Problems on the Home Front

Not Everything was Rosy


As you do your studies of Britain during WWII, are you interested in a few stories that do NOT fit the normal bill of 'everyone pulling together' and the 'wartime spirit'?

An historian called John Simkin has made a list of examples where everything in the garden wasn't so rosy.   The question is - why did the government propaganda machine continue to feed people the line that everyone was united and determined to fight the invader?


Source A   Bad Behaviour on the Home Front


I have just [read] David Thomasís new book An Underworld at War (John Murray). Most of the research comes from studying local newspapers during the war and looking at official statistics. The book is fascinating and would make a good holiday read. Here are just a few of the stories that came out of the book:

(1) Jack Brack was rejected as unfit for service because of an enlarged heart. A few months later it was arrested and charged with impersonating eight different men at military medical boards. It was discovered in court that one man, a master tailor, had paid Brack £200 (£8,000 in today's money) for this work.

(2) Some doctors were willing to issue false medical certificates to friends and relatives. An investigation carried out by the General Medical Council resulted in several doctors being struck off for "infamous conduct". Other did it for profit. One doctor from London was found guilty of charging a man £367.10s. (£14,700) for his certificate.

(3) At one stage in the war there were over 24,500 men who were wanted for desertion. At the end of 1941 the government ordered a "round-up" of deserters. When police raided a Plymouth funfair they discovered that almost two-thirds of adult males checked did not have identity cards.

(4) The problem of desertion became worse when soldiers knew they were about to be sent abroad. Official figures show that large numbers of men due to take part in the D-Day invasion deserted. Between 6th June 1944 and 31st March 1945 36,366 of these soldiers were arrested by the Military Police, of these, 10,363 were charged with desertion.

(5) One of the most shocking crimes committed during wartime was the looting of bombed houses. In the first eight weeks of the London Blitz a total of 390 cases of looting was reported to the police. On 9th November, 1940, the first people tried for looting took place at the Old Bailey. Of these twenty cases, ten involved members of the Auxiliary Fire Service.

(6) In Leeds a judge announced that "more than two whole days have been occupied in dealing with cases of looting which have occurred in one city (Sheffield)... In many cases these looters have operated on a wholesale scale. There were actually two-men who had abandoned well-paid positions, one of them earning £7 to £9 a week, and work of public importance, and who abandoned it to take up the obviously more remunerative occupation of looting."

(7) Chief Inspector Percy Datlen, reported what happened in Dover after one heavy raid: "In cases where there are several houses bombed out in one street, the looters have systematically gone through the lot. Carpets have been stripped from the floors, stair carpets have been removed: they have even taken away heavy mangles, bedsteads and complete suites of furniture."

(8) Widespread fraud was another consequence of the Blitz. The government agreed to pay compensation for people who had been bombed out. Those who owned their houses and lost them during an air raid had to wait until after the war to receive their full compensation, but they could claim an advance of £500 (£20,000) with £50 (£2,000) for furniture and £20 (£800) for clothes. So many people were losing their homes during 1940 that officials of the local National Assistance Office did not have enough time to check people's claims. This was made even more difficult when the people claimed their identity card and ration book had also been destroyed during the air raid. By 1941 the government realised that they were paying out more than they should and extra staff were brought in to make more detailed checks on the claims being made. One of the first to appear in court was Walter Handy, who was sent to prison for three years for falsely claiming he had been "bombed out" nineteen times in five months.

(9) Juvenile Delinquents were blamed for the increasing crime-rate. By February 1941 the government announced that all the country's remand homes were full. Soon afterwards two boys of 14 and 15 escaped from Wallington remand home and broke into the Home Guard store at Upper Norwood. Luckily they were arrested before they could do too much damage with their tommy-gun and 400 rounds of ammunition.

(10) In August 1942 Parliament passed the United States of America (Visiting Forces) Act. This enabled American servicemen to be arrested by their own police, interrogated by their own Criminal Investigation Division, tried in their own courts and imprisoned and sometimes executed, in their own prisons (United States Army Disciplinary Training Centres). This caused some problems concerning the differences between the two country's legal system. For example, eight American servicemen were hanged in Britain after being found guilty of rape during the war. Opponents of capital punishment pointed out that like in the United States, the majority of the men executed for this offence were black.

(11) In 1944, Leroy Henry, a black soldier from St. Louis, who was sentenced to death for raping a white woman in the village of Combe Down. Local people were aware that Leroy Henry had been having a relationship with the woman and tended to believe his story that she accused him of rape after he refused to pay her money. Others were concerned about the way he had been beaten by the Military Police during their investigation. Over 33,000 local people signed a petition calling for Leroy Henry to be reprieved. It was sent to General Dwight Eisenhower and he eventually agreed to grant the soldier his freedom.

(12) The government passed legislation that attempted to control people's behaviour in air raid shelters. If someone was found to "wilfully disturb other persons in the proper use of an air raid shelter" he could be sent to prison. In December 1941, fifty-three-year-old George Hall was sent to prison under this legislation. In fact, he was guilty of snoring in a shelter. He had been warned by the shelter marshal but continued to snore and was eventually arrested by the police for the offence. When the judge sentenced him to 14 days in prison he replied "I can't help what I do when I'm asleep".

John Simkin (


The Home Front - the amazing online encyclopaedia at Spartacus