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Britain Prepares for War

Discussion in 'The Home Front' started by Jim, Oct 11, 2006.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    In Britain, preparations for the possibility of mass bombing had begun long before the war broke out. By the end of September 1938 some 38 million gas masks had been given out, house to house, to British families. They were never to be needed. Yet these cumbersome items loomed large in everyday life during the early stages of the war. They were carried in square cardboard cartons under the arm, or slung in knapsacks over the shoulder. Fitted onto the head they made breathing difficult and smelt of rubber and disinfectant. Children discovered, to their delight, that you could blow rude noises by exhaling sharply into them so that their clammy side pieces vibrated against the cheeks.

    During the early weeks of the War, daily life in officers, shops, schools and factories was often disturbed by gas mask drills.

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    The steel-built, tunnel-shaped Anderson shelter, erected in people's gardens, proved more valuable. In February 1939 the Home Office - the government department responsible for law and order and people's safety - announced plans to distribute shelters to thousands of homes in the areas most likely to be hit; the shelters took their name from Sir John Anderson, the Lord Privy Seal in charge of air-raid precautions. About 2 million shelters had been issued by September 1939. Made from six curved sheets bolted together at the top, with steel plates at either end, and measuring 6ft 6in by 4ft 6in (1.95m by 1.35m), the Anderson shelters could accommodate six people, or more if bunks were suitably arranged. A shelter could be erected by two people without experience, and was half buried in the ground with earth heaped on top.

    As early as spring 1939, corrugated steel Anderson shelters were being delivered to these homes in a north London suburb. They proved damp and prone to flooding, but they did save lives.

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    Leaflets about home defence were pushed through letter-boxes during the summer of 1939, advising on how a cellar or basement might be converted into a refuge room, and how sandbags might be stacked to protect against bomb blast. There was guidance on blackout restrictions, too, that sent people scurrying out to buy thick curtains, blackout paint, cardboard, brown paper and drawing pins, all to blot out the least glimmer of light from windows in case it should help enemy bombers.
    The blackout proper began on the night of September 1, 1939, when all street lights were turned off and cars crawled along roads with their headlights extinguished. The results were alarming. Pedestrians tripped over kerb stones, twisted ankles, or crashed into one another on the pavement. In that first September the number of road accidents soared, and the total killed on the road almost doubled.

    After the fall of France, street names and signposts were dismantled to confuse any invading Germans.

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    In 1939 there were already 1.5 million people involved in civil defence, including air-raid wardens, ambulance drivers, first-aid helpers and fire fighters. More than two-thirds of them were volunteers recruited in their local boroughs and amongst the most conspicuous were the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) wardens, kitted out in tin helmets and blue overalls. The WVS (Women's Voluntary Service) was an organisation whose members staffed field kitchens, rest centres, hostels and nurseries.
    Municipal shelters were built of brick and concrete, and trench shelters were dug in parks. While these precautions were being taken, city authorities were quietly estimating the number of cardboard coffins that would be needed after an air attack. City skies were transformed by the appearance of huge silver barrage balloons, floating like shoals of friendly whales over roof tops. Each was moored by its hawser to a wagon with a winch on its back. Their cables were designed to stop low flights and pinpoint bombing by enemy aircraft, and many people found them a reassuring presence. Sometimes, though, in bad weather a balloon had to be cut free and would go wildly out of control, trailing wires that smashed chimney-pots, damaged roofs or cut trolley-bus cables.
    There were more precautions still. The Registrar General proclaimed that everyone was to have an identity card and number in the event of war. On the Saturday before war began, pictures from the National Gallery left London to be stored for safety in a quarry in Wales. Hundreds of thousands of people streamed out of the cities for the safety of friends' houses or country hotels in the West Country and Scotland. And on 1 September, as Hitler's troops crossed into Poland, the official evacuation began.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Evacuees​


    All kinds of people were regarded by the Government as suitable for evacuation to relative safety outside the big towns and cities. They included about 25,000 civil servants and their documents. But children, above all, were thought to need protection. No one was compelled to go, but the authorities offered plenty of encouragement and in September 1939 the number of official evacuees was about 1 million.
    It was an epic undertaking, long planned with practice marches out of the school gates. On the first morning of the exodus, journalists reported a strange quietness in the streets as vast armies of youngsters passed by, labelled and clutching their gas masks, heading for the buses that would carry them to the main line stations. After their train journey they arrived at an often unknown destination tired, hungry and uncertain whether they would ever see their families again. On arrival there were 'pick your evacuee' sessions where hosts haggled over the most presentable children while the sicklier and grubbier were left until last. Evacuees were billeted on people if you had spare room you had to take them in. Complaints of thieving, swearing, bed-wetting and general smelliness were made time and again against the 'townie' children who came in disproportionate numbers from the slums and backstreets of Britain's big cities.

    When schoolchildren were evacuated from city to countryside their teachers went too, and classes were sometimes held out of doors. It was all very new to many town children. 'They call this spring, Mum, and they have one down here every year', one evacuee wrote.

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    Genteel spinsters and quiet bachelors were expected to cope with streetwise urchins suffering, perhaps, from scabies or impetigo. The children's sanitary habits were alarming, A Glasgow mother, evacuated with her six-year-old, was reported to exclaim: 'You dirty thing, messing up the lady's carpet. Go and do it in the corner.' (In tenements lacking decent sanitation it was sometimes still the habit to urinate on newspaper indoors.) Small wonder that there was friction, with hosts paid only a meagre sum for a child's board and lodging.
    The city-bred children were often homesick and disorientated. Many had never seen green fields or cows before. Knives and forks were a novelty. Underwear was greeted with incomprehension. Some later remembered their experience with fondness, recalling kindly hosts, the pleasures of blackberry picking expeditions, stealing apples from orchards and other country delights. But the episode was generally a failure. All through the autumn of the so-called Phoney War, when no bombs fell to justify the exodus, the evacuees trickled back to the towns.

    The Home Guard ​


    For months after the outbreak of war, the expected swarms of German bombers failed to appear over British cities. This strange, edgy period known as the Phoney War lasted well into 1940, but the evacuation of the British army from the Channel port of Dunkirk and the fall of France prompted real fears of invasion. In May 1940 War Minister Anthony Eden called for a new defence force to be set up. It was originally known as the LDV (Local Defence Volunteers): recruits were supposed to be between 17 and 65 years of age and the only fitness requirement was that they should be 'capable of free movement'. The response was immense. A quarter of a million men joined within a week and the numbers had doubled by July when, at Churchill's suggestion, the force was renamed the Home Guard.

    The Local Defence Volunteers, or Home Guard, were recruited to resist invasion. The park-keeper volunteers (above) were lucky to have rifles for inspection. In the early days many drilled with sporting guns, clubs or broom handles. By 1942 the Home Guard was being taken more seriously.

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    The volunteers were not paid and, in the early days, few were equipped with rifles; one gun had to serve for ten men on average. Whiskery old veterans of World War I, and earlier, paraded alongside beardless boys, drilling with sporting guns, walking sticks, golf clubs, broom handles - whatever was available. The Home Guard's task was to keep watch on coasts, public buildings, roads, railways and so on for signs of enemy invaders, who might come by parachute as well as in seaborne landings. Home Guard members also did important work in bringing in enemy airmen who had been forced to bale out of wrecked aircraft.

    The blackout began on September 1, 1939. Speed restrictions came into force and white lines were painted on kerbs and lampposts to help motorists and pedestrians.

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    Although trains kept running, they were slow and crowded, their carriages lit (if at all) only by dim blue pinpoints of light.

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  3. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    This photo also shows an evacuee, just one of 1.3 million sent away from danger starting two days before the outbreak of war:



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    And one of the Home Guard, shown in 1940:

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