Gasoline rationed in Essex during WWII

THE nation endured the current oil debacle for just five days, but during wartime Essex people had to get used to rationing gasoline – then not at all – pretty quickly.

Just three weeks after the outbreak of war, in September 1939, Britain introduced oil rationing. It will continue until 1950.

When people broke the rules or stored gasoline, they could expect to receive a punitive fine.

In the beginning, passenger car owners were entitled to a certain amount of gasoline that they could only get through coupons, just like food.

But in 1942, gasoline for private use was completely phased out.

Gasoline was only available for work deemed essential and a special permit was required. Cars were strangely absent from the roads.

Most of the time, the large cars were confiscated and converted into vans and ambulances for Air Raid Precautionary Services (ARP), as you can see in the photo above in Southend.

Much like the scenes we see now, people were hoarding gas whenever they could.

But when the rules were broken, offenders could end up in the dock.

No one was above the law, not even the church. Records showed that in 1942, when the Clergy of Essex requested permission to purchase additional gasoline so that they could care for their flock in their local communities, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Dr Henry Wilson was not persuaded to agree. He said: “This is no small feat as oil is brought to this country at the cost of many precious lives, and such requests can only be granted for solid reasons.”

In Southend in 1939, just after gasoline rationing, George Baerselman, 77, of Cliff Town Parade, appeared on three summons for gasoline storage in places within 20 feet of a building, another summons for keeping gasoline in a vessel exceeding a two-gallon container, as well as a summons to keep gasoline in a poorly marked container.

At least 63 gallons of fuel were found in his home.

The defendant’s lawyer argued that his client was gravely ill and got gasoline because he believed he would have to walk a considerable distance when he got better,

The judiciary fined him £ 25 and ordered that everything but two gallons of gasoline be taken from him.

John Locks, a moving contractor from London Road, Westcliff, was also summoned for storage. This time 33 gallons of gasoline. Again he argued he needed fuel for his job but the court fined him £ 2.

People who wasted fuel by making unnecessary trips were also punished. In March 1943, Robert Cook of Maurice Road, Canvey Island, was fined £ 10 for wasting heavy fuel oil on an unnecessary trip with a truck.

That same year, a doctor in Thorpe-le-Soken was fined for letting a patient drive his car 400 meters down the road to buy him cigarettes and mail letters for him.

The Advocate General argued that posting letters to the doctor was not part of his medical practice. The doctor and the patient were fined.

Even the ARP volunteers were suspected of wasting gasoline. In early 1940 alarms were raised about the amount of gasoline being supplied to raid air patrol vehicles at Wickford.

Records showed that a Fordson vehicle received 53 gallons of gasoline in a month but only traveled 211 miles.

In addition, 73 gallons had been put in a Humber ARP car that was logging only 135 miles. It didn’t matter.

The General Purposes Committee reported that ARP members in Wickford had been interviewed by the district gasoline auditor and that the explanation given for the high fuel consumption was that each vehicle was started every hour by cold weather.

It also emerged that Laindon’s ARP guards were being driven to and from their homes to take their meals in the official vehicles that were there to help rescue people in the aftermath of an air raid.

Although rules were a strict necessity in wartime Essex, where every drop of gasoline was precious, they were sometimes relaxed.

In 1946, additional fuel was allocated by authorities for the Chelmsford Hospital Carnival to take place.

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