used. The National Wheatmeal Loaf was introduced in the autumn of 1942 and contained all the wheat grain including the husks. This resulted in a heavy loaf of bread that was a dirty beige colour with a gritty texture. For those used to eating white bread – and that was the large part of the UK’s population – the wheatmeal loaf was not popular but many accepted that it was needed to ensure that the wheat crop was not wasted. The government pushed the idea of saving wheat with a poster campaign that had a sword on it with a sheaf of wheat imposed on it. Next to the sword was “Don’t ask for bread unless you really want it.” And the public was urged to “join the crusade against (the) waste of bread”. Newspapers reported cases where people were sent to magistrates courts for wasting bread:
“Miss XYZ of Herts was fined a total of £10 with £2 costs at Barnet today for permitting bread to be wasted. Her servant was fined 5 shillings for wasting bread. It was stated that the servant was twice seen throwing bread to the birds in the garden and when Miss XYZ was interviewed she admitted that bread was put out every day. “I cannot see the birds starve”, she said.”
From the ‘Bristol Evening Post’ (January 1943)
A government wartime rhyme was:
Bake me some Wheatmeal
As fast as you can:
It builds up my health
And its taste is good,
I find that I like
Eating just what I should.”
Along with other foodstuffs, the government constantly warned people not to waste food. One of the more effective posters for this message stated “A clear plate means a clear conscience”. Therefore, while the wheatmeal loaf was seen as “nasty, dirty, coarse, dark and indigestible” people put up with it as it was viewed as being better than nothing.
"National Wheatmeal Loaf". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2010. Web.