History: War and the Transformation of British Society 1931-51

Key events and explanations of events including the Jarrow Crusade, the decline in British Industry as well as The Battle of Britain and The Blitz.


The Depression 1929-39

  • 29 October 1929 - Wall Street Crash.
  • Prior to the Depression, Britain was thriving on 'old industries'. However these survived on exports. After the Crash, demand for Britain's relatively expensive exports dropped.
  • Keys areas of British industry that suffered were Coal, Textiles, Iron and steel and Shipbuilding.
  • Large areas of Britain were deeply affected by the Depression. However the South-east was enjoying the rewards of 'new industries' such as car manufacture.
  • The Government set up a variety of measures to take Britain through the Depression.
  • For example, the Means Test which was an assessment of people's belongings and worth in order to allow them to receive the 'dole'.
  • Another key measure put in place was the Special Areas Act 1934.
  • This act involved the government offering grants to companies that moved to 'Special Areas' (areas that were suffering the worst).
  • However, unemployment only came down slowly because the new estates could not replace the 'old industries'.
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The Jarrow Crusade 1936

  • Jarrow was the worst affected town of all during the Depression.
  • In the past they had been a popular shipyard and much of the population relied on the shipping industry for their livelihood.
  • However, the industry declined rapidly after WW1 and especially after the Wall Street Crash.
  • Many of the habitants of Jarrow suffered greatly as a result and struggled to find a way to survive.
  • Therefore, they decided to march on London with a petition in order to raise awareness for their plight and hopefully force the government to offer them employment and aid.
  • They marched 450km and were received by much of Britain with great support.
  • They were offered food and shelter on their journey.
  • However, the government refused to succumb to the pressure and ignored the petition. Essentially the Jarrow March was a failure.
  • However, the march did raise a lot of awareness for the plight of the poor so in some ways the march is considered to be a success.
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The Phoney War Sept 1939 - April 1940

  • War was declared on Germany on 3 September 1939 following the Nazi invasion of Poland.
  • The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was transferred to France gradually but there was no actual fighting for the first 8 months of the war.
  • The military campaign truly began when the Germans invaded Norway and Denmark.
  • However, this campaign was a big failure as the British were inadequately prepared.
  • The failure of this campaign put a lot of pressure on the PM, Neville Chamberlain. He lost support of the people and the government and resigned.
  • As a result, on 10 May 1949, Churchill was appointed PM of Britain
  • Churchill was a strong opposer of Nazism and Hitler.
  • He rallied the British people with big speeches and became a figure of strong leadership that was greatly needed by Britain.
  • Under Churchill, there was no talk of surrender or peace. For him, the defeat of Nazism was vital.
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Dunkirk May-June 1940

  • In May 1940 the Germans were expected to attack France. The British set up defences along the German-French border.
  • However, they were surprised when the Germans instead chose to attack through Belgium and Holland.
  • It took 5 days to defeat Holland and 13 days later Belgium surrendered.
  • As the German army moved to France, it encircled the BEF and they were outflanked. Furthermore, the British forces were cut off from their supplies.
  • It was decided that they should retreat in order to save as many soldiers as possible.
  • The British troops headed to Dunkirk and Hitler halted his troops with the aim of attacking from the air.
  • However, this proved an advantage to the British as it gave them time to regroup.
  • Navy ships and a variety of boats were dispatched across the Channel to rescue the stranded troops.
  • The evacuation lasted 9 days but much of the equipment had to be left behind.
  • Churchill admitted that Dunkirk was 'Britain's greatest military defeat for many centuries'.
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The Battle of Britain August-September 1940

  • After the defeat of France in June 1940, the Germans began planning an invasion of Britain. Hitler did not really want it but Churchill had made it clear that he would not make a deal with Germany.
  • Blitzkrieg (lightning war tactics) had worked in France but the English channel meant that the Germans needed a sea and air invasion.
  • If the RAF could be wiped out so that the Luftwaffe could wipe out the Naval dockyards. This would take away British air and sea power.
  • Eagle day was announced and then attacks on Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight began. They were aiming for docks, radar stations and war industries.
  • 15th August 1940 - Black Thursday. The Germans suffered heavy losses.
  • 30th August 1940 - the Germans changed tactics to attacking RAF sector stations in the south east. Britain was close to defeat.
  • 7th September 1940 - Hitler made a mistake with another change in tactics. He switched to bombing London instead. This gave the RAF breathing space.
  • 15th September 1940 - The decisive battle took place when the Luftwaffe made an effort to assault London. However, the Germans lost 56 planes and decided to call off the plans to destroy the RAF.
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The Battle of Britain - Success and Importance

Why was the RAF successful?

  • RADAR - the British could see them coming and work around it.
  • Hitler switched tactics - when Hitler chose to move to attacking London he gave the RAF breathing space to repair and get ready.
  • British Air Chief - the RAF had a very capable leader who made effective decisions. Furthermore, Goering had no idea of tactics.
  • British Planes - the planes were able to fly ABOVE the German planes and so could attack from above, where the Germans couldn't see.
  • British territory - the planes were flying over Britain whereas the Germans were over enemy territory.

What was the importance of the Battle of Britain?

  • Generally viewed as a very important part of the war as it was Hitler's first real defeat. It showed that they were beatable.
  • It was also a great morale booster for the British.
  • It made Britain seem more attractive to the USA as a future ally.
  • It was an important reason why the British survived when they were alone in the war.
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The 1st Blitz September 1940-1941

  • From September 1940 Hitler decided to change tactics and bomb Britain into submission. He hoped to bring down morale and destroy industry & transport.
  • The Luftwaffe bombed many of Britain's major towns and cities. London was the primary target but places like Coventry also suffered greatly.
  • In response the Government introduced various measures to deal with the threat.
  • Air raid shelters - the government supplied shelters designed to protect people if houses were bombed. Some also hid in underground stations.
  • The Home Guard - The Home guard or 'Dad's Army' was made up of older men who had the aim of taking over the regular armies job whilst they were abroad.
  • The Blackout - introduced so that bombers couldn't see the cities from the air. Anything that gave out light had to be covered up.
  • Evacuation - began 1 September 1940. All children taken out of cities to country to protect them from bombing.
  • The Blitz did less damage than expected. It had an opposite effect on the morale. Damage to transport repaired very quickly.
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  • The evacuation began on 1 September 1939.
  • Parents were reluctant to be separated from their children but accepted that they would be safer in the country.
  • However, as a result of the 'Phoney War' many children began to drift back to the cities. When German bombers began blitzing on London in 1940, a second evacuation took place, and a third wave in 1944 when the Germans bombed again.

There is much discussion regarding the success of evacuation:

  • It did save many lives however the 'meat market' approach to the process was heavily criticised.
  • The organisation was sometimes poor, especially the way in which the evacuees were lined up in village halls.
  • Evacuees were not used to rural life and there was a clash between city and country values. Many children were bullied or mistreated.
  • Many evacuees were homesick and found life in the country difficult
  • Evacuation showed the rural, and sometimes richer, people the social problems of the city, calling for change in the future.
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The 2nd Blitz 1944-45

  • In 1944 and 1945 the Germans attacked Britain from the air again.
  • This time they used much more efficient weapons knows as the V-1 nad V-2.
  • The V-1 or doodlebug did affect the morale of the British at first because it could fall anywhere without warning.
  • However, shortly after their introduction, technology was developed to intercept them.
  • The V-2 was much more dangerous. They could not be stopped and exploded without warning.
  • Fortunately, Hitler developed these weapons too late in the war to cause serious damage.
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Emergency Powers Act 1939

As the threat of war approached in the sumer of 1939, the British government introduced the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act. This allowed the government to:

  • secure public safety.
  • defend the realm.
  • maintain essential supplies and services.
  • carry out the war effectively.

In order to carry out these powers the PM created new ministries within the government:

  • Home Security.
  • Information.
  • Shipping.
  • Economic Warfare.
  • Food.

The act was used extensively during the war which radically changed the relationship between the people and government.

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Government Censorship and Propaganda


  • In order to maintain the war effort, it was essential to the government that the British people supported it.
  • To achieve this, the government used propaganda.
  • The Ministry of Information published huge numbers of posters, pamphlets, books and information movies to ensure that morale did not diminish and to inform people about what to do.
  • Radio also became very popular with the British people.


  • The government also needed to make sure that secrets were not given away to the enemy and certain pieces of information were kept from the public in order to prevent a damage to morale.
  • This meant that the government introduced censorship.
  • Overseas mail and items of news were all checked by the Ministry of Information before sending or publicising.
  • Many films were made during the war, many of which were very patriotic and biased.
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  • Much of Britain's food was imported prior to the war. The government feared that during the war, their food supplies would be cut off.
  • As a result, the government had to ensure that there was sufficient food for everyone.
  • Rationing began 29 September 1939 when every household had to fill in a form about who was in their house. The government used this data to give out identity cards and ration books which limited what people could buy.
  • Rationing was introduced by the Ministry of Food.
  • The government control of prices and rationing stopped shortages so everyone was provided with the basic necessities of life.
  • It can be said that despite the hardships of rationing, people were healthier.
  • There was an illegal black trade of rationed goods as well.
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The Changing Role of Women

  • At the beginning of the war, the government were reluctant to allow women to fill the roles of men in work. There was no proper organisation until 1941 when labour shortages became apparent.
  • In December of that year, conscription for women was introduced.
  • The women's armed services included the Women's Royal Naval Services, Women's Auxiliary Air Force and the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
  • The women did the routine duties which allowed the men to take part in combat.
  • As well as the armed services, women worked in industry and farming.
  • British farming needed to produce as much food as possible so women joined the Land Army and became known as land girls.
  • They proved themselves very valuable in the war effort however, pay and conditions were often poor.
  • The war brought few benefits for the position of women in society.
  • Benefits: the jobs they did brought confidence to women and showed that they were just as good as men.
  • No change: most men and the media were unenthusiastic regarding the new independent role of women. Changes did not appear for some time.
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Preparation for the D-Day Landings 1944

  • The USA entered the war in 1941.
  • An agreement was made between the 'Big Three'; Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt regarding the opening of a second front.
  • Plans were drawn up under the codename 'Operation Overlord'.
  • Normandy was selected as the site for invasion but this was kept a secret in order to maintain the element of surprise.
  • The British had broken the German codes and infiltrated the Germans with a spy. They convinced them that they would be attacking at Calais.
  • In preparation for D-Day, many photographs were taken of the Normandy area or taken from the public.
  • There was meticulous planning to organise soldiers from the US and Britain.
  • The Allies needed to have air superiority before D-Day so they organised constant attacks on Luftwaffe bases.
  • By the end of May they were powerless.
  • The Allies also constructed floating harbours and underwater piping to allow delivery of fuel and supplies to the soldiers once they had landed.
  • These were essential for the success of the invasion.
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The D-Day Landings and subsequent invasion 1944-45

  • D-Day began on 5-6 June 1944 when the gliders landed in Normandy.
  • By the first day, 156000 troops had landed however there were many heavy losses. The worst suffered by the USA on Omaha beach.
  • By the end of 1944, 1 million Allied troops had landed in Normandy.
  • However, after landing, the Allies struggled to break out of Normandy.
  • They made a breakthrough when they took the port of Cherbourg and defeated German armies in Falaise.
  • 25 August: forces liberated Paris before Belgium and Luxembourg.
  • In order to hurry the end of the war an air attack was suggested. They aimed to secure key Rhine bridges so that they could advance northward.
  • There were some successes but the key bridge was not taken. Logistical problems contributed to the failure.
  • December 1944, Hitler made his last attempt to defeat the Allies. The offensive was made through the Ardennes and was a surprise.
  • There was savage fighting and initial success for the Germans but both sides suffered supply problems and the Germans withdrew.
  • March 1945, Allies pushed across the Rhine, April, the Soviets captured Berlin, Hitler committed suicide, May, Germans surrendered.
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The Eastern Front and Germany's defeat 1943-45

  • The Germans suffered two major defeats against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front in 1943: Stalingrad and Kursk.
  • The Soviet Union outnumbered them three to one in tanks.
  • The Soviet Union had another victory when the seige of Leningrad ended in 1944.
  • Millions of soldiers and civilians were killed on the Eastern Front.
  • By the end of 1944, there were no German troops occupying the Soviet Union.
  • The Soviet army went on to liberate Poland, Hungary and Austria before taking Berlin

Germany surrendered and ceased all active operations on 8th May 1945.

Why did Germany lose?

  • The Allies had an strong force of resources backed by 3 powerful leaders.
  • Hitler is shown to have made many errors regarding the military.
  • Germany was fighting a war on two fronts.
  • Germany received a lot of resistance because of its treatment of its people.
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The Rise of Labour 1945-51

  • A general election was held in Britain in 1945. People had become a lot more aware of politics because of the war so more people were voting.
  • In the past there had been fear of Labour's socialist policies but during the war key Labour leaders had been in power and the government had taken more control of people's lives. This made them less fearful.
  • 1945, the 2 parties published manifestos about their future policies.
  • The Labour embraced the Beveridge Report whilst the Conservatives were much more careful to make promises.
  • The Conservative campaign was very aggressive and smeared the Labour Party. Churchill was very well liked but made a critical error in his first speech. He was said to have misjudged the electorate.
  • There are a variety of reasons why the Labour Party were voted for.
  • Evacuation proved to be an eye-opener. The rural people saw how hard things were for the urban people. There was a great call for change.
  • A lot of housing had been destroyed during the war and Labour promised to build mroe than the Conservatives.
  • Beveridge Report: well received by the public & embraced by Labour.
  • The large presence of US Servicemen showed to the British how much better things could be.
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The Beveridge Report 1942

  • In 1941, a Labour cabinet minister set up a committee to look into the health insurance policies. They wanted to think ahead to after the war.
  • William Beveridge made chairman and expected to simplify the systems.
  • Beveridge looked beyond just health insurance and created a report that looked at all aspects of social problems.
  • The report was welcomed by many and it was said that nine of out 10 people wanted it proposals to be carried out.

The Five Giants - as presented in the report.

  • Ignorance - 1944 Education Act - education divided into primary, secondary and further, secondary into grammar technical and modern.
  • Want - 1945 Family Allowances Act - allowance payable to the mother, 1946 National Insurance Act - benefits for unemployment, sickness, maternity death and orphans, 1948 National Assistance Act - benefits for the homeless, disabled and mentally ill.
  • Squalor - 1946 Housing Production Executive1946 New Towns Act.
  • Disease - 1946 National Health Service Act.
  • Idleness - Labour showed that it intended to manage the economy and ensure high employment.
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National Health Act 1946

During the war, an Emergency Medical Service was introduced which showed to the government that a national health service could be operated effectively and efficiently.

Details of the act:

  • The service was free to the public at the point of use.
  • The service was comprehensive and provided patients with advice, treatment and care when needed.
  • Prescriptions, dental and optical care were included.
  • The administration was the responsibility of the Minister of Health.

There was some opposition to the act from the British Medical Association. They didn't want to become government workers and wanted to retain their independence. Eventually it was agreed that consultants could work within the NHS and treat private patients. The BMA then voted for the new health system.

The NHS had a major impact on Britain. By 1947 93% of the population was enrolled. It proved to be very popular. However they had underestimated the costs of funding it. Eventually certain services had charges introduced. The NHS continued even when the Conservatives came into power in 1951.

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Zac Liew





Thank you



really helpful.



Great revision notes. Ready for my History exam tomorrow!



wrong date of evacuation



wrong date of churchill's election



The date of Churchill's election is incorrect. He was elected in 1940, not 1949. Other than that, not bad information



very juicy



Missed out on The Means Test and The Dole. Other than that very helpful :)

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