At 11:15 a.m. on the 3rd September 1939, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister announced over radio 6 words, ‘Britain is at war with Germany’. The Second World War had begun. This was not just a soldier’s war. It was a total war where men, women and children all played an important role in the war effort on the home front.
Due to the extensive bombing of the British cities, families realised the situation was becoming too dangerous for children to remain at home. Many families decided to send their children by train to parts of the countryside to be looked after by people living there. An evacuee was sent by train carrying a gas mask with first aid, sandwiches, apples, emergency sandwiches, spare socks, a mackintosh and chocolate. Also they had labels displaying their school, destination and home address. After France fell in June 1940. Britain was threatened with a German invasion. Places like Canada and USA offered to take in British children. The British Government set up a scheme to send children overseas. To stop complaints, a quota was imposed that three quarters of the children had to come from publicly funded schools. The scheme worked well as by July 1940 over 200,000 applications had been received. Unfortunately, the scheme came to a quick end when a liner was torpedoed by a German submarine killing 73 sea evacuees.
At the beginning or the war. The German Navy made efforts to sink any ships carrying food to Britain. This meant that by January 1940, a lot of foods were in short supply. This was when rationing was introduced. Ration was brought in to make sure that there was enough food to feed the country and to stop the wealthy from buying up all the supplies. Every person in Britain was issued with a ration book with coupons to be handed over to the shopkeeper when buying food. People had to register to local grocers and butchers and had to shop there, as they were not allowed to buy food from other shops. All shops had to sell food at fixed prices, which were set by the British government. Adults in the war were rationed the following food:
* Bacon and ham: 100g per week
* Meat: To the value of 6p (1 shilling 2 pence) per week
* Butter: 50g per week
* Cheese: 50g per week (sometimes it rose to 100g)
* Margarine: 100g per week
* Cooking fat: 100g per week (often dropped to 50g)
* Milk: 3 pints per week (often dropped to 2 pints)
* Dried milk: 1 packet every 4 weeks
* Sugar: 225g per week
* Preservatives: 450g every month
* Tea: 50g per week
* Eggs: 1 egg per week (sometimes dropping to 1 egg every 2 weeks)
* Dried eggs: 1 packet every 4 weeks
* Sweets: 350g every 4 weeks
Once the War was over, rationing still continued. This is because the supplies had not been fully replenished. The government waited until all supplies from abroad had replenished before lifting the rationing. Bread, bear and tobacco were goods that were never rationed.
‘Make do and mend’ was a very famous quote from posters in WWII. It means that’s you should not waste ANY products around the house. All waste was collected and used for different purposes to save as many resources as possible. Men had a little box for razors after they finished shaving. Women saved kitchen refuse to be taken to feed the pigs on farms. Aluminium pots and pans were brought out to contribute to the making of spitfire fighter planes. Parks, gardens and towns were stripped of their ornamental iron railings to make ships and tanks. Bones were salvaged to make glue for aircraft. Old clothes were not to be thrown away but sown or fixed instead. Even curtains and bed sheets where used for clothes in some cases. People were encouraged to dig allotments to grow food. Lawns, flowerbeds and parks were turned into vegetable gardens to increase the amount of food. The aim of all this was to make Britain more self sufficient in food as possible. Chickens, rabbits and sometimes pigs were reared in town parks and gardens.
Slogans such as ‘make do and mend’; ‘dig for victory’ and ‘wage on war waste’ were used in propaganda. The aim of propaganda was to raise the spirit and morale of the British people. Propaganda was a war of words and pictures, it was a battle to win the peoples hearts and thoughts by trying to convince them that one side was right and certain for victory, while the other side was evil and bound to lose. Propaganda was achieved in many ways, such as broadcasts, speeches and meetings, posters, films, cartoons, leaflets, newspapers, songs, stage shows and even the spreading of certain rumours.
The ‘make do and mend’ poster displays a man made out of household utensils. He is smiling and the poster creates a positive feeling. This lifts the morale of people who see the poster. On the other hand, the ‘maneater’ poster shows Hitler devouring different countries of the world. This creates a feeling of hatred towards Hitler and the German people and makes you more determined to work harder to defeat them. Churchill used powerful speeches as a propaganda method. He achieved this by using short, positive words like ‘victory’ as well as using short sentences to get straight to the point. Cartoon characters such as ‘Potato Pete’ and ‘Dr, Carrot’ were introduced to the people. These were aimed to persuade people to eat more of the available vegetables in Britain. They used quotes like’ Potato Pete is full of goodness and gives energy’ and ‘Dr Carrot has sweetness and goodness, he helps you see in the dark.’ These were aimed more at children, as they were appealing as cartoons.
At the outbreak of WWII in 1939, the British government ordered that cinemas, theatres and dance halls were to close after 6:00pm. Football matches were totally stopped. This ban forced people to remain at home in the evenings. Because they could not go out at night, the British peoples morale began to fade. The government quickly realised this and that people needed entertainment to take their minds of the hardships of the war. The government lifted the ban in early 1940. Once the ban was lifted, people started to go out more and their morale rose again. Going to the cinema was a regular treat for many British people.
A large number went to the cinema twice a week. Most cinemas’ showed patriotic films and real life documentaries, their aim was to create faith in the British people and the raise their country spirit. The most popular films showed in cinemas’ though were from the USA. Love stories, comedies and gangster stories. The reasons for these being more popular are that they took the British peoples minds of the war and forget about the bombings for the evening. Unfortunately, the rationing of petrol and the blackout made travelling to the cinema difficult for people who did not live in the towns. This forced them to spend most of their evenings at home. They listened to the news, music and comedy programmes on the radio. This meant that sales of ‘wireless’, or radios sky rocketed. Also, the buying of books, newspapers and magazines also soared, in spite of the shortage of paper. People like Vera Lynn sang popular songs to lift peoples’ spirits and their morale. She was known as the ‘forces sweetheart’, which shows how she lifted the soldiers’ spirits.
The blackout was introduced around the same time as the entertainment ban. The purpose of the blackout was to give the German bombers no clue of where their targets lay. No chinks of light where allowed to be shown at night. This meant British people had to put up blackout curtains up in all the windows of their houses. These were thick black curtains that prevented any light from escaping through the windows of houses. The blackout led to the doubling of car accidents on British roads. Due to this general impracticality the government decided to allow the partial lighting of streets in Britain by the end of 1939.
The fear of air bomb and gas attacks was very real in 1939. Air raid shelters were frantically dug for protection and sand bags were piled up at the entrances to shelters and buildings. Gas masks where issued to all members of the public as protection against gas attacks and asphyxiating smoke. Families took refuge in nearby caves and underground tunnels to escape the bombings. Families sometimes spent weeks at a time underground. The home guard practised safety procedures in preparation for bomb attacks to be ready to protect themselves and other people. Signposts, place names and station name boards where all removed to confuse any German’s that landed on British shores.
In September 1940, the Blitz begun. The Blitz was a mass bombing that continued for seventy-six consecutive nights on British cities and continued until May 1941. London was the main target but other cities such as Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester and Swansea were also bombed substantially. Approximately 60,000 people were killed and around 100,000 were seriously injured as a result of the Blitz. Many hundreds of thousands of British civilians were made homeless by the mass bombings. People were forced to take refuge in emergency centres. In London many people sought shelter underground in the tube stations. Other people from places like Nottingham, Chislehurst, Northfleet and Ramsgate travelled to underground caves and tunnels to seek shelter from the extensive bombings taking place on their homes.
The Blitz took place for two main reasons; the first aim was to destroy factories, oil depots and other places of industrial importance to the war effort. The second aim was to lower the morale of the British people so that they would be too tired and downhearted to fight back when the planned German invasion took place. Although the Herman bombings did destroy many homes, factories and people it was not successful in lowering the spirits of the British people. In fact, it did the complete opposite, and with the help of the famous speeches by Winston Churchill, the people’s morale remained high. ‘In every heart there is not fear, only a most passionate hatred of the enemy, and a determination to carry on at all costs.’ These sorts of speeches and statements put faith in the British peoples hearts and helped them to carry on working as a determined team.
Women played a very important role on the home front and the war effort. Many women took on jobs that had previously only been undertaken by men. Women occupied jobs in shipyards, aircraft factories, engineering work, chemical plants and munitions factories. They also became bus conductors, railway workers, labourers, welders and porters. By the year 1943, 9/10 single women and 8/10 married women were working in the armed forces or in industry. Although women undertook the same jobs as the men, they were only paid half as much as the men. This showed the lack in equality.
Propaganda like posters were used to persuade women to work. They used phrases such as ‘Women of Britain. Come into the factories,’ as well as positive pictures portraying happy, smiling people. One of the most vital industries that women worked on was farming. A farming organisation known as the woman’s land force was formed in 1939 to replace the thousands of male workers. Over 100,000 women joined the land army. They did all the same jobs as the men, including sowing seeds, tending herds and repairing tractors. Women were not allowed to directly fight in battle. But they were allowed to join the military forces. They worked in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and helped to direct anti-aircraft gunfire. The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) worked as mechanics on aircraft and operated barrage balloons. The Women’s Royal Naval Service (The Wrens) served onboard ship and on shore as radio operators and ambulance drivers.
Even after the war ended in 1945 the effects continued on the British people. Rationing continued as the British supplies and goods had not yet been totally replenished. Once Britain’s supplies were functioning properly and being shipped in rationing stopped. Also, most towns and cities were left with the destruction and damage that had to be reconstructed. Families came to towns to find their houses or streets that now no longer existed. Children came back without parents, parents came home without children, soldiers returned without family, wives were missing husbands.
Britain was in mourning as well as celebrating. Soldiers that returned home found themselves facing problems. Some soldiers had mental illness from the horror they had been through, some had physical disabilities and even personality changes. This changed their way of life totally. Also, soldiers returning home may not be used to their wives new found independency. This could sometimes cause tension and even marriage break-ups in some cases. On July 5th, 1945, a general election was held in Britain. Winston Churchill stood against Clement Attlee. Attlee won. The reason for this was that Attlee promised to set up the Welfare State to reduce the terrible poverty in Britain.