Was London Prepared for the Outbreak of the Second World War
The Second World War is considered as one of the most profound battles and the deadliest conflict in human history, leading to the deaths of some 50 million people . During the Second World War, London’s metro population was estimated to be around 4. 4 million and it bears the brunt of the war with series of bombings by the German between September 7th 1940 to May 1941. The attacks were collectively known as the Blitz, which reportedly claimed the lives of 20,000 civilians in London and destroyed more than a million houses.
I believe London was prepared for the onset of the Second World War and in this essay I will state my reasons and contemplations. Firstly, the mass evacuation was considered as one of the successes of Neville Chamberlain’s government in the bid to protect the safety of young children from the danger of Nazi bombing . In anticipation of the bombing, the government carried out plans for the priority evacuation of mothers, children and the handicapped from vulnerable areas. The onset of the war between September 1 -3, 1949 was the first wave of mass World War II evacuations in Britain .
Nicknamed the Operation Pied Piper, it involves a massive undertaking of evacuating 1. 5 million official evacuees over the space of three days. The government ordered the evacuation plans on August 31 and within a few weeks, 3 million British, mostly children had been evacuated from the cities. It was considered the most extensive movement of people in British history. In London alone, there were 1,589 assembly points for children . On the morning of September 1, children congregated in school playgrounds and each child had a luggage tag attached to their coat.
Children were told to bring along gas mask, underwear, pyjamas, plimsolls, toothbrush, comb, soap, face flannel and warm coat. There was no financial assistance from the government for the items, therefore many poorer families were unable to afford it. More than half a million children boarded buses, tubes, taxis and trams to railways stations in the evacuation efforts. Teachers and members of the Women’s Voluntary Service and the Girl Guides rendered assistance, but the level of organization varied from place to place.
Evacuation from the cities was one of the first acts of the British government on the outbreak of war and the country was sectioned into three zones – evacuation, neutral and reception . The evacuation cities were categorized by their high probability of being bombed, mainly urban and industrial cities like London. Neutral areas would neither receive, nor send refugees. Reception areas were to receive evacuees and were considered the safest places in the country.
All school children, pregnant women and mothers with children under the age of five were relocated to the countryside and accommodated in private homes . House owners had no alternative but to take the evacuees under their roof. However they were paid to house and feed them. In the first three days of the evacuation, about 1. 5 million evacuees, mainly children, were separated from their parents and transported from London by railway to the countryside . Despite being left in the dark on their whereabouts and how long they would be away from their families, the evacuation was orderly and peaceful.
Children were also evacuated overseas under a government run program Children’s Overseas Reception Board where it was greatly opposed by Winston Churcill who considered it as a defeatist policy . Under the program, more than 3,000 children were evacuated to Australia, Canada and South Africa. However it backfired when a ship, the City of Bernes, carrying children from Liverpool to Canada was sunk by a U-boat after the night of September 17, 1940 . Only 13 children survived and overseas evacuation was halted. Furthermore the mass evacuation also somehow brought relief to those living in poverty.
Portable camps for evacuees were rare and most children were accommodated in private homes. This reflects that middle class children could find themselves sheltered with agricultural labourers and living in more modest conditions than they were used to. On the other hand, rural families were stunned by the poor inner city children with head lice and scabies that they were expected to accommodate. Therefore these children benefited from better living conditions, experiencing modern facilities for the first time and exploring the countryside in the glorious weather of autumn 1939.
Evacuees also participate in the war effort just like the rests, supporting the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign by planting vegetables and assisting farmers with the harvest . Despite being occupied, the evacuees suffered psychological trauma from being apart from their families with only letters as means of communicating. To address the problem, child psychoanalyst Anna Freud set up nurseries in London for children affected by the trauma of evacuation and bombing . After the first wave of evacuation, some children returned to London during the ‘Phoney War’, when no bombing occurred.
However two further waves of mass evacuation from London took place following the Blitz of 1940 and the horrific ‘V’ weapon attacks of 1944. As the war ended, children began to return. It was bittersweet for many as they had been away from their parents too long and others had lost their loved ones in the bombing or battle overseas . The experience for London’s wartime evacuees, varied immensely. Some discovered happiness in the countryside while others suffered loneliness and suffering.
Therefore the mass evacuation reflects the preparedness of the government to protect the vulnerable civilians from the German bombings. Secondly, the government has also strengthened its civil defence by forming an Air Raid Precautions Sub-committee as early as 1924. The most prominent result of civil defence measures was the September 1938 issue of gas masks to all members of the public in response to the Munich Crisis . The Munich Crisis was also the catalyst for large numbers of volunteers becoming involved in the organisation of air raid precautions by becoming wardens or joining first aid parties and rescue teams.
Gas attacks were greatly feared and all British citizens received a gas mask – including young children and babies. The importance of maintaining a gas mask led the government into producing an information leaflet that explained how this could be done successfully so that the masks worked in the event of an attack . Furthermore in 1939, the first blackout involving shutting out all external and inessential lights and shielding essential interior and outside lamps took place . ARP wardens patrolled assigned city neigborhoods to make sure that every home was blacked out.
The Luftwaffe campaign was initially a daylight campaign against the RAF. When this failed and increasing losses forced the Luftwaffe to shift to night-time bombing, the black out became very important. The extensive preparations for the outbreak of Second World War also include the construction of reinforced underground shelters for London. In 1935 British prime minister Stanley Baldwin issued a circular entitled Air Raid Precautions, inviting local authorities to make plans to provide air raid protection in the event of war.
The result was the building of a number of public air raid shelters, but because they were often cold, damp and dark, they proved unpopular, and householders were soon being encouraged to make their own arrangements and to build private shelters on their properties . The government’s evaluation was that the population could effectively use the material provided to build secure areas in homes or back garden family shelters. The most popular of the back garden shelters were Anderson shelters and the materials were made available by the government at low cost . Others had to find whatever shelter was available.
Civilians were also digging deep wide trenches for underground shelter. People also flocked underground tube stations to safeguard themselves. However at the start of the campaign, the government did not allow the use of underground rail stations as they considered them a potential safety hazard. However, the population of London took the matter into their own hands and opened up the locked entrances to the tube stations. Initially the Government estimated that a mere 4 percent of the population would need to use the tube stations as air raid shelters were not built or prepared for the entire population.
Furthermore strong buildings and Anderson shelters could not withstand the bombings. Thus people sought security in the Tube stations. However people in the stations had no beds and were staying in very limited conditions with no privacy and poor sanitation facilities. Nevertheless the tube stations provide a sense of security not offered by home and each night underground stations played host to thousands of families in London grateful for the protection they afforded . The government who underestimated the potential use of the underground stations begins to prepare the stations for the long nightly ordeals and set up makeshift beds .
In addition to civil defence preparations, the government also attempted to boost the spirit of the British public through propaganda sources. It is imperative to gain support of the people to fight the war as causing them panic or despair would make it difficult to fight on. Therefore the government created the Ministry of Information in the attempt to keep up morale by controlling and censoring the information, which people got through the newspapers, radio and cinema . The Ministry of Information with under 1,000 staffs censored the news and decided what the newspapers were allowed to print and what the BBC could and could not broadcast .
For example, in October 1940 a disaster occurred in a tube station when 500 people who sought shelter from German bombing were hit by water and sludge, inundating the station due to the bomb which ruptured the water mains . In the mishap, 68 people were killed but it was concealed and never informed on the radio or in the press as the Ministry of Information fear it would damage civillian morale. It attempted to prevent ‘bad news’ about defeats and problems from being released, which could undermine the morale of civilians. Therefore people were not fully told the truth.
To further influence the public, the Ministry also launched campaigns using posters, advertisements and radio broadcasts. It hired artists to design posters and displays and in 1924, it spent 4 million pounds just on publicity alone . To observe the impact of its public, the Ministry’s Home Intelligence Unit listened to what people were saying and sometimes altered what it was doing when it discover that they were not influencing the public as they desired. Since there was no television during the war, radio was the main source of news, information and entertainment at the star of the war and BBC Home Service was the only radio channel.
As BBC was under the government’s control, it was also utilized for propaganda. It contributed to the war effort by giving cautious and controlled information about the war in a bid to preserve and raise the people’s morale . It constantly broadcast positive government views including Winston Churchill’s speeches, which were crafted to keep up morale and encourage the population. To further provide positive entertainment to lift the spirits of the people during the difficult years up to 1942, another channel called ‘The Forces Programme’ was introduced.
Comedy radio programmes like ‘Its That Man Again’ became essential listening to assist people cope with the stress of the war. Although BBC was not intended to be pure propaganda, most people considered it to be reliable. However even during the Blitz, BBC often downplay the horrors and true effects of the war and on the other hand, provided entertainment to lift the spirits of the people. In addition to that, the government further managed news reports in newspapers by sometimes playing down defeats or exaggerating successes. The Ministry of Information censored newspapers by simply withholding information and vetting journalists.
Initially, the Ministry depended on newspapers to exercise self-censorship by getting advice from the Ministry on what informations could or could not be published. But in 1940, direct censorship was introduced and Ministers was able to use force to stop the publication of information which might tamper the war effort and undermine the morale. For example, the Communist Paper Daily Worker was banned from publication from 1941-1942 and the Daily Mirror was warned for publishing articles critical of the government and was also threated with closure.
Cinema was also used a major source of entertainment and news during the war and particularly to broadcast propaganda films made by the Ministry of Information. Newsreel films were used as pure propaganda and documentaries were used to encourage patriotism such as the film ‘Britain Can Take It’ made in the Blitz . Feature films or movies were also used to convey propaganda message such as a film in 1942 called the ‘In Which We Serve’. Overall, most historians believed that the government’s propaganda to boost the public’s morale was very successful.
Lastly, before the war, Britain mainly imported its food, but German U-boats disrupted the flow of the imports, which came in by the merchant boats. Thus rationing was introduced for all including the royal family to ensure fair distribution of food in the outbreak of World War II . Therefore rationing is part of the lives of people who lived through the Home Front in World War II, and it changed the social landscape of Britain for a generation, creating a national culture of ingenuity, austerity and making-do.
Its vital as people in cities such as London had less of a chance of growing their own food compared to those who lived in the countryside who could take advantage of the natural abundance of wild food there. Therefore the city dwellers were encouraged not to waste anything and they created this propaganda character, a squander bug as part of the campaign to ensure everybody used what they needed to but wasted nothing. Through rationing, each family was issued with a booklet and they are required to register with a shop whereby the shopkeeper was issued with enough food for the people on his list only .
IN January 1940, butter, sugar and bacon were rationed. The list was then added to meat in general, proceeded by cheese, fresh eggs, jam, tea, breakfast cereals and milk. Under the National Milk Scheme, young children under five received a point of milk. While pregnant women with an income of less than 40 shillings a week or equivalent to 2 quid also received free milk, Children also got extra orange juice. Those with gardens were encouraged to dig them up and make allotments in their place. So it was common for people to keep chickens, rabbits and goats in their back gardens.
The dried up moat at the Tower of London had also been turned into an allotment to provide fresh vegetables for the beefeaters. Women were also encouraged to join the Women’s Land Army which worked on farms. To address the wartime shortage of fresh eggs, the government introduced the dried egg powder which became available in 1942. It’s used to supplement the egg allowance while rationing was in place. It came from America and a tin is equivalent of a dozen eggs and was considered extra to the regular egg ration.
Dried eggs could also be used to make scrambled eggs or in a cake mixture. Therefore rationing was necessary as part of Britain’s preparation during the outbreak of the war to prevent food shortage and equal distribution of foodstuffs. In conclusion, the government and people had taken preemptive steps prior to the war to avoid major casualties such as mass evacuation, subsidizing the cost for constructing underground shelters and creating the Air Raid Precautions to enhance its military and civil defence.
Besides that, the government also used propaganda to alter the mindset of the civilians and lift the spirits of the people to overcome the stress of the war and be mentally prepared. The issue of food shortage was also addressed effectively by encouraging civilians to grow their own food and be self-sufficient. Without such measures, I believe there would have been more casualties from the bombings and also deaths from starvation. Although some people have suffered deep psychological impact as a result of the war, the government and people had done their best to prepare themselves mentally and physically from various threats of the war.
Overall, the measures taken by the government to protect its people from the German bombings reflect the effective coordination and orderly organization of systems and plans, ahead of time. Despite the Ministry of Information exercising their authority to censor negative information of the war, I believe it was done in the best interest of the people and they were informed of necessary information to a certain extent. Disclosure of undesirable accounts or unnecessary details of the disaster could have caused panic among its people and lead to further complications or difficulties for the government to garner support from its civilians.