On Saturday 7th September the Blitz began. Hitler’s target was the London dock; this was so he could stop importation and exportation of food and other vital products. The first set of bombers dropped over 300 tons of high explosives and thousands of incendiaries on the waterfront. Britain struggled to prevent these attacks as they only had 92 heavy guns. The streets in West Ham, Poplar, Stepney and Bermondsey were mildly affected. The burning warehouses situated in the docks lit the way for 250 German bombers. Two hundred and fifty acres worth of timber was ablaze. London was in a state of turmoil. Thousands of people lost their homes and had no choice but to live on the streets. Some were fortunate, and were able to live with their friends, neighbours, or family.
The fire services were inadequate, as they were not prepared for this dramatic event. For the next 65 nights, London was bombed from dusk till dawn. Just when people thought the bombing was over, another one hit. The bombing was almost continuous. Other cities were attacked including Coventry. On 14th November 30,000 incendiaries were dropped over Coventry killing 554 civilians. Three quarters of the city was reduced to a pile of rubble including the cathedral, this was the most devastating attack ever on a one city. This shows what a terrible effect the Blitz must of had on everyday life.
The raids on Britain’s cities produced a feature known as ‘trekking’. This was when people had finished work; they would leave their city or town for the countryside. They slept where they could and returned to work in the morning. When this happened some cities seemed like ghost towns. I know that the majority of those who trekked were the same people which kept on turning up for work. A newspaper reported, “Tonight some of the cities streets are nothing more than a desert of dusty rubble. They are streets that the citizens leave for the countryside when night falls”. Understandably there was widespread fear during the Blitz. Londoners escaped to Epping Forest during the bombing of the East End.
Getting enough workers was one of the many problems Britain had to contend with. The Government felt it was important to ensure that people were directed towards the jobs that were most needed to help the war effort. Some were not so pleasant or well paid as others, but once there; the government tried to keep them in those jobs. Many women joined the Women’s Land Army to work on the land. Thousands of women joined the Women’s Voluntary Service. The work was backbreaking, often in terrible weather. These women organised food, kitchens and provided clothes for people in need. Their efforts were vital in keeping up the morale of the country. By the end of the war nine out of ten single women worked in the forces or industry. Over three million married women worked in factories. Churchill said, “We could never have survived without the contribution of our women”.
Food ‘Ration Books’ were first introduced in early 1940. The ration book consisted of cheap thin paper with a page or two of instructions printed on it at the beginning. The instructions told you how to get registered with a tradesman and to inscribe their names in blank spaces. This was followed by a variety of food items that were given a ‘coupon’ value. The coupons were labelled butter, sugar, meat, milk, etc which were then exchanged for the goods. The ministry of food gave the public advice on how they could make appetizing meals from their limited rations. People thought of ways to get more food, one way was to grow their own. Some managed to grow several types of vegetables; these included potatoes, carrots and cabbages. To encourage people to grow food two slogans were set-up, they were; “Grow Your Own” and “Dig For Victory”.
Materials for clothes were very limited. The reason why was because it was used for uniforms and parachutes for the armed forces. So therefore clothes rationing was issued in May 1941. During the first year sixty-six coupons were allocated to each adult to use for the year. In the following year material for clothes at an all time low, so the coupon allowance was reduced from sixty six to forty eighty coupons per adult. To reduce material wastage people were encourage to ‘Make – do and mend’.
Before the war had officially started there was already undergoing plans for evacuations, which would involve mothers and their children to escape the threat of war and move to an area that was thought much safer than where they was. There was an estimated 2 million adults and children evacuated during the war. Evacuation was intended to provide safe homes for those evacuated, but for some it lead to terrible experiences. The whole evacuation process proved to be a great shock to all concerned.
The evacuees had little idea what was happening to them. On many occasions the guardians were unaware on where their children were going. The government had assured the parents that their children would be well looked after, for worrying parents this was there only hope, and had to rely on the government’s word. For lots of families evacuation meant the horrible prospect of once being split apart the chance of reuniting being very slim. There were some successful evacuation stories, but for all concerned it was a worrying time and for many the end couldn’t have come quickly enough.
When the Blitz started it was necessary to take precautions. Air Raid Precautions (ARP) was the first concern for the Civil Defence Authorities. Preparations for air raids had begun as early as 1938. The governments in July 1939 issued a public information leaflet. The information leaflet was named ‘Some Things You Should Know If War Should Come’. There was a key figure in the ARP; this was the air raid warden. There were male and female ARW’s, who were mostly part time volunteers.
They did much of the organisational work before the bombing took place, but also while the bombings were going on. One of the wardens Catch Phrase was ‘Put that Light Out’, which was more commonly known as Black outs. One of the warden’s responsibilities was to ensure that everyone had been issued with a gas mask, so that in the unlikely event of a poisonous gas attacked the civilians were prepared.
There were many precautions against the effects of air raids, one of which was the provision of air raid shelters. Large communal shelters were built in most towns. It wasn’t until 1941 that shelters were equipped with bunk beds and toilet facilities. Once darkness fell thousands of people carrying rugs and a small supply of food made their way towards London’s tube stations. For less than one penny tickets were brought to allow entrance into the tube for the night. Individual shelters were also issued to households to be constructed outside, these were known as the Anderson shelters. Later on the Morrison shelter was introduced for indoor use. The shelters were made have steel and offer excellent protection against quite heavy debris.
From all my research, I have found that the Blitz had a dramatic effect on everyday life. The whole of the British civilian population was affected in some way by the Blitz. The Blitz took its toll on the city dwellers, especially London and the East End. Rationing affected virtually everyone except those who could grow their own supplies. Children, mothers and hosts were affected by evacuation and the whole population, regardless of where they lived was affected by the blackout and the threat of poison gas attacks.
For those who survived the immediate effect of the post war years was that life for most people was a good deal better than it had been in the 1930’s, despite the fact that high taxation continued, austerity and rationing remained and there was a severe shortage in housing. The effects of the Blitz were devastating, catastrophic and costly on life. The devastation that the Blitz caused was so much more than first thought.