This section will serve as my acknowledgment and recognition of the letters which my readers send to me -- usually after reading something within my site which causes them to reflect. Of course, I get to enjoy these letters, but feel that others would enjoy the contents, too. Many of you have written in the past and I now wish I had saved all those letters for inclusion in this new feature, “My Readers Remember!”

I must remind you that I will not post your letters unless I get your permission first. How’s that? Even if you prefer not to have your letter posted, write to me anyways. It’s always nice to hear from you.




From: Margaret Phelps Swanson

Responding to my article about: War Rationing Books

Date: July 4, 2001

It is with pleasure that I offer you the opportunity to read Margaret's observations on this important era. (your website host, Shirley)

World War II from a Middle School Student's Viewpoint

Several things were rationed during World War II. Gasoline was one of the first. There were three categories of coupons for civilians. Each automobile had to affix the decal displaying the category in the corner of the windshield. The colors were black, red and green. I can't remember which color went with which category. An "A" coupon was available for everyone who owned a car. This allowed the owner to purchase four gallons of gasoline per month. Needless to say, Sunday picnics on the shores of Lake Michigan, 30 miles away were no longer possible. There was a "B" coupon which permitted owners who needed their autos for business to purchase a larger amount--I think it was eight gallons per month. And then there were those who had "C" coupons. This allowed a rather unlimited purchase. My father had this coupon because he was a Detroit Ordinance District accountant (former CPA) and had to drive to various factories in Michigan to audit the bookkeeping of various defense contractors. In 1943 my family moved to the state of Washington because I had bronchitis and asthma, but had been much better the year I spent in Montana with my mother's eldest sister. My father was offered a job in Eugene, Oregon by Ernst & Ernst (CPA firm). However, my eldest cousin's wife was from Wallace, Idaho and promoted the opportunities of Spokane Washington "The Inland Empire" heart of Eastern Washington and shopping center for southeastern British Columbia, the panhandle of Idaho and the whole of eastern Washington. he took me by train to Wallace in July 1943 to avoid ragweed season. The gas rationing board refused to grant my parents enough gas to drive to Eugene via Spokane, so my father decided he would go to Spokane and hope to find employment there. He became an auditor for the Defense Plant Corporation (auditing the Mead (Aluminum) reduction plant, Trentwood Rolling Mill (rolled aluminum for airplane bodies) and another defense plant (I think it was Kayser Aluminum). Since I had two uncles serving in the military as well as four first cousins in the service, we willingly complied with all the restrictions.

As well as gas rationing a national speed limit was imposed of 35 miles per hour. This was the speed which used the least amount of gasoline per mile driven. While this seems like crawling today, the average top speed before was probably 45 mph. It was a rare event and most exciting when we could talk our father into "Going like 60" and he did it only if there was no traffic on one certain straight stretch of road when we went to Lake Michigan--"a mile a minute!"--so traveling at 35 seemed no great sacrifice.

Shoes were rationed--I think it was 3 pair per year and coupons could be traded among family members. My brother and I usually had two new pair per year as our feet were growing, but my parents and grandmother bought almost no shoes during the entire war.

Meat was rationed. (but horsemeat wasn't). My mother purchased horsemeat for our cocker spaniel. One day she thought it looked so good (wild range horses from Montana) that she cooked a bit and tried it. After that she sometimes bought it and fed it to the family--though my brother and I generally did not eat it.

Early in the War, probably the late fall of 1942, my grandmother was offered the opportunity to purchase a whole pig. The young man who owned it was either drafted or decided to "join up" (though farmers were granted a draft exemption). My parents decided this was a good idea to guarantee a meat supply and it did not require meat coupons. So the pig appeared on a table in our second kitchen. [Why the room was called that I'm not sure, it was a large unheated room behind our kitchen used for storage.] My father cut it up under Granny's supervision (she'd been raised on a farm), wrapped the meat and rented a frozen food locker to hold the meat. The head was returned to Dr. McBride's housekeeper (it was her son or grandson who had raised the pig) to make head cheese as my mother couldn't bear the thought of using it. For several days the lard was tried out, the leaf lard kept separate from the ordinary lard. My grandmother enjoyed eating the cracklings. Then she made soap from part of the lard, cut it in squares and stored it on top of the kitchen cupboard to dry and harden.

Butter, coffee, sugar were also rationed. When I attended camp, both Camp Fire Camp in Michigan and Music Camp at Washington State College, each camper was required to bring so many ration tickets. I think it was meat and sugar. Red tokens (fibreboard) were given as change for meat. I think different cuts of meat were charged different numbers of coupons. Margarine, called oleo, was either not rationed or required fewer ration points. Because of the state dairy lobby it was uncolored and came with a little capsule of yellow coloring. One had to let the oleo soften, squeeze the color onto the margarine and then mix the color in--it took a lot of mixing to make the color spread evenly. I can remember my mother being so embarrassed when my piano teacher from WSC music camp came to dinner and she said, "Please pass the oleo". That night we had only butter on the table, but normally we had both--again my brother and I were the ones that had the real butter, but not the adults.

My father always took brown sugar (he was born in Newark, NY) and cream in his coffee, but the first thing he gave up was sugar in his coffee. Tobacco was rationed, but he also gave up smoking his pipe except very rarely (and didn't purchase any more tobacco during the war). Cigarettes were an item that was supplied liberally to the troops. They were always included in the K-rations and given out by the Red Cross and Salvation Army, and USO canteens. {MRE's--meals-ready-to-eat is the modern military designation).

We saved and strained any grease from cooking. It was turned in. I can't remember what it was used for. If it was bacon drippings it was kept separate and used for cooking--my grandmother particularly liked her toast dipped in bacon drippings.

As a Girl Scout and Camp Fire girl we learned to make treats grinding and combining dried fruits rather than making things like fudge or cookies. Those who had older brothers in the service sent these treats to their brothers as they traveled well. My mother saved most of our sugar ration to for canning season.

Families displayed a special small banner in the window if someone from that family was serving in the military. For each son the flag had one blue star on a white background with a red border. The banner was about 9 inches by 6 inches. If the son died in action the star was gold. We had one because my maternal grandmother lived with us and her son was serving in the Navy. He had also served in World War I.

Schools participated in the war effort by having paper drives two or three times a year. The paper was separated into newspapers and magazines because the slick magazine paper brought a higher price. My brother had a paper route so he always asked his customers who had no school age children to save their paper for him. He'd bring home funny books and set them aside to read and then turn them in at the following drive. The classrooms competed against each other and the class collecting the most paper was treated to dixie* cups. [About 1/2 cup of ice cream in a little waxed contained with a wooden paddle for a spoon]. *(I wonder if this was the same error when the lids of the Dixie Cups used to show photos of current movie stars -- we used to collect these. Wish I had saved them! by Shirley)

Every school sold Defense Stamps either 10 cent or 25 cent ones and almost every child bought at least one ten-cent stamp. The stamps went for the purchase of Series E War Bonds which cost $18.75 and would pay $25 after ten years. When I was in the 8th grade (1944-1945) my boyfriend, Erik Wensberg, and I were in charge of the sale for the entire school. In some classrooms the teacher or two designated students collected the money and wrote out the order, but some of the lower grades used eighth graders (it was a great way to get out of class so there was no shortage of volunteers). After the money was collected and taken to the office, Erik and I would tally the orders from each room. The school principal, Miss Turner, would check our calculations if we disagreed, then take the order, purchase the stamps at the post office, return to school, and have whatever student was answering the telephone while she was gone distribute the stamps to the classrooms. Despite having 400 or so students in a school the only administrative employee was the principal. She (it was only after the war that some elementary school principals were men) would also fill in occasionally as an emergency substitute teacher.

Air raid drills became another part of school life. If the school alarm sounded during the day the students would get under their desks for protection. If the school received an advance warning the students were to go home by the most direct route as rapidly as possible, walking not running and never stopping to talk to friends along the way. For some reason these drills always seemed to come at the end of the school day. We had to report how long it took us to reach home and older children were supposed to look out for younger ones they encountered who lived nearby. Every block had at least one house with a decal in the window that showed it was a "safe" house--one where a mother was usually home and where any child could seek shelter if caught outside when the bombers came over. My mother was always home when we'd come from school so we had a sign in our front window. As we lived close to one of the edges of our district it took me 15 minutes to walk home.

We also had air raid drills at home. When the sirens sounded all lights had to be turned out, or else windows covered so that no light shown outside. Street lights would be turned off, and cars had to stop. The only people allowed outdoors were the air raid wardens (men with flashlights covered with a dark or red cloth checking on their neighbors) to make sure that the enemy bombers would not find the location of their targets by stray lighting. The radio stations (all AM as FM came after the war) all announced they were going off the air and to turn one's dial to 640 or 1240 CONELRAD and listen for further instructions. The idea behind this directive was to prevent an enemy airplane from honing in on a strong broadcast beam and following the radio signal in to the target. Information would be broadcast only on the 640 and 1240 frequencies and switch from station to station. While this system was never used during the war it is still preserved for use during natural disasters. My father was not an air raid warden because of his frequent trips out of town, but my mother was an airplane spotter. She had a badge and an identification card and had to learn the silhouettes of various planes. I'm glad her services were never required as I'm not sure how successful she would have been in identifying them.

Since Spokane not only had the three defense plants, as well a being a railroad hub, but also two airbases--Geiger Air Force Base, a fighter base, and Fairchild Airforce Base, a bomber base, and close to the northern boundary of the United States we all expected to be one of the first targets. Alhough I think we worried more about that during the cold war than during most of World War II. [perhaps this was because my husband was a fighter pilot and stationed at Geiger].

We kept track of the progress of the war through the nightly 15 minute news broadcasts from Lowell Thomas, Gabriel Heater, Walter Winchell etc. [No TV]. Other sources of news were the newsreels shown before every main feature at the movies, the weekly magazines--especially LIFE, Time, Newsweek and the daily newspapers. While some families tried to protect their children from the bad news, the teachers did have classroom discussions about it at least once a week, and we'd locate the places mentioned on a big map of the world.

I'm sure everyone knows how Dear Abby encourages people to write the troops at Christmas time. Before she came along there was the "Write a Fighter Corps". This was sponsored by one of the radio programs for children. I can't remember which one, but it was probably either Tom Mix (Ralston Straight-shooters), or Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, which were my favorites. The idea was to write a serviceman regularly. [We probably had to send two box-tops and 10 cents in to become a member]. I chose to correspond with my cousin Dick who was a B-17 pilot--but he didn't answer my letters so I got discouraged and dropped that project rather quickly. He was probably more interested in letters from his fiancee.

Civilian automobiles were not made during the war. The automobile plants were immediately converted to making trucks, tanks, jeeps, etc.

The items rationed, duration of the ration period depended upon the supply. Things that had to be imported like rubber, and coffee were in very short supply. At that time vegetables were commonly available only in tin cans (not frozen). We always cut out the tops and bottoms of the cans, washed them out, put the lids inside, and stepped on them to flatten them. They were saved and turned in so that the tin could be removed--another item that had to be imported.

Because there was such a shortage of copper pennies were made of steel, and the Mead reduction plant had its electrical wiring made of silver. My father said the plant had special guards to guard the wiring because of the silver content.

I remember the day the war ended in Japan. Honey (our cocker spaniel), Mother and I had driven downtown to pick up my father (by that time he was self-employed as a CPA). We were not aware that the Japanese had surrendered. As we waited outside the office building all the whistles and air raid sirens blew, bells clanged, etc. etc. It scared the dog so she jumped from the backseat to the front and back again (thunder always terrified her) and lost control of her bowels.

In 1947 hemlines really dropped. "The New Look". This was because to save material for uniforms, skirt lengths were specified to be no longer than mid-knee length.

Margaret Phelps Swanson

[email protected]

Margaret ended her letter by relating her Jefferson County, N. Y. connection, thusly: "Several of my ancestors lived in Jefferson County in Ellisburg, Woodville, and longest at Henderson Harbor. I have a photo of the farm that was shown in the 1876 "mug book" with the bio of my great-great grandfather, Reuben Wood Leffingwell. We visited the farm in 1939. A memorable trip."

Margaret Phelps Swanson - July 4, 2001

Back to World War Items Index