Short Story: The Lost Ration Book

By M.T.C.

Published in the Age, Melbourne

16 December 1944

Paid £1/11

Have you ever lost anything? Something really important, I mean - not just a gold watch or a wallet of notes. I lost my clothing coupon card the other day; at least we parted company without farewells.

I was quite upset about it. I had been saving my coupons for a splash at Christmas, and had used only about 25, I think. Then I remembered, with an uplift of heart, that there was always Cavendish House, where cruel wrongs, such as this, could be righted.

I marched up boldly to the girl at the desk. "I've lost my ration book," said I; "I want a new one." With a weary wave of the hand she wafted me across to the writing desk. "Fill in a form," she said.

I found the form tiresome. It wanted to know so much. Apart from such details as name, address, identity card number, &c., it wanted to know just how much trouble I had taken to look for the missing article, and whether I had been to the police. Of course, I had looked in my hand bag, and in my top drawer, and, after all, nice people don't even think of police, let alone go to them, until they have to. It took me only a couple of minutes to fill in the form. But the girl at the desk looked at me accusingly.

"You haven't," she said, "told us where you lost it."

"If I knew where I'd lost it, I'd go back and get it," I pointed out. I'm noted for my trust in human nature.

She eyed me pityingly. Obviously I had that sort of mentality. "You'll have to tell us," she said, gently, "how and where you lost it, and how long ago."

I returned to the writing table. I didn't know the answer to any of those questions. I bit off the top of my pen - it was only a Government one, anyway - and then found myself using an organ which I really didn't know I possessed - my imagination. 
What a story I wrote! It was a pity it had to be wasted on the Rationing Commission. It was worthy of an appreciative public, and filled the entire space allotted for that purpose.

The girl at the desk skimmed through it. "Take it to the gentleman at the end cubbyhole," she said, "he's a J.P.; he'll witness it for you."

While waiting my turn, I noted, with mild interest, that at the bottom of the form was a warning to the effect that a false statement made one liable, among other things, to four years' hard labor. The J.P. was an elderly man with a homely moustache and a fatherly air. He was quite happy to witness my signature. What a soda! thought I - and after the care and bother I'd taken trying not to lose that ration book.

Then I was directed to an office upstairs. In next to no time now my troubles would be over, and I'd have my new ration book in my hand.

Again I stood at a desk. Really what a lot of desks there must be in the world.

"Have you," asked a pert miss, "ever lost a ration book before?"

"No - I don't make a habit of it," said I, cheerfully. "Why?"

"Well, we don't issue a third one," she said, with a catty glint in her eye.

I digested that in silence. What a catastrophe if the new ration book and I should part company with as little trouble as the last!

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The article - scanned.

The Lost Ration Book The Age, Melbourne, 16 December 1944.

"Half a crown, please!" she was very businesslike. I handed over my half a crown, not altogether sweetly. After all, it was rather cold-blooded - half a crown for a bit of paper. I waited expectantly.

"You'll hear from us in 28 days," she said, dismissing me briskly.

"You mean." I swallowed, "in 28 days-."

"That's what I said - next please!"

I turned away, hurt. A whole 28 days to check my statement. No one had ever doubted me before. Goodness - four years with hard labor - now, I wonder, was it 25 or 45 coupons I'd used!"

In the meantime, that pair of shoes I had intended to buy to keep out the wet would have to wait. Probably I should die of pneumonia, and the someone who put that nasty warning on the bottom of the form would be deprived of my four years of hard labor, and the shoes would fit someone else's feet. Ah, me-!