July 4, 1954: Britain drools as food rationing finally comes to an end after 14 years

Nine years after the end of World War II, the smell of burning ration books blended with the aroma of roast beef as Britons celebrated an end to 14 years of rationing.

On this day in 1954, a full nine years since the end of the Second World War, food rationing in Britain finally came to an end.

Meat was the last item to 'come off the ration' and the smell of roast wafted across the country as Brits celebrated an end to 14 years of abstinence.

'De-rationing Day' formally began at the stroke of midnight. Flashbulbs burst as relieved ministers burned their ration books, and members of the London Housewives' Association held a special ceremony in London's Trafalgar Square to mark the happy demise of the coupon system.

Elsewhere, mock funerals were held, with the dreaded booklets stuffed into cardboard coffin and buried to the sounds of loud cheers from the 'mourners'.

A typical post-war ration book.

One local paper ran a gleeful report on such an event, describing the deceased as “the Hon Percival A.B.C. Points, eldest son of Lord Ration de Food O.B.E. and Lady Y. Ration de Food”.

The celebrations were a long time coming.

[Read more: Rationing makes first post-war Christmas frugal but fun]

Food rationing had begun in January 1940 and post-war austerity meant that the situation actually got worse in the months after VE Day.

Part of the meagre meat ration had to be taken in corned beef, and Brits were introduced to the dubious pleasures of whale and horse meat. Even reindeer (pictured below on offer at Smithfield Market in 1951) was unrationed.

A butcher shows off unrationed reindeer meat at Smithfield Market in 1951.

Vegetarians also found that the going got harder. With rain ruining Britain's first post-war harvest, bread - never scarce during the war - was put on the ration in July 1946 and remained there for two years.

If that wasn't bad enough, customers were not able to buy bread until the day after it was baked, with the reasoning being that stale bread was easier to slice more thinly.

Potatoes joined the growing list of rationed items after a severe winter destroyed stores of the crop: quite an embarrassment for the government - and for 'Potato Pete', a cartoon character devised by the Ministry of Food who encourage children to eat their veggies. 'Dr Carrot' was subsequently forced to go it alone.

[Read more: Why a return to rationing could be good for us]

The process of de-rationing began in earnest in 1948 but made painfully slow progress under the Ministry of Food made it top priority in 1953.

Sweet rationing ended in February 1953 and sugar followed in September of the same year.

But it wasn't until July 4, 1954 that British families were able to convene around a Sunday roast safe in the knowledge that their next taste of meat need not be seven days away.

More from BT