Bomb damage to HMV (His Master’s Voice) gramophone shop, Oxford Street, London, 1940. The shop had been opened by Sir Edward Elgar in 1921Photograph: Cecil Beaton/Imperial War Museum
The Blitz, London, 1942. A workman with a wheelbarrow clears up fallen debris from the roof of St Mary-le-Bow after its first bombing. Subsequently the church was completely destroyed. The church was rebuilt after the war. It was said that a genuine Cockney was a person born within the sounds of the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow. Photograph: Cecil Beaton/Imperial War Museum
Bomb damage to the church of St Lawrence Jewry, Guildhall, London, 1940. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the church suffered major damage during the Blitz and was rebuilt to Wren’s original design in 1957. Photograph: Cecil Beaton/Imperial War Museum
London Blitz: Young woman pulled alive from rubble of bombed building by London Air Raid Precaution emergency workers
Payback is a Bitch
Stuttgart after a visit from RAF Bomber Command in 1943
Usually tougher than nazi bombs,anderson shelters, were named after home secretary John Anderson. He also served as MINISTER OF HOME SECURITy, A WARTIME DEPARTMENT, ATTACHED TO THE HOME OFFICE.
“While a properly installed Anderson shelter could withstand the effects of a hundred-pound bomb falling six feet away, Anderson shelters often leaked, were cold, dark and cramped and amplified the noise of falling bombs.”
While given free to people of limited means, others had to pay £7. Anderson shelters were useful only to the middle class because one had to have a garden (backyard in the US) as usually referred to in England. More than three million were eventually erected in gardens throughout those cities in England often bombed by the Nazis. (source: Warrior Race: A History of the British at War, by Lawrence James. 2003)
Unfortunately, the fourteen galvanized and corrugated steel plates which were bolted together to create the Anderson shelter weren’t waterproof. Unless one took extra measures, as many did, to make the shelter more comfortable, it wasn’t easy to get a restful night’s sleep. The shelters were often damp or even had standing water in them. They were cold. People waited until bombs got close to run to their Anderson shelters because they didn’t like being in one.
The reference to the landmine falling a few feet away is slightly inaccurate. What the Germans dropped were heavy sea mines which could break through heavy roofs, even ones made from cement, and the go off, creating a powerful explosion. Having learned this technique from the Germans, the Allies dropped sea mines on Nazi Germany.
Obviously, this was an upper working class family given how well the children are dressed and that they have a back garden which provided enough room to dug in the Anderson shelter. The box around the boy’s neck is his gas mask.
An Anderson shelter stands intact amongst a scene of debris in Norwich, c.1941
(photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)
“Anderson shelters – named after Sir John Anderson – consisted of two curved corrugated sheets of steel, bolted together at the top and sunk three feet into the ground, then covered with eighteen inches of earth. If constructed correctly, they could withstand the effects of a hundred-pound bomb falling six feet away. However, many Anderson shelters leaked, were cold, dark and cramped and amplified the noise of falling bombs.”
The first country in the Western world to conscript women
An Auxiliary Territorial Service spotter with binoculars at an anti-aircraft command post, December 1942. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)
BBC: “In December 1941, the National Service Act (no 2) made the conscription of women legal. At first, only single women aged 20-30 were called up, but by mid-1943, almost 90 percent of single women and 80 percent of married women were employed in essential work for the war effort.”
Motor Mechanic Princess Elizabeth
The government avoided conscription of women as long as possible relying on what Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin called “voluntaryism.” Eventually that didn’t produce the large numbers of people required to keep the country at war. When conscription of women came about, it didn’t cause much comment. There was simply no other way to keep factories working. What surprised the men in charge, was how competent women were.
‘ATS girls’ operate a mobile power plant on an anti-aircraft gun site at night. (photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)
Until the advent of radar controlled AA fire, which did not come until much later in the war, and radar equipped RAF night fighters, which took years, the ack-ack barrages during German bombing attacks didn’t shoot down many German planes but were a major boost to morale.
ANTI-Aircraft command faced critical shortage of personnel
Anti-Aircraft Command and its subordinate commands such as Balloon Command (barrage balloons) were a key component of the combined arms formation known as “Air Defence of Great Britain” which came under the operational control of RAF Fighter Command.
The British armed forces had been compelled to abandon an enormous number of their anti-aircraft guns in France after they fell back on Dunkirk and were lifted off by the famous “little ships.” (Actually, the Royal Navy lifted off 80% of British soldiers rescued at Dunkirk but the myth is more interesting and inspiring).
As more and more anti-aircraft guns were manufactured and put in place to protect British cities from German bombers, a critical shortage of personnel developed in Anti-Aircraft Command. By the end of 1940, Sir Frederick Pile, Commander-in-Chief of AA informed the government he was short of more than 100 officers and almost 18,000 enlisted personnel or ‘other ranks’ as known in the UK. (Wartime: Britain 1939 to 1945 by Juliet Gardiner)
“Something drastic had to be done. I suggested… that women should be employed in large numbers in an operational role…” Sir Frederick Pile, Commander-in-Chief, Anti-Aircraft Command, 1939 to 1945.
A member of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) serving with a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun battery, December 1942.
Military and labour requirements of World War Two could not be met by solely by males or by women volunteers. Great Britain thus became the first nation in the Western world to conscript women into both industry and support functions in the Forces.
Great Britain mobilized a larger percentage of its population, 55%, for war-related work either in the Forces or in supporting roles than any of the Western powers including Nazi Germany. We assume that a totalitarian state such as Nazi Germany would be able to compel its citizens to work in a larger percentage than a democracy but that wasn’t the case. The National Service (#2) Act became law on 18 December 1941 thus marking the UK as the first nation in the world to conscript women.
Because of their ideology that women belonged in the home raising the next generation of National Socialists, the Nazis hesitated to compel German women to work. Eventually they were forced to but nonetheless, they never reached the 55% civilian mobilization of the British.
Of course, the Nazis used slave labor conscripted at gunpoint from nations they had conquered and the British did not. The National Service (#2) Act became law on 18 December 1941 thus marking the UK as the first nation in the world to conscript women.
Women producing bullets and cannon shells in an underground munitions factory on the Wirral, Merseyside, 1945 Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA
Land Army members sawing larch poles for use as pit props at the Women’s Timber Corps training camp at Culford, Suffolk, 1943. Photograph: IWM/PA
There 5,000 women in the Timber Corps at it largest. They referred to themselves as “polecats.” Timber was an urgent wartime need of the British. Prior to the war, the Great Britain had imported a much of their wood including telegraph poles and pit props for use in coal mines. Pit props were especially critical because an adequate supply of coal was crucial since the country ran on coal.
Railroad engines, electric generating plants required immense amounts of coal. Further, combustible coal gas similar to natural gas was produced from coal and used for cooking and heating and for various uses by industry. Many householders and building owners used coal either in boilers or directly into coal burning fireplaces.
Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) plotters at work at Coastal Artillery Headquarters in Dover, December 1942 Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA
While not well known, Great Britain had a number of heavy artillery pieces mounted in fixed positions along the coast of the English Channel. Some of these were meant to help repel a German invasion and others were used to fire on German ships using the English Channel. (Germans had coastal artillery on the French side of the Channel). Coastal artillery was never very effective.
Men and women at a war workers’ canteen watch lunchtime entertainment. Millions of women were conscripted into factory work.
Comments Charles McCain: The British version of the USO was known as ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) and had the responsibility of supplying entertainment of all types to the forces and the civilian workforce. Programs were of mixed quality and there were many who said ENSA was an acronym meaning “Every Night Something Awful”
Now Queen Elizabeth II, she trained as a mechanic and was supposedly quite good at it.
“Colour film was a scarce commodity during the Second World War, making the reproduction of printed works both difficult and expensive. Between 1942 and 1945 some 3,000 colour photographs were taken by The Ministry of Information for official records, which subsequently became part of the IWM archives in 1949.”
British paratroopers prepare for a practice jump from an RAF Dakota based at Down Ampney in Wiltshire, 22 April 1944. (Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)
Dakota was the name the RAF gave to the US made C-47. Civilian version is DC-3.
Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) preparing parachutes for use by British airborne forces during the invasion of Europe, May 1944. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
A crew from the 16th/5th Lancers, 6th Armoured Division, clean the gun barrel of their Crusader tank at El Aroussa in Tunisia, May 1943. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
British soldiers admire the Caryatids on the Acropolis while sight-seeing in Athens, October 1944. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
Dutch civilians dance in the streets after the liberation of Eindhoven by Allied forces, September 1944. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
An Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden inspects damaged buildings in Holborn, London. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
A 5.5-inch gun crew from 75th (Shropshire Yeomanry) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, in action in Italy, September 1943. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
Lancaster Bombers nearing completion in Avro’s Assembly Plant at Woodford near Manchester, 1943. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
Taking shelter in the Underground stations wasn’t a great experience. Early in the Blitz there were few sanitary facilities and people who lived through the era often write about the stench of underground stations.
While no more than 3% of Londoners used the tube stations as bomb shelters, photographs such as these became iconic images showing the determination of Londoners not to let the Nazis break their will.
(The sign in the window to the right of the tube car door informs passengers that this is a non-smoking car. In 1940)
This is probably a section of the Picadilly Line which was no longer in use when the war began.
For fear the German Luftwaffe would be able to use the smallest pinprick of light as an aiming point, a blackout lasting from sunset till dawn was imposed on 1 September 1939 throughout the United Kingdom (with the exception of Northern Ireland).
For most people in the Great Britain this was the first tangible effect of the war and it had wide ranging effects from an increase in motor car collisions to large numbers of people being run down by trams to depression. For many months nothing actually happened but when the London Blitz began people were happy they had stocked up with various items.
These photos of the era are fascinating since they show only well-to-do middle and upper middle class people shopping for blackout items at Selfridge’s. This was a high end department store with its flagship London store on Oxford Street where these posed photographs were taken. No allowance was given homeowners or renters to purchase blackout materials or paint.
It is difficult for us to picture what it would be like to live in a urban area such as London and once night fell, discover it was almost impossible to see anything. Literally. Unless there was moonlight, you could barely see your hand in front of your face. People tripped and fell constantly and many injured themselves badly. While the street curbs (kerbs to the Brits) were eventually painted white that didn’t help a lot.
Worse, in many areas the residential voltage was decreased by almost 50%. When you finally made it home from work, put up your blackout curtains and turned on the lights, they only burned dimly. You couldn’t see very well and even reading could be difficult.
The blackout was enforced by ubiquitous ARP (Air Raid Precaution) wardens who would issue you at summons if you were violating the very strict blackout regulations. This included the smallest chink of light from a blackout curtain improperly closed. 300,000 people throughout the UK were taken to court for committing blackout offenses. (source: Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 by Juliet Gardiner)
Gardiner also wrote that “Shopkeepers who transgressed the lighting regulations were made an example of…” and fines exceeding £50 were imposed on some at a time when a small car could be purchased for £120.
In the early 1930s Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin declared “the bomber will always get through.” This turned out to be a statement as stupid as Stanley Baldwin. There was great fear among the authorities that the bombing of London, for instance, would reduce the citizens to panic, lunacy or lethargy. The government theorized that 600,000 people in London would have nervous breakdowns after one or two bombing raids and the city would be filled with gibbering idiots. It was though that even a small tonnage of bombs dropped by the Nazis would wreck London.
None of this turned out to be true. It is quite amazing the circumstances in which people are able to carry on.
The price of 14/6 translates for us Americans as 14 shillings, six pence. Until 1971, British currency was not on the decimal system. Instead it was based on 240 pence to one British pound (£). Twelve pence made a shilling and twenty shillings made a pound. There were a number of coins such as farthing, half a crown etc which were worth a certain number of pence.
An unskilled working man would be lucky to make £1 for a fifty hour week. So this walking stick would cost an entire weeks’ pay for a unskilled worker. Women made less.
The walking stick would cost about £40 pounds today which would be approximately US$51.00 dollars based on the exchange rate of of May 2017.
Slang for pound is “quid,” thought to come from the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” defined by Merriam-Webster as “something given or received for something else.”
“The derivation is interesting. According to Merriam-Webster, “In the early 16th century, a quid pro quo was something obtained from an apothecary. That’s because when quid pro quo was first used in English, it referred to the process of substituting one medicine for another—whether intentionally (and sometimes fraudulently) or accidentally.”
(photographs and captions and article courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)
“A fire-watcher on duty at a factory in Upper Norwood, South London, 1944. German bombers usually dropped a combination of high explosive and incendiary bombs. Incendiaries would quickly start fierce fires unless they were extinguished immediately. To combat incendiaries, people were encouraged to volunteer as fire-watchers and to draw up rotas with their neighbours. Air raid wardens issued stirrup pumps and trained people how to use them. Factories and other work places also needed fire-watchers, and at the end of 1940, fire-watching duty became compulsory. D 17934.”
How Britain Prepared for Air Raids
During the late 1930s, the British government began to prepare the civilian population for war.
As well as the widely expected and feared bombing raids, it was also thought that poison gas might be used against civilians. Gas masks were issued in 1938, and over 44 million had been distributed by the outbreak of war in September 1939.
“Air raid wardens were issued with steel helmets. These helmets were similar to the steel helmets issued to soldiers in the First World War and protected the wearer from falling shrapnel or debris. Steel helmets were also issued to firefighters, police officers and other members of civil defence services, and soon became a recognisable symbol of authority.” (caption and photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
The Air Raid Wardens Service was set up in 1937. Wardens were responsible for reporting incidents, reassuring the public and providing Air Raid Precautions (ARP) advice. They were also expected to extinguish small fires, administer first aid and investigate reports of unexploded bombs. The Women’s Voluntary Service was set up in 1938 to involve women in ARP.
The first air raid shelters were distributed in 1938. People without the outside space needed to put one up were encouraged to use communal shelters instead. The government was initially reluctant to allow London Underground stations to be used as shelters, although they were later forced to back down.
From 1938, in response to fears that air attacks on Britain might include the use of poison gas, the entire British population was issued with gas masks. Most people received the standard civilian pattern respirator. Air raid wardens, by contrast, received a higher grade of respirator. This is a civilian duty respirator. Unlike the standard civilian model, it features separate glass eye pieces, an exhalation valve and could be adapted to accept a microphone. Although poison gas was never used against Britain during the Second World War, masks like this became another common symbol of wartime life. Though masks were potentially lifesaving pieces of equipment, they tended to make their wearers appear terrifyingly alien and dehumanised. (Photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)
From 1 September 1939, ‘Blackout’ was enforced. Curtains, cardboard and paint were used to prevent light escaping from houses, offices, factories or shops, which might be used by enemy bombers to locate their targets. Householders could be fined if they did not comply.
Messengers, ambulance drivers, Heavy Rescue teams and firefighters all proved essential to ARP – from 1941 officially termed Civil Defence – especially during the height of the Blitz.
Almost 7,000 Civil Defence workers were killed during the war.”
This is a stirrup pump and hose, used to put out small fires. It would be used by two people – one working the pump, which stands in a bucket of water, and a second holding the hose and nozzle, to point a jet of water onto the fire. During the Blitz incendiary (fire-starting) bombs were used in large numbers. A warden might be the first person to respond to an incendiary attack and would use a pump like this to fight the fire. Wardens would also train others in the use of stirrup pumps like these. (photo and caption courtesy Imperial War Museum)