1940 - 1950

The outbreak of war brought with it rationing, as well as enemy bombing which hit over 100 Marks & Spencer stores, destroying 16 entirely. ‘We did our bit’ through practical innovations and the invaluable efforts of employees, who took part in fire watching, raised money for a Spitfire, set up soup kitchens and helped to care for wounded soldiers.

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At the beginning of the war 70% of Britain’s food was imported from across the sea. U-boat attacks quickly cut off this supply and by 1940 rationing was introduced for lots of food, beginning with bacon, butter and sugar.

At Marks & Spencer food was sometimes sold straight from the delivery trucks in order to keep hungry and impatient crowds calm. As rationing didn’t apply to restaurants, people began to eat out more, and by 1942 we had created 82 Café Bars in store.

Restrictions Orders meant clothing was also designed to make the most of materials. Here M&S could share its skill at achieving the highest quality for the lowest price. Harry Atkinson, who was a Marks & Spencer technologist, helped the government develop clothing standards. The result was utility clothing, which could be brightly pattered but was very simple in design.
Marks & Spencer Utility dress

This children’s book was printed exclusively for M&S. Inside is written "To Harold from Iris, Christmas 1948". Donated by Mrs E Rutter.

With so many men enlisted to the armed forces, M&S faced a shortage of trained and skilled staff – the answer was to promote women from staff to management.

With a simple range of quality dishes, the new Cafe Bars, like this one in the Guildford store in 1941, were a war time success for M&S.

This lump of metal is what remains of the cash float found in the debris of our Bristol store, which was destroyed during an air attack.


Add your comment...

Peter Coleman, Banbury Oxfordshire
Monday 2 October
My late mother worked as a store detective For Marks & Spencer In and around The East End of London from 1945 to around 1949 after her birth I found a small archive diary travel warrant and witness statement by about the cases and people she dealt with it is an archive worth saving I think And would be interesting to the archivist at Marks & Spencer
Company Archive, Leeds
Thursday 7 February
Hi Peter, We would love to hear more about your mother's items. Please could you contact us at company.archive@marks-and-spencer.com with some more details?
Elise, Doncaster
Tuesday 1 October
Thought it was amazing how m&s raised money for a spitfire and how the company is still raising money for charities
Kat Healy, Hebburn, Tyne and Wear
Thursday 28 November
Love how M n S have adapted perfectly throughout this period! Opening cafes to get around rationing is fantastic!
Bill Cummins, Ashford, Kent
Thursday 4 June
My Mum was a 14 year old shop girl in 1944 when your Lewisham store was hit by a V1 doodlebug during the 2WW. A large peice of shrapnel hit her leg and took most of her calf with it. She wasn’t able to work for about 6 months. My Mum will be 92 in September 2020 but sadly it looks as though she will not see that birthday as she has a terminal illness. ☹️
Carole Marston , Harwich Essex
Sunday 30 January
My auntie was killed in the Lewisham M & S store she was 16 and worked on the counter at the very front of the store