Surviving on WW1 rations - Two friends challenge themselves to say Thank You

Friends Rachel Thacker and Iain Martin decided to take up the challenge to live on just World War One rations for a week to raise money for the Royal British Legion and to say Thank You to the First World War generation.

The pair came across the idea at the three-day Haslemere Fringe Festival where The Legion were the partner charity, and had a stand with volunteers giving out leaflets with ideas of activities and challenges that people could undertake to say Thank You.

“One of the ideas was a rationing challenge so I thought; Why not try living on WW1 rations?,” says Iain.

“Over the course of the day I chatted about the challenge and Rachel said that it sounded like fun.”

“As a compere at the festival I took to the stage and made the commitment to do the challenge alongside Rachel in front of thousands of people so we had to follow through.”

Rachel said they wanted to do the challenge to give something back; “we do things for ourselves and it’s nice to just give back,” she says.

Pictured: Rachel Thacker

Initially the pair found it difficult to find out about WW1 rationing, and found there is a lot more information about rationing in WW2 but not that much for the first world war.

Rationing came about in 1918 in response to the worsening food crisis in the wake of the war. The government set new laws that introduced rationing - a fair way to make sure everyone got equal amounts of foods that were in short supply.

Meat, flour, butter, margarine, milk and sugar were all rationed to ensure everyone got what they needed. Everyone was issued with a rationing card, even the King and Queen.

The cards were used in certain shops and people had to register with a local butcher and grocer, and anyone found cheating could be fined or even sent to prison.

Before embarking on the challenge Iain and Rachel took to the internet to research what they could and couldn’t eat during the week, which they said was one of the biggest challenges.

They started the week long challenge on Monday 5 August and across the week Rachel and Iain were allowed small amounts of meat and dairy products including; 4oz of meat and poultry a day, 1 egg and 4oz of butter, as well as 1lb of bread, minimal sugar, salad, fruit (such as apples and plums) and vegetables that were available at the time such as potatoes, carrots and turnips.

One thing that was on the menu that pleased Iain was coffee; “I was absolutely delighted to find out both instant and ground coffee were available, although I had to drink the coffee black as milk was rationed.”

During the week they both mainly ate porridge with water for breakfast, as well as salads, fruit and other wartime dishes such as Curried Cod and Trench Stew.

Day 1 Breakfast: Rachel’s first breakfast of porridge made with water.

Iain said: “Usually I would have porridge and eggs for breakfast so I missed eggs quite badly, quite quickly.”

“By day 4 I was getting really hungry. As a 50 plus adult who has a physical job and who chooses to go to the gym three to four days a week I’m using a lot of energy and I found it hard changing my diet. I missed the amount of protein I would normally have.”

Day 1 Dinner: Iain’s Trench stew made with corned beef, carrots, turnips and water.

Rachel on the other hand, found that after the first few days the challenge became a bit easier. She said: “I work in café surrounded by lovely cake and coffee so the first and second days were hard but it got easier after that.”

“Doing it alongside someone else also made it a lot easier,” she says. A sentiment they both shared.

“I definitely think doing it together helped as neither of us would have wanted to let each other down and it was more of a fun thing to do rather than a chore,” Iain says.

For Iain the hardest part of the challenge was “not being able to have a nibble or pick something of convenience” and having to think and plan what he needed to eat.

“I travel for work, so I eat out a lot, so doing this challenge I had to plan ahead and take food with me, I even took my own coffee.”

Iain’s Curried Cod – Cod fillets cut into 4oz chunks cooked in water and drained.  The water is then used for stock, which is then mixed with flour, salt, pepper and curry powder to form a sauce cook for about 30 minutes then pour into dishes over cod and serve hot.

Day 3: Rachel’s Lunch a jam sandwich, a few berries and water.

“The main thing we both learned is how lucky we are in the 21st century to be able to have access to the range of foods that we do,” Iain says.

“It was an eye opener for both of us, we are very fortunate living in the western world and don’t have to worry about where food comes from.”

“The fact that we considered it a “challenge” gave an interesting personal insight as to how much we have come to assume that whatever foods in whatever quantities will be available to us all year round without a second thought.”

“We also had opportunity to reflect that we also had the comfort of knowing the duration of the challenge from the outset; but during the war people had to live day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year with an ever increasing reduction in availability of foods, and didn’t know when their deprivation might end.”

Rachel and Iain have both agreed to donate the difference between what they would normally spend on a weekly shop to The Legion, which he estimates to be between £20-£30.

If this has inspired you to take up the challenge to live on wartime rations for a day, week or even a month to say thank you to the First World War generation, then share any photos of your WW1 rations using #ThankYou100. Or find your own way to say Thank You here.