The war called a halt to international trade and interrupted trade within countries. England and then the United States instigated a maritime blockade of Continental Europe. Problems of re-supply soon caused shops to run out of everything. Faced with this problem the French government instituted a system of ration cards, with which the people were able to procure vital foodstuffs such as bread, meat, fish, sugar, fats etc. and also non-foodstuffs such as household goods, clothes etc. Wine and tobacco were also rationed. In the UK bacon, butter and sugar rationing also began as soon as 1940 before being extended to include almost all food as well as petrol and clothes.

Hunger was worse in towns, there were long queues formed in front of shops which sometimes had to close for administrative reasons for a few days a week. With a lack of meat, people ate vegetables that were not much prized at the time, such as swedes and Jerusalem artichokes. Foods such as sugar and coffee were replaced by ersatz products like saccharine and chicory. In cities some families kept rabbits and hens in the courtyards of flats. Townspeople without family and friends in the country and those that had nothing to trade with suffered a great deal. Some people took advantage of the black market to sell food without ration stamps at very high prices. Stealing and bartering were also very common at this time of great privation.

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