Today’s lavish wedding celebrations were unimaginable to the vast majority of the population during WW2 and the ‘Keep Calm and Carry’ on message applied to weddings as much as any other aspect of daily life.
Food rationing first came into force on the 8th January 1940 and lasted for 14 years, finally ending in 1954. A shortage of basic items meant people had to be inventive when planning a wedding. Everyone was issued with a ration book and had to register and buy their food from their chosen shops. A typical ration per person per week included 2oz butter, 1 egg, 8oz sugar, 4oz margarine and 2oz cheese plus 16 ‘points’ per month which could be used on whatever food items were available. People had to hoard food, save food coupons and ‘points’ if any sort of celebration meal was planned. Relatives and friends would donate what food they could spare for the newly weds reception.
Before the war Britain had imported about 55 million tons of food from abroad but once war was declared and German subs started attacking and sinking supply ships the government introduced rationing to make sure everyone, regardless of income, received an equal share of the food available. Many basic food items were rationed and the ration could change from month to month as foods became more or less plentiful. Ingredients for a wedding cake were difficult to come by, with sugar, eggs, butter and dried fruit amongst rationed items.
People had to use their iniatative to provide the celebration cake, they would ‘swop’ rations with friends and neighbours, perhaps sacrificing some meat for sugar, or cheese for butter and spending some of their precious ‘points’ on other ingredients. At times it was almost impossible to find the necessary ingredients and the ‘cardboard cake’ became quite popular. A cardboard ‘cut out’ of a cake would be iced as a substitute for the real thing, it just got a bit tricky when it came to the cutting ceremony!.
Wartime weddings were usually on a much smaller scale than the modern affairs we have come to expect, it was the norm to hold the reception at home or in the local church or village hall. They were often arranged in a hurry to fit in with a grooms short leave from military service and if time was very short would be followed by a few drinks and a sing song in the local pub.
The white wedding dress was still very popular but with clothes rationed and a shortage of material, they were passed around, handed down, loaned and often ended life cut down, to provide the first babies christening gown! Many war brides were married in a two piece suit, an outfit which could be used again and again after the wedding and to dress it up, a hat, gloves and a small posy were the order of the day. The grooms outfit was a lot easier [somethings never change] as most men were involved in some sort of military service it was usual for them to wear a uniform.
Despite the often difficult circumstances, people chipped in with whatever they could spare to help make the couples day special. Wedding gifts by necessity were often quite simple, a tea set, tea towels, cutlery or a kettle, were all very welcome in a Britain hit hard by rationing.