How Greatly Were The Lives Of British Civilians Affected During World War II?


By Laura Cleland

With permission; Laura is a former pupil of Greenfield School

- this essay was done as piece of GCSE coursework.



Gas  (Start of the war,  A nuisance,  ...and children,  ...and babies,  Post boxes); 

Evacuation (Emotional effects,  Evacuation myths,  ...and adults,  ...and the children); 

Rationing (Food,  Effects,  Poor and rich,  Black Market,  Farmers myth,  Clothes,  Water); 

Women’s Work – (Land Army,  Munitions work,  Women myth,  Conscientious Objectors,  Effects on Women,  WVS,  Air-Raid Wardens);   Home Guard; 

Air-raids  (Fires,  Carrying on…,  Effects of the Blitz,  ...and children,  Anderson Shelters,  Morrison Shelters,  School Shelters,   Public Shelters,  The Underground,  Coventry – effects,  Myths of the Blitz);  Blackout;  Conclusion




There is no doubt that people had a hard time during the war, due to things like rationing and bombing.  But just how much did each of these things affect the lifestyle of each individual living in Britain.  It is impossible to say that everyone’s life changed in the same ways.  For example the lifestyle of a woman living in London would change in a completely different way to that of a woman living in the countryside.  She would have to put up with losing her children due to evacuation while the country women would have to put up with gaining children due to evacuation. 


The government were expecting to be bombed for years.  They estimated that 100,000 bombs would be dropped on London alone within the first fortnight.  They started to prepare for all the injuries and deaths.  Hospitals started to clear their beds to make room for all the war casualties.  Coffin factories started to pour out cardboard coffins instead of wooden ones, as they were cheaper and quicker to make.  The government ordered huge lime pits to be dug for mass burials.  These must have been quite upsetting changes.  Before the war people buried their relatives in a wooden coffin in their own plot.  Now, during the war, they were going to have to bury them en masse, in cardboard coffins, which would rot away very quickly.  It seemed as if the government did not care about the dead anymore, only living people counted.  This was a great emotional change for people living during the war as well as quite a.  big physical change. 



Another preparation for war was against gas.  The government issued over forty million gas masks.  The masks were to protect the British people from the horrible mustard gas, or Lewisite, that had killed so many troops in the First World War.  On Monday 4th September 1939 they ordered everyone always to carry their gas masks.  Everyone set off for work carrying the buff coloured cardboard boxes on their backs. 


Throughout the war peoples’ attitudes to gas masks changed.  When they first got them everyone carried their gas masks from a sense of duty, but soon people began to get sick of lugging the masks around.  The lost property at train stations became full of purposely forgotten gas masks.  To try and stop people from leaving their gas masks at home cinemas wouldn’t allow people in if they were not carrying their gas mask with them.  This was a another change but not such a big one. 

Start of the war

To begin with when you went to the cinema you had to take a gas mask with you.  However this did not have a major effect on the public as they soon stopped not letting people in when they weren’t carrying their gas mask.  The only place that kept up the obligation was the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford on Avon.  One land girl cycled to the theatre one afternoon and being scrutinised by a commissionaire managed to pass a friend’s camera box as her gas mask box.  Another man and his family were turned away because they weren’t able to be as deceptive as the girl. 


Having to carry a gas mask around with you all the time was a nuisance if you were an adult but if you were a child it was fun, if a bit cumbersome.  One boy remembers:

A nuisance

"The rubber fitted really tightly around your face.  If you blew into the mask you could make great farting noises",


The gas mask smelt of rubber and steamed up when you breathed into it.  One girl called Margaret, from Bishop Auckland, remembers practising an air raid once:


"We put up the seats and squeezed under.  The trouble was I held my breath because no one had told us you were allowed to breathe in the gas masks, then when you did breathe, you felt sick because of the build up of fumes from the materials they used,"


The gas masks were all very well for protecting people against the gas but then the government found out about Arsine, in May 1940, and had to take in all the gas masks and fit them with a Contex filter.  It was a bit like a small tobacco tin fastened to the end of the mask with adhesive tape.  This was another small change which entailed a lot of hard work during the war. 


Some children were scared of the gas masks so the government made them look like Mickey Mouse.  They then had to be changed to fit on the new filter.  The gas masks had quite an emotional effect on children as they were very scared of them.  They were too young to understand how they worked and that is why they did things like Margaret and didn’t breathe in them.  It was a big change for a child to go suddenly from only carrying around their school kit to having to carry around a gas mask that they had to keep practising putting on. 

...and children

Babies had to be protected from gas as well.  They didn’t have gas masks like everyone else, they had a whole suit to wear.  Someone had to stand and pump air into the suit all the time otherwise the baby would suffocate.  My Gran remembers how she got my Uncle used to his:

...and babies

"I would put him in it for about half-an-hour each day, just after he had had his tea.  At first he screamed and screamed but he became use to it after a while.  The only problem was that where we were living at the time there was no fear of us being attacked by gas so I had to put my son through that terrifying experience every night for no real reason"


This was a frightening change if you were a baby.  You would be used to your normal comfortable clothes then have to wear a horrible suit that probably hurt, and would be very uncomfortable.  If your mother was not pumping enough air into it then it would have been very difficult to breathe. 


Another change that the government made to prepare Britain for a gas attack was to paint the pillar boxes in a different type of paint.  Instead of the ordinary red pillar boxes they painted them in a yellow paint.  When there was gas in the air it would change colour and the air raid wardens would know that there was gas around and could warn people to put their gas masks on.  They would do this by walking through the streets with a clapper.  You had to wear the gas mask until the all clear was given.  Having the pillar boxes painted a different colour did not really affect people at all.  They would still be able to post their mail the same way as usual but one thing to do with mail that did affect people was that it was censored.  You could not send letter they way you used to be able to.  It was an invasion of privacy in a way but it was for the good of the British people.  If a spy got a hold of important information about were the armies were stationed then it could ruin a lot of things.  My gran remembers how my grandad managed to tell her where he was without anyone else knowing. 

Post boxes

"We used to have a secret code that only I and you grandfather knew.  He would write me letters from all over the place and I would be able to tell exactly where he was and what had happened to his group"

This was quite a big change for the British population.  Before they had been used to being able to write letters to anyone saying whatever they liked.  Now nothing was really private. 



Among the preparations for the bombing of Britain was evacuation.  This had an enormous emotional effect on families.  It was a huge change for both children who were evacuated and hosts who took in the evacuees.  The government made plans to evacuate children over 5, mothers with children under 5, pregnant women and disabled people.  They decided that they would be safer in the country rather than in the big cities.  It would also leave fewer mouths to feed and fewer injured and dead to deal with from the bombing that was expected.  The government divided the country up into three different areas.  The areas were the evacuation areas, the neutral areas and the reception areas.  An announcement was made on the radio on the 31st August 1939, informing all parent’s that the following day would be the beginning of evacuation.  A Jewish women remembers having to wake her children up at 5.30 am to get them ready.  She remembers the tears of her eight year old daughter and how her sister only a year older took it so well. 


The emotional effect throughout the entire period of evacuation was gigantic.  Neither the children nor their mothers knew where they would end up.  Alan Burrell remembers leaving his home town:


"I thought it was a Sunday School outing down to the seaside.  And I looked out of the bus window and I saw my mother crying outside and I said to my brother, "What’s Mummy crying for?" and my brother said "Shut up". 


The pain and fear that both mothers and children felt on September 1st 1939 would have stayed with them for the rest of their lives. 

Emotional effects

On the other hand there is evidence that some children were really looking forward to going away.  One boy remembers the train journey as being a great new experience for him.  He talks about the fact that he had never been out of his own town before and now due to evacuation he was going on the journey of his life.  He was seeing things like cows and living in the country he was learning where milk really did come from.  "So it’s no just made in a bottle then?" Being evacuated to some people was the best experience of their lives while for others it was the most traumatic one ever.  One girl was very grateful for evacuation:


"/ thank God I was evacuated: not because I avoided danger… But because it changed my way of thinking.  It made me love the country.  I could never live in town again.  I know that I found refuge...  after an unhappy home life."


Many children became homesick.  It was a big change for them to go from their ordinary everyday life to live with strangers.  They did not know how they would be treated, what was expected of them.  Carries War is a book about an evacuee and her brother.  They go to live with a family in Wales.  The man is very strict and tells them off a lot.  They are only allowed to walk on the stair carpet once a day as it might wear it out.  They are not used to this but the girl tries her best to keep the man happy.  Although this book is fictional it is written by an evacuee and she shares some of her experiences in it. 


Evacuation changed throughout the war.  In the beginning there were millions of children evacuated but then when there was no bombing between September and Christmas parents took their children home.  Some children were evacuated again the next year while others who hadn’t come home stayed out in the country for all of the war.  Some children came home themselves:


"Micky and I walked home with the odd lift we thumbed.  My mum opened the door and nearly fainted.  "What you doin’ here," she said.  "Your Dad’ll kill you!" (Jim Willis, London.)


There are a lot of myths about evacuation.  One of them is that the evacuated children were all dirty, and that they never used the toilet. 

Evacuation myths

"The children went around urinating on the walls.  Although we have two toilets."


This is not true about all evacuees as some children were very clean and were disgusted with some of the hosts views of evacuee’s:


"How I wish the common view of evacuees could be changed...  It is just as upsetting for a clean well-educated child to find itself in a grubby semi-slum as the other way round"


There is also a myth about most hosts treating their evacuees as slaves:


"A few hosts...  treated their evacuees as guests or as they were their own children but the majority treated the girls as unpaid maids". 


This may have been true in a few cases but there are plenty of memories to say that this was not generally the case.  In Carries War, Carrie talks of working in her host’s shop.  She says that she really enjoys the work and loved helping her hosts stack the shelves. 


Another over-exaggerated myth was that people only picked the pretty girls and the big strong boys.  "Children were picked if they were the cleanest and the poorest were always left till last"


"Big boys who looked sensible and useful were quickly chosen". 


Obviously when a farmer needed a big boy for his farm work he would take him but a woman MP describes how women in moorland villages in Durham


"Went home weeping because they had not a child allocated to them"


Also a man MP recalls how he would regularly see fights e.g. one time, on North Wales station two men fought for the privilege to take home two Liverpool boys. 


 Evacuation affected people in different ways.  It had a great emotional impact on the mothers who were sending their children away, not knowing whether they would ever see them again, or whether they were going to be looked after properly.  The hosts were also greatly affected.  They had been used to sharing their house with family and then suddenly they had an extra child or two living with them.  They could be a very dirty family and get a very clean child or they could be a very clean family and get a dirty child.  One quote that sums up evacuation came from a headmistress at Chepstow school:

...and adults

"One half of Britain at least is learning how the other half lives’. 


The people that were affected the most by evacuation were the children.  They were torn away from their families at such a young age.  They had no idea what was happening to them.  They were scared not only by the journey but little things like the labels they had to wear.  It made them feel as though they had lost their identity:

...and the children

"Our labels were pinned on and I felt sick...  I felt I was leaving my name and identity behind when we left."


How a child of 5 was expected to cope with the change they faced through evacuation is hard to imagine.  Evacuation affected most people a great deal. 


At the two extremes there were a few children who were not evacuated at all and a few who where evacuated completely out of the country for example to stay with relatives in America.  Evacuation was not compulsory but at the time it seemed like the best thing.  Today you would not even consider packing a five year old’s suitcase and sending him or her off on a long train journey to somewhere, hoping that they would find a home. 


Evacuation also affected children’s education.  The schools had to close down in areas where there was heavy bombing expected.  Some children would only be at school for half a day a week.  Also children had to stay off to look after younger brothers and sisters as their mothers would be out at work.  The war disrupted children’s education.  When they were evacuated they would have to share schools with other children.  Sometimes they used chapels and churches to hold lessons.  It was difficult to go from a class full of all your friends to a class where you hardly knew anyone.  Sometimes the other children would be nasty to you. 


"They are not friendly when you start going to their schools"


So evacuation was a huge change, with great emotional and physical effects on people and it also carried an awful lot of myths with it. 



Throughout the course of the war British imports became disrupted.  This meant that food, clothes and other materials that Britain imported became more and more difficult to get a hold of.  The price of food rose making it possible for only the rich to afford.  The essential foods were snatched up by the rich very quickly leaving the poor people with very little choice but to starve.  The government decided that the only way to stop this was to make sure all the food was shared out equally.  It was called rationing and it was used towards the end of the First World War. 


At the same time the government took steps to make Britain more self sufficient by producing more of it’s own food which could be then shared out equally among the British population. 


The government set up a Ministry of Food.  People who worked there knew a lot about food as they were already from the food industry.  They knew how long things could be stored and how to store them.  Stuart Robertson, worked for the Ministry of Food in London and he thought that "it was a very practical ministry" It had a radio programme that was on every morning after the eight o’clock news, it was called Kitchen Front.  Mothers would sit and listen for all the tips on how to cook healthy meals with very little.  They tried to get people to eat as many potatoes and carrots as they could.  There was no shortage of root vegetables and plus "carrots help you to see in the dark, so they would be very useful during the Blackout". 


Before rationing was enforced the government sent out application forms to every household asking them to fill in details of every person living in that house.  When the forms were handed in at the local food office you would be issued with a ration book was issued for each person.  During the war everyone was issued with an identity card, or national registration number.  This was one way the government made sure that there were no spies about.  This was yet another change although it did not affect peoples’ lives very much.  On the front of the ration book would be a number that corresponded to the owners national registration number.  The ration book also carried a serial number and a stamp which was the region and local office number.  D.Fuller remembers his mother’s ration book’s: "My mother’s ration books were L86.  L for London and 86 for the food office in Wimbledon"


Rationing was a massive change and it greatly affected almost the entire population.  Both adults and children.  You could no longer go to a store and get whatever you wanted.  You had to carry your ration book and get it stamped.  If you were pregnant then you could get extra things.  You could get an extra pint of milk for only 2 pence and special orange Juice, which could be used on pancakes instead of lemon juice.  Children were the most greatly affected by rationing, or a least they though that at the time.  They actually weren’t really affected all that much.  Sweets were rationed.  They were allowed 2 ounces (56.7g) per week.  One girl remembers


"We ate them all right away, but my brother Gerald used to hoard his in a cardboard box.  We used to drool over his box, but he wouldn’t let us have any.  Then he got a girlfriend and he gave her a bar of chocolate!"


Children thought that rationing was hard as they couldn’t eat as much as they I wanted when they wanted


Rationing affected the rich and the poor in different ways.  For poor people rationing was a saviour.  Suddenly from being very poor and not being able to afford enough food for their families they had adequate food and a healthy diet. 


"‘The poorest people in Britain were best off during the war”. 


For rich people it was not a good time.  They were used to being able to go into a shop and buy everything they wanted whenever they wanted it.  Due to rationing they could no longer do this.  They had to live the same way as everyone else.  They had to share the food around. 

...and rich

This was obviously a great change for them.  It didn’t hurt them to share the food around.  In fact it was they probably had a healthier diet.  One quote sums up what happened during rationing


"The poor became richer and the rich became poorer"


One way for people to obtain extra food was the black market.  It sold illegal, stolen food.  People would break into factories and steal thousands of pounds’ worth of goods. 

Black Market

"We had a well known factory broken into one weekend.  Thousands of pounds’ worth of stockings were stolen, and they found their way on to the London black market" (J.  Joiner, Leicester CID),


People stealing things from trains became very common.  "In 1941, about £1 million’s worth of goods was stolen".  People just wanted to have that little bit extra. 


With rationing came a lot of hard work.  To begin with people had to grow their own food and keep their own animals in their back gardens.  Women had to say goodbye to their beautiful flowers and hello to an ugly vegetable.  This had no emotional effect on people but it left them with more work to do as they had to look after their vegetables because if they didn’t they’d have nothing to eat.  This was part of the Dig for Victory. 


There was meat available but it was rationed.  Bacon was one of the first foods to be rationed along with sugar and butter.  The government said "that people can do without some things but in order to live needed others".  Because meat was a food that you had to eat some of to stay healthy it was rationed.  If you wanted to have more meat then you had to look after your own animals.  People would keep chickens, ducks, geese and hens at the end of their gardens to kill and cook themselves.  This was quite a big change and more hard work as people had to feed the animals and look after them.  Often when it came to the time to kill them they had become so used to having the animals around that they found it difficult.  The animals became family pets instead.  One woman remembers


"We had a chicken living in our back garden.  The children and I became so fond of it that when we went to kill we didn’t have the heart.  We had too eat loads of vegetables to make up for it"


One myth was that farmers were hardly affected by rationing.  The petrol rationing was the only thing that affected them.  This was not true at all.  Sir Emrys Jones, a War Cultivation Officer, said that during the war farmers went through "...more changes probably than in the whole history of agriculture,"

Farmers myth

Before the war Britain imported 60% of it’s food.  During the war this number changed dramatically.  By 1945 Britain was only importing 30% of its food.  This left even more work for farmers.  They had never been so busy.  "Plough Now! By Day and Night’ was a slogan used to encourage farmers to work harder and longer hours.  This caused a change to the machinery that the farmers used.  The ploughs were fitted with lights so that the farmers could work later at night and earlier in the morning.  A lot more farming machines were invented, which made farmers more productive. 


It was not only food that was rationed during the war clothes were also rationed from the 1st June 1941.  You would get coupons and have to buy an outfit using the coupons, for example a shirt was five coupons and a jacket was thirteen.  You had to use your coupons not only for clothes but linen as well.  Each person would get 60 clothes coupons a year which changed through the war to 48.  You could get children’s sandals without coupons.  Betty Brown remembers:


“On Saturday mornings, we used to queue up in front of Doggarts to see if they had any sandals in.  They used to get them in once a week.  You could get kids’ sandals without coupons" (Bishop Auckland)


People would only be able to buy a few outfits a year.  They were told "One simple jersey can do the work of several if you wear a necklace one day, none the next and with rolled up sleeves’. 


People swapped clothes and mended old ones.  Once a jumper became too small you made it into something else.  My gran remembers buying her son some trousers in the winter time.  When they became too short for him to wear as trousers she simply cut some of the legs off and made them into summer shorts.  With the remainder of the material she fixed patches on other clothes.  You didn’t throw things away.  One slogan that was put out by the Board of Trade was "Make-Do and Mend" If something could be fixed then they fixed it. 


This was quite a big change for people who before the war had been used to just throwing things out when they were too small.  They now went to clothes swap shops and swapped an old small coat for an old big coat.  It was actually quite a practical solution.  Obviously when your child is growing they are going to need a lot of new clothes.  It meant that you didn’t have to keep buying new clothes since you could keep swapping for sizes which fitted. 


Another thing that was rationed was water.  This was because there was a shortage of fuel, which was also rationed, heated water had to be rationed. 


"As part of your personal share in the Battle for Fuel you are asked to NOT exceed five inches of water in the bath" (Notice issued by the Ministry of Fuel for display in hotel bathrooms, October 1942). 


This was a hard change for people who were used to having a nice hot deep bath and now had to have a shallow colder bath.  Families probably all shared the same bath water. 


So rationing affected most of the population to a greater of lesser extent.  Poor people became better off and rich people became worse off.  Children although they thought sweet rationing was very harsh weren’t really affected too badly.  They had to learn to eat vegetables and like them.  It made them a lot healthier as they were eating less sweets and more vegetables.  Farmers were affected quite a lot even though people think that it was only petrol rationing that affected them.  They had to work long hard hours and hire other labourers to work for them.  Rationing was in many ways very good for Britain.  There was a lot less waste, people learned to share and make do with what they had and generally ate a healthier diet.  The government managed to save a lot of people’s lives by rationing foods. 



During the war it was not only people and animals that were affected by rationing, the landscape was affected too.  Ten million acres of grassland were ploughed up to plant corn in it’s place.  Then it was realised that there weren’t enough farmers to look after it, so the government invented the Land Army.  Women went to work in the Land Army. 

Women’s Work Land Army

A woman’s lifestyle changed dramatically during the war.  Before the war there was a great deal of unemployment, men went to work and the women stayed at home.  During the war the men had to go and fight, so there were a lot of jobs that needed to be filled and who better to fill them than the women.  The types of jobs that they did were farm work, munitions work, factory work, working on buses and some even worked in steel mills.  Women were given a chance during the war that they hadn’t had before - to prove to the men that they were just as good at working as the men were. 


Some of the jobs that the women did were very dangerous especially the work in a munitions factories.  They could be blown up at any minute.  They also worked very long hours, for very little pay.  If you weren’t married then you could be posted anywhere in the country if you worked in a munitions factory. 

Munitions work

One of the myths of war work was that everyone was happy to do their bit.  This was true in some cases.  Many women loved being given the chance to work even if it did mean little pay.  However some employers decided to take advantage of the women workers.  They made them work longer hours than they were supposed to and cut their\l wages.  The employees didn’t like this and all sorts of arguments went on in Y factories.  One woman had to change jobs a few times because she refused to work for the amount of pay she was given. 

Women myth

People who refused to fight were called conscientious objectors.  They were either made to work or put into jail.  The jobs they did were not ~ very nice so the feeling was that the conditions were better out fighting than being at home working.  They were usually put down the mines.  One man remembers how proud he was when he used to come up from the mines at the end of the week. 

Conscientious Objectors

"lf we had reached our weekly target of coal then the flag would be flying when we reached the top of the tunnel.  It made us feel so proud standing there knowing that even though we weren’t fighting we were doing our bit for the war”. 


This made the miners feel as if they had done their part for the war effort. 


The war created a lot of new jobs.  The Land Army, the W.V.S, an Air Raid warden and the Home Guard were all new jobs in Britain.  Anyone who worked for them experienced a great change.  The Land Army was set up to help farmers with rationing.  It was made up of women.  By 1943 nearly 80,000 women had joined the Women’s Land Army.  They filled the men’s jobs as they were away fighting.  They worked on tractors, milked cows, planted potatoes and dug ditches.  Most women enjoyed working for the Land Army even though it meant long hard hours for very little pay.  The women were issued with clothes


"We were issued with special clothing which was quite smart and all good quality stuff.  We had a green tie and green pullover, fawn corduroy breeches and thick fawn socks up to the knee.  We had brown strong boots but we couldn’t wear them, they were too hard.  We had a beigy-brown three-quarter length topcoat, but wore fawn overalls when we were working"


This was another great effect for women.  Yet again they were being allowed to work.  They were being given a chance.  The Land Army changed their lives greatly.  Instead of being in the busy cities they were out in the fresh air.  It was good for their health and spirit. 

Effects on Women

A service which was formed purely for women was the Women’s Voluntary Service.  They were mainly older women.  They did all sorts of jobs like driving ambulances, running canteens at railway stations, running nurseries for working mothers, knitting socks for the soldiers and collecting metal for aeroplanes.  This service although it was voluntary would boost women’s spirits immensely.  The war work that the women did affected them greatly.  For the first time they were being allowed to work and get paid for it.  Even though some companies did take advantage of the women, the general feeling was that they enjoyed working. 


Being an air-raid warden meant that you had too have an up-to- date list of inhabitants, particularly the very old and very young.  They handed out questionnaires to find out how many people were living in each house and how many people they could put up if they needed them.  They issued gas masks and checked things like whether people were complying with the 5 inches of water in the bath rule and the blackout regulations.  Air-raid wardens wore helmets, eye shields, torches, whistles and carried memo pads.  They had to watch for fires and sound the siren if their area was under attack.  They then had to give the all clear when the attack was finished.  They watched for fires and went around searching for trapped people after a raid.  It was not only men who worked as air-raid wardens, women did as well .  Barbara Nixon was one of them:

Air-Raid Wardens

"/ was given a tin hat, whistle and a Civil Defence respirator (gas mask).  The Post Warden took me on a tour of the seventeen public shelters in our area". 


Being allowed to work was a massive change that affected the lives of women all over Britain.  If it wasn’t for them who knows whether women would be working in highly paid jobs today.  It not only affected the lives of the women then but has affected our lives today as well. 



The Home Guard was for men of any age.  Men had to go and watch railways, roads, docks, coastlines, factories and all centres of war production.  It was mainly older men who enlisted into the Home Guard.  At first they didn’t have a uniform.  They wore a bandage with L.D.V printed on it.  The didn’t have weapons either as they were all being used in battle.  They had table legs, and a few weapons left over from World War One.  Eventually they got a uniform.  The men said that "It made us so proud walking down the street in our uniforms.  Even though we were not outfighting it made us feel as if we were doing our bit."


Home Guard

One of the most horrific experiences that a British civilian had to go through was the bombing, which occurred in Britain throughout the war.  The Germans decided to terror bomb Britain.  This was repeated bombing in one place over a long period of time.  Lots of major cities and ports were wiped out by the Germans terror bombing. 


One of the major bomb attacks was the Blitz.  London, was the first city on the Germans’ list to experience the terror bombing.  On 7th September 1940 the Blitz began.  One air raid warden remembers that day being


"One of those beautiful early autumn days which feel like spring and can make even London streets seem fresh and gay"


Little did he know at the time that for another 56 nights the Germans were going to bomb it.  The wail of sirens was going to be heard through out London for a long time.  On the first night London and it’s docks were attacked by 350 bombers which were escorted by 650 fighters.  They dropped over 300 tons of bombs on the defenceless British civilians.  They were not prepared for such an attack.  There were 18,000 people killed or seriously injured that night.  The first night of the Blitz was Known as "Black Saturday" Houses were destroyed lives were ripped apart.  It was a horrifying shock for the Londoners to come up from their air raid shelters and find their houses destroyed.  Entire terraces became rubble in only a matter of hours. 


London glowed from all the fires that were started from the small fire bombs.  These would make a clattering noise as they hit the ground.  The East end of London was badly hit one night. 


"We saw a white cloud rising..  afire engine went by..  The cloud grew to such a size...  there could not ever in history have been such a gigantic fire...  nearly every fire appliance in London was heading east." (Raiders Overhead). 


A girl remember the fires in the east


"I remember that I was cycling home during a raid and I actually thought that the sun was setting in the EAST.  It wasn’t until later that I realised that it was the docks on the Thames, all burning"


The fires not only destroyed people’s belongings, but they also destroyed their lives.  They no longer had anywhere to live or any food, money or belongings.  Barbara Harrison remembers how one night she and her family were asleep in their air raid shelter that was inside their house. 


"The bombs dropped, ..flattening our house and two others.  We were all fast asleep...  We started to choke on the brick-dust...  We all emerged full clad and shod, and totally unscathed, into amazed embraces of friends from up the road, who took us back to their house for the rest of the night". 


Everyone was willing to lend a hand when people needed it most. 


One of the common things said about the Blitz was that everyone got up and carried on as usual.  Even though in one night 430 people had been killed and every railway line into London was out of action, people still managed to get themselves to work as usual.  One girl remembers how one morning she managed to get to work despite various obstructions

Carrying on…

"The tube was closed at Balham.  I hitched a lift from a lorry driver who took me to Elephant and Castle and from there I walked to the city...We were not allowed to cross London Bridge..  Rubble and glass were all over the place.,.  Then I crunched up to the office". 


It may have been the case that some people did try to continue to work their daily routine, but to say that "The people of London awoke this morning and went to work as usual, shops opened as usual and everyone just got on with it" was more propaganda than fact. 


It is obvious people who had lost everything, house and family, the night before would not just go into work as usual. 


The Blitz must have had an extremely traumatic effect on people.  They lost things from cups and saucers to their entire life, their job, house and family in one night.  It must have been a tremendously upsetting, frightening experience. 

Effects of the Blitz

"After six months’ quiet, it was frightening to hear the anti-aircraft guns blazing away during the nightly bombing raids’


Even though some people were absolutely petrified of the bombs there were some who enjoyed the bombs.  One boy remembers being in his bedroom in Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland, and the siren was going off.  He remembers watching a German bomber being chased up the street by a Hurricane.  They weren’t firing but his father in a panic came to get him.  He remembers saying,


’No, wait a bit, some more might be coming.’ He reluctantly went down to the cellar ‘hoping some more would come the next night.’


For children the bombing changed their lives greatly.  Not only was there evacuation but there were other things happening to them as well.  They wouldn’t go to school much because of the raids and since they would have to stay at home to look after younger brothers and sisters because their mothers were at work.  Children were allowed a lot of freedom during the war.  They roamed the streets freely.  Parents were too busy with work, clearing damage and salvage to be with their children all the time.  The children had an exciting time during the war as well as a scary one.  Boys seem to enjoy the war more than girls. 

...and children

"it must have been an exciting time for boys during the war as they used to pretend they were Germans or Japanese fighting the English.  My brother collected army badges and belts, and swapped them with mates.  They revelled in it all." (Mrs.  E.  Topping)


Also they used to go and search through all the rubble looking for shrapnel.  They would make dens and clubs in the ruins of houses.  One boy remembers he was with his mother and father in the middle of an air raid when his father discovered a hole in the back of the shelter.  They had to move.  He later remembered that his friends and his "War effort had been to dig a Fox Hole (or try) we had chosen the back of the shelter" With children being allowed to roam free they could do what they wanted.  In the above case this could have caused his family to die. 


At first London was not prepared for all the bombing.  They couldn’t cope with all the casualties. 


"People who have lived here all their lives don’t know the way outside their doorstep.  I have never seen a place so beat.’


To protect the people from the bombing the government issued them with Anderson Shelters.  These were metal shelters.  You had to dig a hole at the end of your garden and construct this metal house.  One girl remembers planting some tiger lily bulbs next to the shelter.  They never blossomed once but when the shelter was removed ten years later they suddenly blossomed. 

Anderson Shelters

They weren’t very comfortable to stay in.  Some families would spend the whole night in them. 


"We would have our evening meal then go straight down into the air raid sheltep=


Not everyone would go into a shelter.  Some would go down into a cellar, Mrs Lindley’s remembers her cellar:


"At home we had the cellar re-enforced with timber-like pit-props and an emergency exit coming out by the front door-step.  It was cosy down there with rugs on the stone floor and easy chairs’


A survey in 1940 revealed that only 40% of Londoners took shelter during a raid.  The rest stayed in bed or under the stairs. 


Having to get up three or four times a night and go and sleep in an uncomfortable shelter was a huge change for the British.  They were used to spending a night in their own comfortable bed and now they had to go outside and down to the shelter every time the siren went off.  Some people set up the shelters in the house.  One boy remembers his front room shelter. 

Morrison Shelters

"It took up most of the front room which was a bit annoying when I wanted to run around, but it was quite good for playing other things.,, the best thing about it was being able to climb on top of it and use it as a stage to dance on.  It made a lovely clanging noise when you jumped.  Unfortunately dancing on top made bits of rust drop off onto the blankets’


The shelters were also put up in schools.  Children said that they didn’t use them much except in practices.  Schools would have air raid practices just like we have fire drills.  Sometimes they would hold classes in them.  Which was an exciting change for the children and the teachers.  Instead of having their normal lessons in a classroom they would have them in a small, concrete shelter. 

School Shelters

People also sheltered in Public Shelters.  Undergrounds were used.  People were sick of having to get up two or three times a night they decided that if they just went somewhere safe they could at least get a good night’s sleep.  People would go really early to the stations just to get a good place to sleep.  They would buy tickets and refuse to move from the station or walk along the lines to the next station. 

Public Shelters

"I would scoot out of the train ahead of my family and under the legs of people, unravelling the three or four scarves tied around me.  I bagged any space I could along the platform.  "


There was about 60,000 people sheltering in London’s 79 Underground stations.  People would queue for ages.  At first the place was horrible to stay in "The stench was frightful, urine and excrement mixed with strong carbolic, sweat and dirty humanity". 

The Underground

Gradually conditions got better, when the Salvation Army and the Women’s Voluntary Service started to run shuttle services of buns and drinks.  On 3rd March 1943 there was an underground disaster, which had the highest number of fatalities.  173 sheltering Londoners were crushed to death in a rush to take shelter from an impending air raid. 


Sheltering publicly was a great change for people.  They had to share spaces and sleep with people that they didn’t even know.  It affected them in the way that they had to put up with conditions they were not used to.  People’s sheltering techniques changed throughout the war.  At first they would go down into the shelter then some would go to public shelters while others would just risk it at home in bed. 


London was not the only place to be badly hit by the Germans monotonous bombing.  Coventry and other major industrial and important cities were also badly hit.  The raid on Coventry started on 14th November.  Compared with London Coventry was small and compact.  That night the whole of the city was wiped out as swarms of bombers attacked.  568 people were killed, and 863 were seriously injured.  21 factories were bombed and 9 were damaged so much that people could no longer work in them.  Everything was destroyed.  This was "the collapse of peoples ordinary lives".  From that night everything was going to change.  People were told to "Boil all drinking water".  The telephones were dead.  This affected peoples lives greatly.  They were very frightened and did not know what was happening to them.  The factories had to start working very soon afterwards. 

Coventry – effects

"Some of the factories were just covered in tarpaulins.  The only heating would be from coke braziers.  And they stuck at the machines day and night , twelve hours at a time, seven days a week" (Jack Jones, Transport and General Workers’ Union). 


This backs up the feeling that people just got on with their lives during the Blitz. 


The Blitz is absolutely full of myths.  There is one about when an air raid siren went off nobody ran to the shelters they just walked, calmly.  "It was not done to run’.  This is obviously a myth as when people were scared they would start to hurry to get to the shelter as fast as they could.  They would not just walk along as if they were out on a Sunday afternoon stroll.  If there were bombs dropping everywhere then they would run to safety as quickly as possible or they would die.  "You had to run for your life when the bombs started falling".  I am sure that if people thought it was a false alarm then they would walk slower.  One woman from Bishop Auckland remembers:

Myths of the Blitz

"The family used to hide in the cellars when the sirens went off.  However, that day we realised that grandad wasn’t there.  We rushed up in a panic to look for him and there he was standing on the street corner looking into the sky and saying ‘It’s a false alarm.  I can’t see any planes’ " He was in no rush to take shelter. 


Another myth of the Blitz was that everyone worked together to help each other.  The British came together as one.  J.B Priestly said that "We all got on very well together"


It is almost certainly true that when people had been bombed their neighbours would help them out but it was a bit much to say that everyone joined forces.  This was more propaganda than fact. 


So the Blitz had a great effect on the lives of the British Civilians.  The bombing caused not only the loss and damage to property and lives but a lot of emotional discomfort too.  People went through lots of changes.  They had shelters to go to and had to get up three or four times a night to go to them.  Some people’s sleeping arrangements changed dramatically.  They no longer slept in the privacy of their own house they slept in public shelter, like train stations.  Some people lost everything they owned during the Blitz.  Children’s lives changed dramatically by the fact that they were allowed to do pretty much what they liked.  They were given a lot of freedom but also a lot of responsibilities.  The Blitz had a huge effect on most British civilians and changed their lives dramatically.  There were a few people who didn’t experience any bombing at all but they got evacuees instead.  So the Blitz did really affect them as well. 



The Blackout affected British peoples’ lives dramatically during the war.  The Blackout was introduced because the government thought that any light being shone would show the German bombers where towns and factories were.  The blackout rules were announced


"All windows, doors, skylights or openings which would show a light must be screened offso that no light can be seen from outside.  Do not use a light in a room unless the blind or curtain is drawn"


People had to buy big thick heavy curtains to cover all windows and doors.  Sometimes they didn’t have the material so they would just paint the windows black.  This was a great change for people.  Suddenly they had complete blackness.  They weren’t allowed to let any light out so no light got in.  It affected people because they had to have their lights on in the house earlier. 


Street, lights were turned off as they would show off an easy target for the bombers.  Cars had to have their headlights blacked out.  After only a few weeks 4,000 people had been killed on the roads.  There more people killed on the roads than in the bombing.  They decided to make it safer they would leave little slits in the headlights to let a little light through.  Traffic lights had tiny little slits in.  "Everything was inky black".  This was a great change for people.  They were used to being able to walk down the street and ‘ be able to see where they were going when it was dark.  They could no longer do this.  Mr.  Clare remembers his mother’s story of how she was walking home alone one night and she heard footsteps behind her.  She started to walk faster and so did the footsteps.  Eventually she started to run and when she finally got to her front door she turned around to see her husband behind her.  He had been following her all along but she wasn’t able to see it was him.  The fact that people didn’t know who else was out scared them.  It was very dangerous for a people to be walking around the street alone at night.  They didn’t know whether they were about to fall down a hole or walk into something.  It was especially dangerous for women as they were wandering the streets on their own and could not see who else was there. 


"At first "doing the black-outs’ was an exciting ritual every evening, but when the novelty wore of it became merely another chore" (K daughter of a farmer from Sussex).  This shows how the blackout changed throughout the war.  People liked the excitement of being all in the dark but after a while it was boring. 


People believed the idea that the bombers could see any tiny amount of light so much that they didn’t even light a cigarette in the streets


The Air- Raid wardens checked that the Blackout procedures were being followed.  If they weren’t then the offenders were fined. 


The Blackout affected the British people greasy.  They could no longer have the light on with the curtains open, have car lights on, light a cigarette in the street or feel safe walking the streets at night.  The government decided to paint lampposts and kerbs white so that they were more visible during the night.  Another change was that cows were painted with white stripes, because they sometimes wandered onto the roads and if they were all black you wouldn’t be able to see them. 



Above are the main things that affected people during the war.  There were many other things that contributed to changing people’s lives during the war.  For example propaganda affected peoples’ lives greatly during the war.  Everything was positive trying to keep the British people’s hopes up.  The government didn’t want their own country turning against them so they produced masses and masses of posters, newsreels and radio broadcasts to keep their people going.  Entertainment is another thing that changed during the war.  People went out more to films.  Even though the cinemas were shut for awhile.  There were more parties.  Woman had more babies throughout the war as there was a chance that they wouldn’t see their husbands again. 


The war affected the lives of British civilians a lot in some cases and not so much in others.  Everyone was affected though.  Lots of peoples’ lives changed in so many ways throughout the war.  They turned their lives upside down to stay alive.  It is impossible to say that everyone was affected in the same way because this is not completely true.  Each individual was affected to a greater or lesser extent in their own individual way.