Thursday, February 18, 2010

World War II, revisited

This is a picture of one of my late Aunt Rosemary's ration stamp books
from her childhood during World War II.

Today’s history lesson comes from my Aunt Joyce, Dad’s sister, who sent the following recollections after sorting through some family heirlooms. I’ve condensed it somewhat. It’s an interesting look at the life of an Iowa farm family during World War II.

"World War II ration books . . . Each person, regardless of age was issued a ration stamp book every 6 months in WWII. There were various stamps in it for use and you had to have them to purchase rationed items, like coffee, sugar, shoes, tires, gasoline, meat, butter, and many other things. If you did not have a stamp you could not purchase the item regardless of how much money you had.

"It was illegal for anyone to sell a rationed item without a stamp involved. Meat raised on a farm could be used by the person/family who raised it but could not be sold or given away directly to anyone else. My parents were very strict about this and refused to give meats or butter to relatives, but would take a huge amount of it to any family gathering, etc.

"And my parents also believed that even if we had the stamp for it, the 'boys fighting' needed shoes and things more than we did so we got no more than one or two pairs of shoes a year. Wedding shoes and shoes for graduation, etc. were often made from a type of cardboard that lasted one night. Dad resoled our work shoes and his cobbler equipment was still at the Wapello farm I believe.

"Our gasoline was used for the tractor and Dad’s Victory farming, so we did not often see our relatives 30 miles away. Only several times a year and it was a big deal to go. Sugar especially was a prized item. We didn’t have cakes or cookies often for that reason, and Mom used a lot of honey and molasses to sweeten things. The men cut down “bee trees” for the wild honey which mom would strain and share with neighbors.

"Mom froze many hundreds of boxes of strawberries and raspberries and this was before the home freezers but there was a big locker plant in out town. We would take the boxes of fruit into the locker and Mom would count out the precious sugar stamps and the locker owner/manager would carefully measure either 1/8 or 1/4 cup of sugar and pour on top of the box of fruit, and Mom and Dad would close and put it into our locker bin. Then the locker manager would have to account for all sugar to the Farm Department after he used it to see if it agreed with the amount of stamps he had.

"Coffee was also highly prized and the grounds reused to get all “the good from them.” Coffee would get pretty strong and black even for us Danes! The night the barn . . . across the road from the house was struck by lightening and burned, the Volunteer Fire Department came to help and surrounding neighbors came and brought food to feed them. Many brought coffee grounds to use and one special old couple who lived up the road from us brought 4 tablespoons of coffee for Mom to use as that was all they had left that month. A sacrifice for them. And how much we waste now!

"Dad did what was called Victory Farming for people in the area who needed help because all the young men were off fighting. If he was farming at a distance (like over 10 miles) he would take a tent and sandwiches and sleep at the end of the fields to not use up his gas going home. He was given several awards for being the outstanding Victory Farmer of the area. That’s how he paid off a lot of the farm they had just bought in 1940.

"Dave and Frank (my uncle and father) were home to do our chores and some of the farm work , mainly with our team of horses. That was when nylon stocking were impossible to get so the girls would take a black eyeliner pencil and draw a black line up the back of their legs to look like they had on hose. In those days all women’s stockings had lines in the back, not like now.

"Mother hoarded her tea leaves for a special time or when she wasn’t feeling well as tea leaves were imported from Asia and impossible to get. Because butter fat was used actually to make armaments it and left over bacon and cooking grease were collected at schools, consequently that is when the first margarine, which was white, was put onto the market for use in place of butter. How times have changed."

Today I am thankful for abundant food and not needing to have ration stamps to buy it!


  1. That is just AWESOME!! I love the old stories! Please tell her to give us MORE!!!

  2. Agreed - more stories please!! It's amazing what we take for granted these days! No cell phones, computers, gameboys and IPods back then!

  3. That was really, really cool, and it says something about their character for not using some of the stamps even though they had them. How many people would still do that today?