THE nation has endured the current petrol debacle for just five days, but back in wartime Essex, people had to get used to having rationed petrol - and then none at all - pretty quickly.

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

When people broke the rules, or stockpiled petrol, they could expect to receive a punishing fine.

At first private car owners were allowed a certain amount of petrol which they could only obtain through coupons, just like food.

But in 1942 petrol for private use was withdrawn completely.

Petrol was only available for work deemed essential and a special permit was needed. Cars were eerily absent from the roads.

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

Just like the scenes we are seeing now, people hoarded petrol whenever they could.

But when the rules were broken offenders could find themselves in the dock.

Nobody was above the law- not even the church. Records shown that in 1942 when the Essex clergymen asked for permission for extra petrol so they could tend to their flock in their local communities, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Henry Wilson was not persuaded to agree. He said: “This is no light matter for the petrol is brought to this country at the cost of many precious lives, and such requests cannot be granted except for solid reasons.”

At Southend in 1939, just after petrol rationing had been brought in, George Baerselman, aged 77, of Cliff Town Parade, appeared on three summonses for storing petrol in places within 20ft of a building, another summons for keeping petrol in a vessel exceeding a two-gallon can, and also a summons for keeping petrol in a can not properly marked.

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

The defendant’s lawyer argued that his client had been seriously ill, and obtained the petrol because he thought he would have to travel some considerable distance when he was better,

The Bench fined him £25 and ordered that all but two gallons of petrol be taken away from him.

John Locks, a removal contractor of London Road, Westcliff, was also summoned for stockpiling. This time 33 gallons of petrol. Again he argued that he needed the fuel for his work, but the bench fined him £2.

People wasting fuel by making unnecessary trips were also punished. In March of 1943 Robert Cook of Maurice Road, Canvey Island, was fined £10 for wasting heavy fuel by making an unnecessary journey with a lorry.

In the same year a doctor, from Thorpe-le-Soken, was fined for letting a female patient drive his car 400 yards down the road to buy him some cigarettes and post some letters for him.

The prosecuting solicitor argued that posting letters for the doctor was not in the course of his medical practice. Both doctor and patient were given fines.

Even ARP volunteers were suspected of wasting petrol. In early 1940 alarm was raised at the amount of petrol supplied to Air Raid Patrol vehicles in Wickford.

Records showed a Fordson vehicle had been supplied with 53 gallons of petrol in one month but had only driven 211 miles.

Also, 73 gallons had been put into a Humber ARP car which registered only 135 miles. This didn’t add up.

The General Purposes Committee reported that members of the ARP at Wickford had been questioned by the district petrol auditor and the explanation given for the large fuel consumption was that each vehicle was started up every hour during the cold weather.

It also came to light that Laindon ARP wardens were being driven to and from their homes for their meals in the official vehicles which were there to help rescue people following an air raid.

Although the rules were a strict necessity in wartime Essex, where every drop of petrol was precious, occasionally they were loosened.

In 1946 extra fuel was allocated by the authorities so that the Chelmsford Hospital carnival could take place.