As with most luxury items (yes, chocolate is classed as a luxury – ask HMRC!), it was in short supply during the Second World War. And yet there are claims that it actually helped to win the war for the allies.
Although general rationing had begun shortly after the outbreak of the war, sweet and chocolate rations didn’t begin until July 1942. Sugar was in short supply and as a much-needed ingredient in confectionery, it began to affect manufacturing of chocolates and sweets across Europe. Availability of sugar fluctuated, and rations reflected this – some months you could only get 8oz, but sometimes you could have as much as 16oz (450g) of chocolate in a month. Sounds a lot? That’s around 9 Mars Bars, per family, per month, not a lot really. Most of us would probably find that quite restrictive now as we really do take chocolate for granted.
During the D-Day Invasion in June 1944, the Allied troops landed on the Normandy beaches – a huge turning point in the War. The soldiers needed to carry their rations with them, so everything had to be high in energy and low in weight, as well as being nutritious. Chocolate seemed to tick all the boxes and the US government approached the Hershey Chocolate company. They requested that the chocolate for the soldiers be high in energy, weigh no more than 4 ounces (around 100g), be durable during high temperature and – perhaps most importantly – “taste a little better than a boiled potato”. The D ration bar had to be moulded by hand due to its thickness, a part of the war effort that is probably more overlooked than most.
So how did the D ration bar taste? Well, it was so dense due to it being made from a blend of chocolate, cocoa butter, skimmed milk powder, oat flour and sugar – it was made to withstand such high temperature that it was impossible to bite into – soldiers had to shave bits off with a knife and the resulting taste was so bitter that most said they would rather have had the potato! It was so bad that it earned the nickname “Hitler’s Secret Weapon”. More bars were made, modified for the areas of combat and by the end of the war, Hershey’s had made and distributed more than 3 billion of their ration bars, to help keep the war effort going.
Rationing of chocolate in the UK was phased out in 1954, but it was liquorice sticks, toffee apples and nougat were the biggest sellers and on derationing day, many companies gave away free sweets to children. The end of the war saw a huge increase in the sales of sweets, and today, world-wide chocolate consumption is at an all time high of 7.7 million tons each year!
We always knew that an army marches on its stomach and its good to know that chocolate played a small part in keeping the Allied troops going and helping to win the war!