While looking for something else, I found an ABC article about tea, which at the end mentions tea rationing during World War II, and an accompanying increase in petty theft:

“Never mind the Japanese are about to invade, this tea rationing was [seen as] totally unrealistic and unreasonable.”

So I went to see what was being reported in the news. Here are a few news stories. But at the end, I also came across some letters written by people being evacuated from Darwin (because she talks about tea at one point) which isn’t something I’ve come across before. I was just doing to include the first few paragraphs but ended up including the whole thing because it is interesting reading.

When 3 big cases of tea burst after falling to the roadway from a heavily laden truck at corner of
Dudley and Spencer sts. West Melbourne, yesterday, a number of housewives rushed to the scene and scooped tea into bags and parcels. The truck driver did not discover his loss for some time, and only a small quantity remained when he returned.

Argus, 25 March 1942

A motor truck belonging to W. P. Wormley, of Bedford Street, Earl \wood, and containing £90 worth of tea, was stolen from outside McIlrath’s grocery store, corner of Kelly and Bay Streets, Ultimo on Friday morning, while its driver was in the shop. When the driver returned he saw the lorry being driven away. The thieves went so fast that rounding a corner nearby two chests of tea fell off the truck.
Gloucester Advocate, 21 April 1942

An accident, which happened to a truck laden with chests of tea, at Lewisham, on December 13, resulted in the appearance of George Francis Kirby, 25, ice vendor, Water-street, Enfield, at Newtown Court today.

Kirbv pleaded guilty to stealing a case of tea, valued at 50/-, the property of the Royal Navy. Constable Green, Petersham, told Mr. Sheridan, SM, that a truck, which was being driven along Parramatta-road attempted to turn into another street. Several chests or tea fell to the road and burst open.

The driver, a returned soldier on his first job, left the truck and went to a phone to notify his employers. While he was away mobs of people began to help themselves to the tea.

Kirby was seen walking down a street with a case of tea weighing 27lb. The Police Prosecutor (Sgt. Maizey) said: “135 cases–25001b. of tea–are still missing. The value is £600 odd.” Kirby told Mr. Sheridan that he had been drinking, and only took the tea because everyone else was helping themselves. He was fined £10. in default 20 days hard labor.
The Sun, 19 December 1945


Detectives in wireless patrol cars, after a search last night for a cream utility truck loaded with 500Ibs of tea, finally found the vehicle abandoned in Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, but the tea was missing.

The truck was stolen from Devonshire St., shortly after 6 p.m. It is believed that the theft was the work of racketeers, who would be able to sell the tea on the black market, at nearly double its retail value. All police and wireless patrol cars are keeping a close watch for certain men whom police wish to interview. According to a statement made by the Deputy-Director of Rationing (Mr. E. E. Ford), 2,000,000lb. of tea has been bought on the black market in Australia in the past two years.
Truth, 12 October 1947

Experiences En Route To Alice Springs

IN the following letters vivid descriptions are given of the difficult conditions under which the first evacuees ever to leave an Australian town to escape the ravages of war, travelled to safety at Alice Springs. The letters were received by Mrs. H. Verso of Hurstbridge, one from her son Corporal H. Verso and the other from Mrs. Dorothea Brooks who was in the convoy.
A letter received by Mrs. Herbert Verso. “The Grange” Hurstbridge from her son, Cpl. H. J. Verso, Alice Springs, N.T. dated February 28, 1942. “I have just arrived from a very memorable convoy. Our section brought back the evacuees from Darwin, including about 70 women and children and several hundreds of men. It was pitiful to see crippled men and women coming off the train, after spending several nights and days in cattle trucks, half clothed, and then to experience the trip through the Central in the back of military trucks. All the suffering and sorrow that the Japs have caused these people will always be in my heart, and if I ever get the chance I shall avenge them to the full -and that goes for all of us drivers on the convoy There was a little baby, mother, and father with us (about one month old the baby was) It got convulsions and nearly died.

The men and women mingled together, as if we were one large family They were wonderful: I was the first vehicle with all the children and some young nurses. Capt. Sanderson put me in charge of the trucks with the women I had to give signals to the others if attacked by enemy aircraft and report anyone sick. I felt like a doctor, the women told me if they were in trouble The word “sex” didn’t mean a thing. I asked one of the ladies to write to you of her experiences so she may be able to tell you more than I. She is staying here in Alice Springs.

I could fill a book about my experiences on that trip; but will wait until another time Don’t worry if not hearing from me very often. Our mails are changed again I’ll be seeing you one of these sunny days folks so keep smiling.

Cheerio and happy days,– Herb
This is the letter from the lady evacuee of her experiences on route from Darwin to Alice Springs,
Dear Mrs Verso,–You will no doubt be surprised to have this letter from me, but, as it concerns your own son I feel sure you will forgive the liberty. As “Mal” (Herb’s nick name) is so far from home, I know you must worry and would like you to understand that he is well and happy

His assistance and thought for the comfort of the unfortunate people riding in the convoy truck which he was driving, were greatly appreciated. Perhaps Mrs Verso, you would be interested in a little news of the trip from Darwin to Alice Springs. We had two bombing raids in about three hours. I was .employed at the Darwin Hospital so of course was in a very hot spot HI-ad you seen the way we all threw ourselves to the ground you’d have been laughing yet -that is, if it were not so tragic. Being very thin, I had the advantage of many, but I can assure you that a sheet of notepaper would be thicker than I when clinging to the earth

The debris and bomb-splinters. came down on us in a deluge. Bruises are still coming to the surface, but no members of the hospital staff were seriously injured. First night from Darwin was in the train, which is as you know narrow gauge and very jolty and uncomfortable,

Our beds were packing cases on which we sat all night without pillows r rugs. Having been told to be ready in ten n the minutes on the eve of departure, you know. we could only find a few things to take. Many of us had neither knives, forks nor, cups, so living life in a raw state almost. Had it not been for worrying about my husband, I’d not have minded it a bit. He and I were separated luring the raid, so you can imagine my state of mind when several. unidentified bodies were brought to the hospital.

Our second night was spent in cattle trucks which, strange to say, were much more comfortable and cooler than the old stuffy train. Next day we were under military care, which meant faster travelling, better meals and superior organisation than when on the trains

Can you imagine women tearing lumps of bread from the loaf, picking bully beef from the tin with fingers, and eating other canned goods in the same way? The funniest spectacle was watching the antics of these unfortunates drinking from jam tins and other receptacles. The tin is so hot that one has to wait until the tea is almost cold, and strangely, as soon as, we were in the dry heat tea became almost a craving with everyone.

Have you ever slept on the ground with only gum leaves for a mattress? Had it not been so cold in the early morning, one could enjoy the experience. A Dutchwoman with her three children, who had fled from the, N.E.I. was in our party, and arrived: just in time to experience another bombing–not a happy experience

“Mal” lent us his blankets and kept the waterbags filled. You will understand that I cannot name the places on route. Stopping for our midday meal at one place, we were met permitted to leave the ‘trucks, and were astounded when our mugs were filled that the drivers “stepped on the gas”‘ for about five or six miles whilst we hold our tea over the sides of the trucks. When we stopped again mine was the only mug’ which contained tea, and it was cold. I’m sure I have not laughed so much for years, it was the silliest game; I’d ever played.

My husband left Darwin several hours after our convoy. He was driving our Dodge sedan in which he’d flung a month’s supply of canned goods, which were to have been our sustenance on a holiday trip to the Tennant (Creek.) Clothes and personal and household goods. About 76 miles from Darwin the car and contents, except very few, were handed over to the military. We may not even hear of them again Mal thought you might like to know of this evacuation. Imagine pretty girls with very dirty clothes and sunburnt, peeling faces, who all took the hardships with a smile. We can be justly proud of our Australian women.

The. soldiers at the various stopovers could not do enough for us. Their kindness and jubilant spirits gave’ confidence to others Mal spoke of his home with great fondness, which I think was one reason that attracted Tom and myself. Please do not worry over your son. He is confident, capable and well.

He is always welcome at our place, which, by the way is the funniest, shabbiest little place I have ever seen, but you have no idea how fortunate I consider myself in securing a roof. With all the humor and pathos of this journey we’ve experienced. I hope I may not have to go through it again and may God protect you and yours from the like Trusting that you will forgive my presumption in writing and that you are as well as I myself.



Eltham and Whittlesea Shires Advertiser, 27 March 1942

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