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War Economy

Difficulties with Clothing

Difficulties with Clothing

Much more difficult to administer was the rationing of clothing, footwear and household linen, introduced in May 1942. A coupon system was used, each person being allowed a specified number of coupons for each rationing period. Varying coupon values were assigned to different articles.

Rationing, however carefully administered, could not always avoid exhaustion of stocks. Fluctuations in clothing stocks were particularly difficult to foresee. Replying to a question in the House of Representatives in August 1943, the Minister of Supply and Munitions, the Hon. D. G. Sullivan, said:2

‘All possible steps have been taken to maintain supplies of children's footwear generally. The shortages, which have not been confined to country districts, have been due principally to the decreased supplies available from the United Kingdom during 1941 and 1942 but also to the huge production of military footwear in our local factories. Advice was received, recently, however, that New Zealand's quota of infants' footwear from the United Kingdom for the current year would total 450,000 pairs (which is a very satisfactory figure) and together with increased local production of children's footwear, which has become possible because of diminished military requirements, it is anticipated that the shortage of children's footwear will be page 468 overtaken. I have given special instructions that the production of children's footwear should be regarded as of the highest priority.’

Shortages were a frequent subject for questions in Parliament. In April 1944 the same Minister said:1

‘At the present time I am not able to indicate with certainty when pyjamas will become available in substantial quantities for general sale to the public. At the moment every endeavour is being made by the Government, working through the New Zealand Garment Control Council and district control committees, for the allocation of work within the clothing industry in a way that will secure the production of most essential garments as quickly as possible. Pyjamas are in the highest priority-group, and reasonable material supplies are available for pyjama manufacture. However, the shirt and pyjama manufacturing group is at present engaged almost entirely in meeting orders from the Armed Services. It is expected that arrears of orders for the Armed Services will be overtaken shortly and that quantity production of pyjamas for the civilian market will commence in the near future.’

There were also revealing references in a statement by the National Garment Control Council in May 1945.2 For example:

‘Faced with a serious shortage of women's underwear at the beginning of last year, the industry has taken effective steps to overtake the position…. The Council makes no attempt to minimize the fact that in certain categories of clothing, shortages continue to exist. There are, for example, big shortages of men's three piece suits, shirts, and some items of children's clothing. To rectify these shortages before they reach the acute or critical stage, the garment manufacturing industry, with the backing of the Factory and Manpower Controllers, is continuing to afford first priority production to these items. The benefit of this arrangement is already apparent, as witnessed in the manufacture of 27,350 suits during the first quarter of this year. Strenuous efforts are being made to increase materially the supply of men's and children's clothing even to the extent of diverting manpower where practicable. Inspections are being carried out by repre- page 469 sentatives of the Factory Controller to make certain that the manpower within the industry is being used to the best advantage.’ Clothing rationing ceased in 1947.

2 NZPD, Vol. 263, p. 560, 5 August 1943.

1 NZPD, Vol. 264, p. 968, 4 April 1944.

2 Dominion, 31 May 1945. The function of the Council is explained in the following statement by the National Service Department (Parliamentary Paper H-11a, 1946, p. 46):

‘In November, 1943, a National Garment Control Council and District Garment Control Committees were set up to maintain a close watch on production and to set production targets for critical lines. With such targets established it became possible for District Manpower Officers, assisted by Utilisation Committees, to take much more drastic steps to transfer labour into factories prepared to concentrate on these critical lines.’