Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

24/9/2004

“Ration book Olympics”

“With the 2004 Athens Olympics set to be the most expensive Games ever held, it would be a mistake to think that all Olympiads have been glitzy affairs. In 1948 London held the “Austere” or “Ration Book” Olympics Games amid a period of continued rationing due to food shortages.

It was thought that restricting foreign athletes to a diet which British athletes might be already accustomed would have ” bad psychological effect”. The government at the time did their best to feed all of its guests and ensure that the competitors’ diets would be regulated by appetite and inclination rather than by financial restrictions, or shortage of food. Nevertheless, this is not to say that the government pandered to the athletes.

Ration restrictions for foreign athletes was considered to have a “bad psychological effect” and neither they nor all the officials eventually were controlled. (Cat ref: MAF 256/191)

Government fed all the athletes category ‘A’ meal allowances – the equivalent to heavy workers (coal miners, Dockers etc) – but with the main additions of two pints of liquid milk per head per day and half a pound of chocolates and sweets per head per week.

Minutes from a Ministry of Food meeting on the arrangements for food at the Olympics, 6 May 1948. (Cat ref: MAF 256/191)

Many competing nations brought along large quantities of food to be used by competitors generally, after being forewarned by the 1948 London Olympic Committee of the daily ration per person. The Argentines for example brought along with them 100 tons of meat, Holland promised fruit and vegetables and Iceland offered frozen mutton.

Document shows the ration scale that the government were prepared to provide during the Games. (Cat ref: MAF 256/191)

Supplies of food at one of the Olympic “Housing Centres” in Uxbridge were said to be “ample” largely owing to the “munificence of the US team”. Enriched white flour was flown to the camp daily from Los Angeles; American’s approach to catering difficulties was described by Dr Magnus Pyke, from the Ministry of Food’s Catering Division, as having a “disregard for geography and expense”.

Note from a tour of certain Olympic Hostels by the Ministry of Food to look at the food provisions for competitors. 28 July 1948. (Cat ref: MAF 256/191)

But not all competitors were happy with the food on offer. Many of the Mexican Olympic team bought food or meals in the town, as they did not find English cooking, provided by the Olympic organisers, to their liking.

Document shows the “daily food pattern” or menu for Mexican competitors that took part in the Olympics 1948. (Cat ref: MAF 256/191)

Moreover despite the advanced warning of food shortages, some teams still managed to complain: the Korean team were “not satisfied” with their allowance of meat; American and Canadian teams requested supplies of grapefruit and grapefruit juice; the Americans also asked for fresh oranges after members of the team had had “stomach trouble”. Also there were further requests for supplies of poultry but the government stated that there would be “trade and consumer repercussions” if supplies were made to Housing Centres out of an already “extremely short” supply.

Letter from the Olympic Catering Division to the Olympic organising committee, 26 July 1948. The note highlights complaints and requests from competing nations for more food. (Cat ref: MAF 256/191)

Despite the restrictions, not only were the Games a success but also the country was not eaten out of house and home. In a press conference Minister of Food, John Strachey, stated that the estimated increased consumption by the competitors and officials amounted to 0.16 of 1 per cent, “a completely insignificant amount”.

source-National Archive

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