Air Attack

1) Many measures were taken in Bexley to protect people from the effects of air attack. Firstly, Britain introduced the post of ARP (air raid precautions) wardens to all places where people lived. The wardens would have to know exactly where different people in their neighbourhood lived so that in the event of air attack the emergency services could be directed quickly. The wardens were volunteers (they weren’t paid for their time) and most of them held regular day jobs, but after dark would take on the responsibilities of an ARP warden. These included distributing air raid shelters to the people in their neighbourhood, going to check if people were complying with black out rules and acting as first aiders or amateur fire personnel until the proper emergency services arrived.

Even before the war had begun in 1939, many people knew that it was inevitable. The government began to prepare for war and thought that as in World War I the Germans would try dropping poison gas bombs. To combat this, the government ordered that every person living in the UK would have to have a gas mask and to carry it with them at all times when they were out and about. Special ones were made for babies where their entire body was put into a tank like object and air would be pumped in by their parents. Schools and workplaces were ordered t have regular drills and practices of putting masks on, so that students and workers would be able to get the masks on as quick as possible in a real emergency.

Air raid shelters were also made by the government. The most popular one was the Anderson Shelter which was a big sheet of corrugated, galvanized steel, which was dug into the back garden and soil piled on top of it. The Anderson shelter could withstand everything apart from a direct hit. The moment people in their homes heard the air raid siren they would go into their shelters until the all clear was given. There shelters in the workplace as well in case you were working. These were obviously much larger as more people needed to fit into them. Public shelters were also built incase a person was out on the streets shopping, for example. People were encouraged however to make as much use of private home shelters.

The blackout was also an important defence against air attack. After sundown people would have to cover their house windows with black drapes. Vehicles also had their headlamps hooded and shaded. All of this was so that German bombers wouldn’t be able to tell from lighting where towns and houses were. ARP wardens would patrol the streets, making sure that no chinks of light were visible. Failure to comply withy blackout rules could lead to fines.

After war was declared in 1939, the government ordered that children be evacuated from built up areas and sent to the country. Their mothers and sometimes teachers would sometimes be allowed to accompany them. On the first weekend of war, millions of children from the cities were sent into the country, and stayed with foster families. For many this was their first time in the country.

When many towns and cities were bombed, emergency services such as the ambulance and fire service would find themselves overwhelmed with calls and casualties. To help, many local people donated old trailers, caravans and cars to act as makeshift ambulances, to help the real emergency services with the large number of casualties they would encounter. This meant that the less injured could be taken away quickly by volunteers and extra space given so the real ambulance service could help the seriously injured.

The ARP wardens would also have special posts to enable quick communication. The post would have a telephone, radio and first aid kit as well as local phone numbers, etc. In an emergency, the ARP warden would give details of the incident via telephone to a central office. The central office would process the seriousness of the problem, and then make an appropriate decision. This system would stop the emergency services being overwhelmed with less serious problems, while the real incidents would have to wait, until the less serious ones were dealt with.

The role of women in the fight against air attacks was crucial. While the men were away fighting, many women took “men’s jobs”, things like ARP wardens and amateur fire women. The fire women would be given some basic training, and when the air attacks came they would deal with it with water buckets, sand and spades, until the fire service arrived.

2) World War II had many impacts on different aspects of life and work in Bexley. A lot of volunteer work was created, like the Women’s Voluntary Service. This organization was largely made up of older women as the younger women had been out all day working in the factories and farms. The WVS did many things, they would provide refreshment for fire fighters and ARP wardens, who were digging through rubble after an air attack, and they would organize collections of scrap metal so that they could be made into weapons.

The voluntary post of ARP was introduced so that the laws on air attack, (e.g. blackouts) would be enforced, and also so that in the event of a bombing raid, the local authorities would know who had the responsibility of calling the emergency services, or digging people out of the rubble. Many people felt that by joining the ARP, they were “doing their bit” for the war effort.

The Government was very worried about the threat of a German invasion, so they created a reserve army who were trained to fight if there was an invasion. They were called the LOVs at first, but after a few months, the name was changed to the Guard. Many boys who were over 16 but under 18, (who couldn’t join the real army) joined, as did many men over their 50s and 60s. The Home Guard at first had little weapons and no uniform, but as time went on, they got a uniform, and eventually rifles.

They were trained in guerilla warfare, that is to say, in ways to disarm invading forces, how to creep up on an enemy unawares. Many would patrol the coast on a look out for German ships. However, many of their tactics, (due to insufficient funds and material) were ineffective, e.g., putting barbed wire across the road to stop a tank. As one volunteer remembers, “it wouldn’t have stopped a jeep, let alone a tank.”

Many farmers joined up at the onset of the war. This meant that many fields and farms were left empty. With food running low in Britain, a Dig for Victory campaign was introduced, meaning that people should try and grow as much food as possible. To put the farmers’ fields back into use, the WLA (Women’s Land Army) was set up. Many women left cities to go to the country and become labourers on farms. The work was tough, exhausting and back breaking, sometimes scorching hot, sometimes bitterly cold, but without all, the food the WLA produced, Britain would have certainly starved, especially as lots of food ships had been sunk in the sea.

Boys and girls were also encouraged to help with the war effort. The WVS would create Saucepans into Spitfire campaign, and young boys and girls would go around their neighbourhood collecting old tins and pans from local people. The reason for this was that Britain’s metal was running low and more was needed. Sweets would sometimes be offered as prizes to the top collectors. With 5000 saucepans, a fighter jet could be built.

The war also changed the roles of leisure in peoples’ lives. The cinema was around in those days and was a very popular recreation fro many people. During the war, (and especially after America joined in, since they made the best films,), these films were made to be morale boosters to take peoples’ minds of the war. Many simply made of fun of the war, such as the Great Dictator, (1940), starring Charlie Chaplin, which made fun of Hitler.

Radio also had an important part in the War. During breaks, advertisements would usually be about helping with the war effort, digging for Victory, making do and mending, and encouraging men to join the army. The new greatly praised the work of the British forces and often made witty comments when the Germans lost a battle. Overly depressing stories, such as huge civilian deaths were omitted to keep spirits up.

Singers and music also impacted people during the War. Many songs provided encouragement and support for people going through the war at home. Vera Lynn’s “We’ll meet again”, kept millions happy during the War, providing morale support to mothers and wives, who sons and husbands were off fighting. Some songs were made to be humorous, and made fun of the Nazis and Hitler, to keep peoples’ spirits up.

War also changed the roles and contents of things such as fairs. During the war, many fairs produced patriotic fund raisers to keep peoples’ spirits up, example 2d to hammer a nail into “Hitler’s coffin”. The proceeds would usually go to the war effort.

3) People reacted in many different ways to wartime conditions. People saw that food was scarce, and rationing was rather meager, so many people, encouraged by the Governments Dig for Victory campaign, began growing vegetables in the gardens or allotments. Their own produce wouldn’t be rationed out, so people could eat as much vegetables as they wanted, or share any excess out between their neighbours. Many people began to cook vegetables in dishes that meat had been in previously, as meat was now scarce, e.g. potato pie instead of pork pie.

Families also had less money around (especially if father was away fighting) and so couldn’t afford to buy new sets of clothes for every child in the house. Ripped clothes were patched up in accordance with the governments “Make do and Mend” policy, and younger children often got hand-me-downs from their brothers and sisters. Skirts and trousers were often bought in larger sizes, and the hems would be sewn up, and then let down when the child grew up.

There was a lot off self sacrifice in the war as well. Many volunteers risked injury by digging people out of rubble, when there was a possibility that the bricks and wood might just collapse on top of them. People clearing rubble might have been seriously injured if they encountered an unexploded bomb underneath the rubble. Many families would donate unwanted clothes to their neighbors if their house had been destroyed. There was a general close knitness during the war. Many people gave up a lot of their time doing volunteer work. The women of the WVS who continually made refreshments for fire fighters dealing with incidents, were never paid for their time and nor did they care. Neither did the ARPs who spent hours going through the rubble searching for survivors. People began to help each other more without thinking “what’s in it for me?”

The war, especially for children, was a hard thing to go through. To help reassure children about their safety, schools had regular drills of putting on gas masks, so if the real thing came, no child would panic or be frightened too much, as they would have gone through the routine several times before hand. Makers of gas masks also tried to appeal to children by making masks with Mickey Mouse ears and faces.

It is possible that many people also thought that their days were definitely numbered, so they should do all the things they had been reserving for a few years time now. Consequently, many people got married quicker feeling if they left it too late, they might be dead. Many people also drew up their wills as they thought they would have no chance of surviving the war.

Some people held the philosophy that if they were meant to die during the war, they would die at any time, anywhere, so some people refused to go into their shelters at night, during an air raid, feeling that if Fate meant them to die that night; they may as well die comfortable!

Rationing meant that people couldn’t have as much food as they wanted, whenever they wanted. Therefore, people stopped wasting food as they realised it was a precious and rare thing. Children especially couldn’t afford to be fussy eaters, and would have to eat everything put in front of them, as any food not eaten would leave them hungrier. Sweets, which before the war were available any time, quite cheaply, were now a rare commodity only to be bought out of the ration book, as importing sugar cost so much.

Generally, people of different backgrounds and classes drew together more. Rich people would donate their posh cars as auxiliary ambulances, and the poorer people would try and grow as much vegetables as possible. Everybody tried to help the war effort in their own way, and everybody’s help was valued. People would often share things if there wasn’t enough to go around. Families would often give unwanted clothing to those who wanted or needed them.

Several million children were evacuated during different points of the war. They were taken into the country side where bombers wouldn’t attack so much. Many village folk would take in children who they hadn’t ever met before, and care for them like their own children. The city kids could be very homesick, ill, or just not used to country life, (for many it was their first time in the country), but the village people were very tolerant of this.

However, sometimes, people didn’t group together and think “we’re all in it together”. Many people would become over protective of their food or possessions, and would not want to share with their neighbours, e.g. one woman got an extra delivery of eggs one morning, and her neighbour asked if she could have a few as she had run out. The woman who had the eggs said “not likely”, and went back inside, even though she wasn’t planning on using the eggs.

Some people would also spread rumours around about various “suspicious” characters in the neighbourhood. E.g., if the son in a family wasn’t in the army, when he could be, some neighbourhood gossips would circulate it that he was a Nazi sympathizer. Or, a German family, who had been living in the road for years, could be seen “the enemy” or “a spy”, and no one would wish to associate with them any more.

4) I believe that the war did lead to permanent change in Bexley. Firstly several thousand houses were destroyed during air attacks. After the war the government had to provide housing to people whose houses had been destroyed as well as returning army personnel. The solution to this was the pre fabricated house, a bungalow with several bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom etc. The walls and interior were made in a factory and they were joined together on site relatively cheaply and quickly. Some pre-fab houses still survive today.

Other things also survive to this day, as relics of war in Bexley, e.g. some ARP posts and pill boxes are still around and the underground hospital is now the X-rap department of the local hospital, it is still being used today.

However, one irreversible and permanent part of the war in Bexley was the loss of life. Several hundred people died, including many local business owners and workers.

The population of Bexley rose as a result of the “baby boom”, which hit most parts of the UK after the war, because so many soldiers were returning home, and many more new babies were being born, leading to a larger population, which even these days the population is larger than that of pre-war Bexley.

Another permanent change was the absence of rationing. During the war, most things were rationed and shared fairly, but afterwards, most things were again available to buy. Some things however stayed on ration, such as bread, because of a general wheat shortage around the world. This ended in the 1950s along with sweet and sugar ration.

Because the war had ended, people also reverted back to their old ways. There was less co-operation and war time spirit as before. People didn’t share out their things and do as much self-sacrifice, because now everything was seen to be better. The radios and cinemas stopped broadcasting patriotic and morale boosting films and songs.

Some of the various associations were disbanded after the war. Things such as the Home Guard and WLA were given up as there was no more need for a reserve army, or for lots of home grown vegetables. The people who volunteered for them slowly went back to what they were doing before the war. However, the WVS still survives to this day, and still provides refreshments to emergency workers, for examples, they were there during the Bunsfield oil depot disaster.

The role oil women as seen by society also permanently changed as a result of the war. Before the war, women were supposed to keep house and raise children, so hardly any went out to work. However, during the war, as so many did work; they carried on working in various jobs after the war. Work wasn’t seen as such an unladylike thing any more.

A lot of factory workers found themselves unemployed after the war. Overall in Britain, over one million people who, during the war had been making munitions in factories were now out of work. In Bexley, the Vickers gun factory received much less orders, so many of its employees were sacked, and found work elsewhere.

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