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The Start of the War
There was a period of very little activity at the start of the war. This was called the 'phoney war'.This came to an end in the spring of 1940 when the German army swept across Europe. They used their Blitzkrieg tactic to capture 10 countries in 10 weeks.
In May 1940 Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister and in May 1940 the Dunkirk evacuation began. Thousands of troops were rescued from the beaches of France. France surrendered on the 22nd June 1940.The British knew that Hitler would soon attempt an invasion of Britain. In order to do this he would need to take control of the skies above Britain.
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain was an attempt by the Luftwaffe, the destroy the British RAF. It took place in the skies above southern England and lasted from July to September 1940. The RAF won for several reasons:RADAR cover meant that the British knew when the German planes were crossing the channel, the Spitfire and Hurricane were superior to the German fighters and the British had home advantage. If they bailed out they could return to the airfield and fly again. The German pilots became prisoners of war. In September Hitler made the decision to switch the focusof the Luftwaffe to bombing the cities rather than the RAF. This was a mistake and lead to them losing the Battle of Britain.
Britain knew that a German invasion would start with an air attack.RADAR played an important part in helping Britain to win the Battle of Britain.RADAR gave advance warning of the approach of enemy planes.This allowed the Spitfires and Hurricanes to be air ready to oppose the German fighter planes.
RADAR enabled the British to track the German fighters as they crossed the channel.It meant that air raid precautions and anti-aircraft guns could be ready to face them. It was virtually impossible for the Germans to launch a surprise attack.
Bombing raids on civilians were seen as a new type of warfare.They were greatly feared and the government predicted massive casualties.Air raid sirens were installed in the towns and cities and tested.These were used to warn people that an attack was coming.
Homes with gardens were given corrugated iron Anderson Shelters that were dug into the ground.Larger public shelters were also built.Some homes were also given a Morrison Shelter which doubled-up as kitchen table.
The government also feared gas attacks.Gas bombs could have been used by Hitler to target civilians.Gas masks were issued and it became compulsory to carry them.After dark, a 'blackout' was enforced.All street lights were switched off and blackout blinds or curtains were used to cover the windows.This was to stop the German bombers using the lights to guide them to their targets.
Men who were not conscripted joined the Local Civil Defence Volunteers which was later known as the Home Guard.They made sure that the rules were strictly enforced.
Evacuation started in 1939 as soon as war broke out. Children were evacuated from high risk areas such as the cities, ports and industrial areas to areas in the countryside.Whole schools were often evacuated with their teachers.Buses and trains were taken over to transport thousands of children.Many children saw evacuation as an adventure or a holiday.Billetingofficers in the Receiving Areas welcomed the children and made sure they were given somewhere to stay.One area which was considered to be safe was mid-Wales.Children from the northern cities such as Liverpool were evacuated there.
Children were often welcomed by their host families and treated as another member of their family.They often had a better standard of living than they did back home.Not all children had a positive experience.Sometimes siblings (brothers and sisters) were separated. Some host families were cruel to the children or made them work hard.
Some host families were shocked by the state of the evacuees from the poorer parts of the cities. Some evacuees had health problems, were riddled with lice, had bad manners or were not toilet trained.Some evacuees ran away because they were so unhappy.
In the autumn of 1940 the German Luftwaffe began a bombing campaign on London and other major cities.They dropped high explosive and incendiary (fire-making) bombs.The word Blitz comes from a shortened version of the German, Blitzkrieg.In the cities people sheltered night after night in the air-raid shelters.In London they forced the government to open the underground stations at night so that they would have somewhere safe to sleep.
The Blitz killed thousands of people.Many people lost their homes and families were broken up. Cities including London, Southampton and Coventry were almost destroyed.There was a strong wartime spirit of friendship and cooperation.This helped the people to cope with the hardship and the loss of loved ones.The newspapers and radio used propaganda to give an optimistic view of life during the air raids.This helped to boost the morale of the people.They also tried to play down panic.
After 1941 and the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the air raids reduced.Towards the end of the war they started again.The Germans developed flying bombs, the V1s and V2s, to attack the cities.
40% of Britain's food was imported from overseas.It was carried to the UK on the Atlantic Convoys.German U-boats (submarines) were targeting the ships and sinking them as they sailed to Britain.The government knew that if this continued Britain would run out of food. During WW1 Britain had come within 6 weeks of running out of food.In 1939 the government learned from the mistakes of the past.
Price controls were introduced to fix the price of goods and stop profiteering.By 1942 no petrol was available for private cars.Rationing was introduced to make the existing food supplies last longer.It also made sure that food was shared out fairly.If food prices went up due to shortages then only the rich people would be able to afford food.Meat, butter, sugar, clothes, petrol and even water was rationed.Everyone was issued with coupons and a ration book to buy food.
Some people broke the law and brought or sold food on the black market.Black market traders, or spivs, sold rationed food at high prices.This was frowned upon by the government and the British people.The health of the nation improved due to rationing as the same amount of food was available to everyone. It improved diets, especially of the poor.Wholemeal bread was supplemented with vitamins and orange juice was provided for children.
The Role Of Women
Some women joined the armed services.They joined uniformed organisations such as the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS).Many women worked as nurses in civilian and military hospitals.They were essential and won a great deal of respect.In 1939 the National Service Act was passed and conscription was introduced. Women took over the men's jobs in industry and farming.They filled a valuable gap in the employment market and produced the munitions, aircraft and vehicles which were needed for war.They proved that they could do jobs which required precise engineering as well as the men. By 1943 57% of workers were women.On farms women worked in the Women's Land Army helping to grow more food to feed the people.Many of the town girls became skilled at dealing with livestock and operating farm machinery.They government organised a 'Dig for Victory' campaign to encourage people to grow their own food.By 1943 food production had nearly doubled.Even the women who remained as housewives played an important role during the war.They helped with evacuation and still had to make massive changes to their lives to helpthe war effort.The role of women helped to boost the morale of the people back home.Women benefited from the increased opportunities caused by the absence of the men and many continued to work after the war ended.However, there was still a strong belief held that once the war ended women should return to the kitchen.
The government thought that this was essential to keep the morale high and to encourage the public to support the war effort.Churchill's speeches inspired people.The government controlled or censored information which was made available in the newspapers or the radio.They emphasised the 'war spirit' or the people and successes such as the Battle of Britain. Any failures such as the loss of the Atlantic Convoys were given less attention.Events such as the evacuation of Dunkirk were portrayed as a triumph.Cinemas were very important during the war. They were affordable and provided fairly safe shelter during a time of bombing.They allowed people to keep up to date with the events of the war through the cinema newsreels. Popular films took peoples' minds off the war and allowed them to escape from their problems.Radios kept people informed and offered a positive view of the war.This also helped to boost morale.Propaganda was also used to give people instructions and advice.The Ministry of Information employed the best artists and designers to produce propaganda posters.Civilians were told not to speak about their work to prevent any possibility of the enemy finding things out.Housewives were encouraged not to waste food and to 'make do and mend' instead of buying clothes.Children were encouraged to collect scrap metal for the war effort.
Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940.This was a time of crisis for Britain as the German army swept across Europe.Churchill had a confident, 'never say die', 'bulldog' spirit, refusing to see events such as Dunkirk as a failure.He passed his positive belief onto the British people.Churchill made people feel confident and determined to fight Nazism.He was very important in keeping the morale of the people high.He made stirring speeches which were played on the radio.These were backed up by clever censorship and propaganda.Churchill's most famous speeches included "Never in the field of human conflict" and "We shall fight them on the beaches".These showed his effective and positive leadership.Churchill had been a professional soldier.This meat that he was able to understand the needs of the military.He was able to oversee some very successful British tactics in the war. This helped Britain to win the war.