Nothing screams more British than the match made in heaven of the crispy fried fish and slightly salted golden chips. That’s why it was not a surprise when during World War II, when the chaos of bombings, death, uncertainties, and nonstop fighting wore the soldiers of Britain down, one thing that cheered them up was the homey taste of their beloved meal. I mean, you could take their ships, or planes, maybe ammunition, but not their fish and chips!

Anything but the Fish and Chips

During both World Wars, the demand for military production in supply chains caused a shortage of daily staples in the country, be it food, garments, and other seemingly normal supplies before the war. Tea and biscuits, even though they were symbols of British culture, were also part of the supplies that were regulated.

Avenida Papagayo in Playa Blanca, Yaiza, Lanzarote, Canary Islands. (Frank VincentzCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

But not fish and chips— the extremely popular 1800s meal that no one really knew where exactly originated from but since then became a British staple with over 20,000 shops selling across Britain in the 20th century— and was made consistently available both during World War I and II, as they worried that the lack of this meal would crush the morale of the troops.

Rationing

To make sure that whatever small supplies were left would be distributed fairly to everyone, the British government implemented rationing with fuel, and then basic supplies like sugar, jams, eggs, and meat soon followed. Other supplies were not rationed, including fruits and vegetables, although the supply was still scarce. Everyone in Britain was given a ration book by the Ministry of Food, which they used to purchase food from specific shops accepting them. Each of these shops received an allocated amount of food that they could sell. The items were rationed using the points system based on their availability and demand, while supplies like milk and eggs were given to those who needed them most, like children and pregnant women.

People would often form long queues and wait for a couple of hours only to find out that the item they meant to buy had just run out.

Morale-boosting campaigns like “Dig for Victory” by the British Ministry of Agriculture were popularized. Citizens across the country were encouraged to plant and grow crops in their gardens and public parks so that people would have enough to eat. No one was exempted. Even the government officials were given ration books, and Queen Elizabeth II, who was a princess at that time, had to save up her clothing coupons so she could buy enough for her wedding dress.

Your Own Vegetables All the Year Round – If You Dig For Victory Now. (Mitchell, Irene (artist), Chromoworks Ltd, Willesden, London (printer), Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (publisher/sponsor), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Making Sure There’s Enough

The fish and chips were untouchable. The government had to maintain a steady supply of fish and potatoes during both WWI and WWII, and this was despite the heavily disrupted supply chain for the meal: many fishing vessels had been requisitioned by the Royal Navy, while those that were left to fish were subjected to German’s U-boat attacks. The price of fish expectedly increased, but the government still managed to get a steady supply.

Soldiers of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) line up for Fish and Chips in Richmond, Yorkshire, United Kingdom. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images via War History Online)

It was not the only problem, as the lack of decent fat for frying meant the quality of the meals suffered, too, but it was better than nothing. On the battlefields, the British troops also brought with them the fish and chips supremacy by using the name of the dish to differentiate friends from foes. For instance, one would shout fish, and the other should respond with chips.

It was suspected that during World War I, the British soldiers were fed with fish and chips in the trenches to keep hunger at bay, at the same time, keep them happy. Who wouldn’t love to receive a hot plate of grease-fried fish and slices of potatoes?

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