Sunday, June 16, 2013

Christmas 1940

By the end of 1940, 24,000 civilians had been killed in the Blitz and hundreds of thousands made homeless. In November, German bombers had obliterated Coventry city centre and there had been particularly fierce raids on Manchester and Liverpool in the days leading up to Christmas. The public were mourning the loss of their loved ones on the home front and in combat, as well as praying for the 41,000 British soldiers captured on the continent.

In order to avoid the bombs, many families spent some of the festive period in air-raid shelters and other places of refuge and decked out their temporary homes with makeshift decorations. Very short Christmas trees were in demand because of the height of shelters.

Assuming that gas or electricity was available, Christmas dinner would have still been a triumph of ingenuity. Turkey was unaffordable and most made do with other cuts of meat, which were still expensive. For example, a family of four’s weekly meat ration probably wouldn't cover the cost of a small chicken. One alternative was home-reared chickens or rabbits, much to the shock of young children who often regarded them as pets. Home-grown vegetables and chutneys would have also made the table.

Rations were scrimped and saved including ham, bacon, butter, suet and margarine. The tea and sugar rations were increased in the week before Christmas. Very little fruit was imported and nuts were very costly. Consequently, cooks had to improvise Christmas cakes and puddings devoid of dried fruit and marzipan, using instead sponge or other unlikely ingredients. Alcohol was available but, again, prohibitively expensive. There would have been no after-dinner French cheeses or brandy due the German occupation.

The public were discouraged from giving presents and encouraged to give as much as they could to the war effort. Almost £10 million in war bonds was sold in the week before Christmas. Consumer goods were becoming scarcer as the war wore on but a theme of air-raid-shelter-friendly presents emerged. Flasks and sleeping bags were in demand and even gas masks for dolls.

Home-made presents were popular too, as were second-hand ones. For working-class people ‘make do and mend’ was the norm. Dads carved sailing ships and dolls’ houses, whilst mums knitted with spare bits of wool and made sweets. Children’s gifts were also donated from other countries and charities. Postmen attempted to deliver millions of letters and parcels to streets that has been razed by the bombing, whilst many more civilian men and women were on duty in their roles as ARP wardens, Home Guardsman, Observers, fire fighters, ambulance drivers and other crucial occupations. Travel was discouraged; not just because of fuel rationing, but to keep roads and railways free for transporting war goods and returning troops.

Entertainment over the festive period included Charlie Chaplin satirising Hitler in ‘The Great Dictator’ and BBC Radio broadcasts of ‘Kitchen Front’, the King’s Speech and variety shows. The BBC also broadcast a Christmas sermon from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. Elsewhere, church services happened as normal but bells were not allowed to be rung, as this signified an invasion, and the windows were not allowed to be lit.

Mercifully, there was an unofficial postponement of the bombing by both sides from Christmas Eve until the 27th. Sunday 29th December marked one of the fiercest bombing raids of the whole Blitz – so fierce it caused what became known as the Second Great Fire of London. As the City rapidly became a raging inferno, the dome if St Paul’s Cathedral was photographed towering unscathed above the carnage. This became one of the most powerful images of the whole war, and one which inspired the British public on the eve of another year of conflict. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

VE Day

After the suicide of Hitler on 30th April 1945, it was left to Grand Admiral Donitz, who had been President of the Third Reich for a week, to surrender. Donitz travelled to General Eisenhower’s HQ at Reims in France and, in the presence of senior officers from Britain, American Russia and France, surrendered unconditionally to the Western and Russian demands on 7th May 1945.

The war-weary British began to rejoice straight away rather than waiting for the official day of celebration on the 8th. There had been years of austerity and rationing: five inches of water for the bath, few eggs, no bananas and the motto ‘make do and mend’. Half a million homes had been destroyed, thousands of civilians had been killed and many millions of lives disrupted. And although the casualty lists from the battlefields were lower than WWI, they were still terrible.
All across the nation people turned on the wireless to find out more. People were out on the streets, hanging bunting and banners and dancing.

Huge crowds gathered in London on the following day. At 3pm Churchill made a radio broadcast. In Trafalgar Square, as his voice was replayed over loudspeakers, an eye witness noted that ‘there was an extraordinary hush over the assembled multitude’.

King George VI and the Queen appeared eight times on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, while the two princesses – Margaret and Elizabeth – mingled with the crowds. Churchill later gave an impromptu speech on the balcony of the Ministry of Health, telling crowds, ‘This is your victory’.

All over the country people held fancy dress parades for children, got drunk, made a din, sang and danced in the streets, and went to church to give thanks to God for victory.

However, for the many people mourning a loved one killed in service or a German air raid, the moment of victory was bittersweet. For others, after the parties were over, there was a sense of anti-climax. Some found that they had lost a sense of purpose in their lives, a feeling exacerbated by the austerity to come. The war had been won, but the peace did not promise to be easy.

If VE Day drew a line under the past, the defeat of Churchill in the July 1945 General Elections signalled a new beginning. On 15th August, victory in Japan read the last rites of WWII. Compared to VE Day, VJ Day was a subdued affair. Britain had already begun to move on.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Blitz

Blitz, the German word for lightning, was applied by the British press to the tempest of heavy and frequent bombing raids carried out over Britain in 1940 and 1941. This concentrated, direct bombing of industrial targets and civilian centres began with heavy raids on London on 7th September 1940 during what became known as the Battle of Britain. Hitler and Herman Goering’s plans to destroy the Royal Air Force ahead of an invasion of Britain were failing and, also in response to a RAF raid on Berlin, they changed their tactics to the sustained bombing of civilian targets.

The scale of the attack rapidly escalated. In September alone, the Luftwaffe – the German air force – dropped 5,300 tonnes of high explosives on the capital in just 24 nights. In their efforts to ‘soften up’ the British population and to destroy morale before the planned invasion, German planes extended their targets to include major coastal ports and centres of production and supply.

The infamous bombing of Coventry on 14th November 1940 brought an even more terrifying twist to the campaign. Five hundred German bombers dropped 500 tonnes of high explosives and nearly 900 incendiary bombs on the city in 10 hours of relentless bombardment. This tactic was emulated on an even greater scale by the RAF in their attacks on German cities.

The British population had been warned in September 1939 that air attacks on cities were likely and civil defence preparations has been started some time before, both on a national and a local level. Those with gardens built simple corrugated steel Anderson shelters, covered over by earth. Larger civic shelters built of brick and concrete were erected in British town and a blackout was rigorously enforced after darkness.

The night raids become so frequent that they were practically continuous. Many people who were tired of repeatedly interrupting their sleep to go back and forth to the street shelters virtually took up residence in them. This gave rise to a new spirit of solidarity and community.

Londoners took what seemed to them an obvious and sensible solution to the problem and moved down into the tube stations in their thousands. At first, this was actively discouraged by the government. However, this popular action held sway and it was a common sight for a traveller on the underground in wartime London to pass through a station crowded with the sleeping bodies of men, women and children and their belongings.

The main air offensive against British cities diminished after May 1941, with the change of direction of the German war machine towards Russia. However, sporadic and lethal raids, using increasingly larger bombs, continued for several more years. The ‘Baedeker’ raids in 1942 targeted historic cities including Canterbury, York and Exeter, and the V-1 and supersonic V-2 rockets deployed between 1944 and 1945 killed nearly civilians

Thursday, June 13, 2013


When the war began in September 1939 the government knew that large cities would be the target for German bombs and that causalities would be high. Evacuation was introduced to move school children, teachers, mothers with children under the age of five and disabled people out of the cities to the countryside where there was little risk of bombing raids.

Evacuation was voluntary and the government expected more than three million people to take advantage of the scheme. However, by then end of September 1939 only 1.5 million people had be evacuated and more of those returned to their home when there were no bombing raids. When the Battle of Britain and the Blitz began in 1940, evacuation was re-introduced.

The children to be evacuated assembled in the school playground. They all wore name tags and had to carry their gas masks as well as their belongings. After saying goodbye to their parents they travelled by train or coach to their destination where they met the people who were to house them. Most of those evacuated had no idea what their life as an evacuee would be like nor when they would see their parents again. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Hi Everyone,

It seems to be major giveaway time of the year.

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Amazing Giveaway

Hi Everyone,

One of my favourite bloggers is having one of the most amazing giveaways ever.

Now go check it out and shout it from the roof top so we can get this amazing night off the ground and support the local companies!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Look who's back!!!

Hey Everyone!

I am back from a long awaited rest. As soon as I am back up and running I will putting up a good post to tell you whats been going on!!