Working Class Life in the 1940’s

War is Declared and Everything Changes

Working Class life in the 1940’s was a time of great change. This change was mostly brought about by the fact that we had declared war on September 3rd 1939.

The way most people got this news in September 1939 was via the radio more usually called the wireless.

Below is a video which contains a short extract taken from that actual radio broadcast.

The Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain informs the British people that war has been declared. Families all over Britain would have huddled round their radio to listen to this broadcast.

For such an important broadcast if you didn’t have a radio of your own at home then you would have found one. A friend’s or a neighbour’s or a Pub where you would have been able to hear this broadcast.

The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain Declares War

That pre war Britain would never be the same again. Things would never go back to being quite the same as they were before the outbreak of war.

Things changed during this decade because of necessity not choice. Because of necessity many doors that once had been locked to women were by necessity opened.

Jobs that before the outbreak of war only men would do, women were now having to do instead.

These doors once opened proved difficult and in some cases impossible to close again.

Mum and Dad on their Wedding Day

This is mum and dad on their wedding day in August 1940. This is the only photographic record of this event.This photograph was damaged but Paul a fellow hubber from Tamworth very kindly restored this photo for me.
This is mum and dad on their wedding day in August 1940. This is the only photographic record of this event.This photograph was damaged but Paul a fellow hubber from Tamworth very kindly restored this photo for me.

Wedding Day August 1940

The year 1940 is important to our family because that was the year that my mum and dad got married.

Getting married during the war years brought with it a whole load of unique problems. Almost everything to do with a traditional wedding was on ration.

If it was not actually on ration then the price of the items rationed them. The scarcer things became the more expensive they became.

For the working class just about everything became more expensive and harder to get hold of during the war.

My mum only had this one photo of her wedding day. At this time in Britain photographic film and good quality photo paper was often hard to find.

This was because most of the film stock was being fed into the war effort. These photographic supplies were used for such things as aerial reconnaissance etc.

Although dad is not in uniform in this photo he was already serving in the armed forces as a soldier.

A Soldier

I know from photographs that I saw as a young child that dad was in the Army during the war. But my dad never spoke much to me about the war, so I don’t have much information about his experiences during the war.

I know from the odd things that he said that he was in Egypt Italy and Germany at some point. I also know that he had something to do with climbing up telegraph poles to connect wires.

I found that out because one time he showed me how he did this by climbing a telegraph pole when we were on holiday.

I remember being frightened as dad climbed up the pole because the pole looked so high. My dad went right up to the top of the telegraph pole so quickly. I think I was about nine at the time maybe even younger.I remember as a young child my dad had a cardboard box. This box contained photographs and medals which he allowed me to look at.

In these photos dad was always in uniform. In some photographs there were the pyramids and camels in the background. Others had palm trees and often there were tanks and other military type vehicles.

What became of this box and its contents I have no idea. But when we cleared the house after the death of my mother there was no sign of it.

A Ration Book

A Ration Book
A Ration Book | Source

Rationing

It is funny how the vantage point from which you view certain events change over time.

When I was younger I always identified with those who were on active service. But, as I grew older and had a family of my own, I found I identified with the mothers on the home front.

Rationing came into being almost straight away with petrol being on ration from 1939. On the 8th of January 1940 such essentials as butter, sugar, eggs and bacon were put on ration.

This list was soon added to in March 1940 all meat became rationed. By July Tea and margarine joined the list and still the list was growing.

Many working class mothers already lived pretty near the poverty line even before war began. How they coped when rationing and shortages came in I do not know.

How would we stand up under this sort of pressure today I wonder? I don't think we would cope as well as they did but I hope we never have to find out.

By March 1941 Jam joined the growing list. In May so did cheese followed in June by the rationing of all textiles, clothing and eggs.

It seemed like everything useful or necessary was to join this list of rationing. In 1942 soap, coal, gas, electricity, sweets, chocolate and biscuits went on ration. They put sausages on ration the following year.

This following video deals with rationing. I hope that it will give you taste of what life in the early 1940s was like.

They referred to a lady in the video as an average housewife. But in my opinion she did not look like an average working class housewife. She looked far too well off for that.

The Black Market

Of course during the war and rationing not everyone played by the rules.

Then as now, people who had money found that they could supplement their rations. They did this by buying things without coupons on the black market.

The following video deals with this problem. This short film would be shown in the local cinemas and would reach a wide audience.

In the film the butcher buys his meat from black market sources. The housewife buys more than her fair share (which is her rations) from him.

It is clear from the Judge's judgement on the fence in the criminal case who we are to see as the real criminal. We are to see that that when it comes to the black market it is the house wife who is the real villain of the piece.

The butcher is a common criminal and only does what he does because of the housewife who buys the meat. It is interesting that the Judge puts the lion's share of the blame for the crime on the dishonest fence.

There was a large propaganda machine at work during the war. They made information films and propaganda films on just about every subject conceivable.

Evacuation – Operation Pied Piper

One of the hardest things to deal with as a mother with young children was the evacuation. The government made plans to evacuate certain pregnant women and children. They called this plan Operation Pied Piper.

In this plan, pregnant women and children thought to be in danger from air strikes, were to be evacuated to safer areas. The government thought many major cities were vulnerable to attack from the German Luftwaffe.

Large cities such as London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Portsmouth took part in this evacuation. The children were sent to the much safer country side villages and small market towns. Operation Pied Piper took the children out of harm’s way from the expected bombing.

Not all the evacuations took place at the same time. There were three waves of Evacuation during the war. The first wave took place two whole days before the declaration of the war on September 1st 1939.

The first few months of the war became known as the phoney war. It was called phoney because many of the things they thought would happen right away didn’t.

Because of this around 60% of the first wave of evacuated children had returned home by January 1940.

This video is one teacher’s account of how she is coping with the changes in her school at Ashley Green.

We see the teacher tackling problems that the influx of children has brought about. Because of the influx of children evacuated to this school, there are now not enough teachers to cope.

The teacher who is also the headmistress is the one who is narrating the film. She has three classes who she has to supervise and teach at the same time.

The children are remarkably well behaved and seem to be very carefree and happy. Most of the propaganda films made during the war, gave idealised versions of events.

So it comes as no surprise that this happened in this case too. The film shows both the evacuees and the hosts experiences in a rosy light.

In this short video the sun is shining and the children are playing happily. From just watching the scene you would never guess that there is a war going on.

But this video does give us an insight into some of the stresses and strains evacuees put on their host schools. The schools, teachers and children all had to cope with the problems brought on by this influx.

Often the evacuees came from very different backgrounds than those of the village children. These differences affected the host families as well as the school.

Evacuation

There was to be two more waves of evacuations. The second wave took place in June and September 1940. Between the 7th of September 1940 and 21st of May 1941 Germany bombed 16 British cities.

This period of heavy aerial bombardment became know as the Blitz. The Blitz made the conditions in many city centres dangerous.

The third and final wave wave of evacuations began in June 1944.

The video tells the story of the evacuations using propaganda posters and photographs. Some of the children returned after the war to find that they no longer had homes or a family as a result of the bombings.

Part two to follow

This Hub is proving to be much longer than I anticipated so I will continue from where I have left off in part two in my next hub. I hope that you have enjoyed this hub and that it is giving you some idea of what life was like in the 1940’s for working class people

Other Similar Hubs

I hope you have enjoyed this hub it is one of several Hubs that have a common theme. These Hubs are all looking at life from a Working Class perspective.

In the past ordinary working class life and experiences have not had a lot written about them.

Which is a shame as they are different from those of the Middle Class and Upper Class. But thanks to the www many ordinary people are now able to publish and share their own accounts.

Giving us an insight into a way of life that has almost disappeared.

There is one period in modern times when all three classes had experiences in common.

It was during the Second World War. The rich and poor alike died and suffered losses during this time. Even the Royal family had a bomb drop on Buckingham Palace.

I hope that enjoyed your foray into Working Class England . If you did please leave a comment perhaps some feed back.

If I didn't cover what you were looking for let me know and perhaps I may be able to cover it in another hub.

More by this Author


Comments 37 comments

Candie V profile image

Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

Well done, as always, my dear friend!!


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Candie thanks as always for your loving support it is always a source of encouragement


Queen of the Lint profile image

Queen of the Lint 7 years ago from The Laundry Room

Great hub!

I first learned about the evacuation of the children through various fiction writers. If I remember correctly, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy ended up at their uncle's place because they had to leave London. I'd always hoped that at least some of the children had nice places to go and great adventures during such a traumatic time.


RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

both C S Lewis and J R Tolkiens children were evacuees...though I am not sure they had family to send their children to in the country, perhaps that's why the four Narnia children got an uncle?/I just remember that the stories all of us love now were written by those authors to their children when they were separated/how terrible that war was the catalyst for such superb classic storiesc. How wonderful that those two fathers loved their children so much that even with a war to fight and no choice of their own as to the jobs they had to perform, work was mandatory for all able adults, staying in the cities and fighting was mandatory for all able adults/ still at the end of their day they found time to send love the way they always had to their kids, through their story telling.

what a heart warming, heart wrenching article Maggie, a great piece as always! Thank you for reminding us WHY...we forget so easily...


Vizey profile image

Vizey 7 years ago

Great story and Great pictures. I can certainly say that British who were in Colonial Era in India that time were very happy. They had a wonderful life in India.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

queen of lint that's right they were evacuated from their home in London after the bombing started some of the children have wonderful memories of that time and kept in touch with the families long after the war but others had horrible memories it was just a matter of luck which home you were placed in.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Barbara it is amazing how people can turn events and circumstances which are out of their control and for the most part very detrimental to their lives into something that proves to be a blessing not just for their children and family but for millions of others just by using what they have inspite of those adverse circumstances.

It makes me wonder if I am using what I have in my hand in the most profitable way or do I only see what is in front of me? It certainly makes you want to put everything you have into whatever it is you are doing and not waste the precious time you have with your friends and family.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Vizey, you are so right during that period of time it was a very privileged time for the British in India thank you for being kind enough to leave your comments.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts

maggs224, another interesting Hub (although this one is of a more somber nature than some of the others). I imagine many people from your country have some difficult memories of that time.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Lisa thanks for your comments yes it was a more sombre time but that generation seemed to be built of more resilient stuff than today’s generation. Living through that time in our history seemed to give most of them a different and more positive outlook on life.


steffsings profile image

steffsings 7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

Usually when discussing war and the like - we generalize the 'casualties' lumping all together. It's a powerful eye opener when we look at it from the perspective of the children. Regardless of time, place, race, or creed the lives of the children... the lives of the children... Thank you for this topic.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

thanks Steff for your kind comments, and I agree with you that once the lives of the children are looked at it all becomes more personal and we can identify as people with the suffering rather than on terms of race or creed etc., I remember just after the birth of my son I was still in hospital after giving birth and I was watching on the TV a program where the Jews were being transported to one of the concentration camps via train. I had seen this event once before but this time it was through a new mother's eyes and the effect on me was dramatically different watching those young children trustingly holding their mums hands as they were herded onto the cattle trucks was absolutely overwhelming.


paulgc 6 years ago

superb hub, very informative. The photo of your mom and dad looks great but i see that it is suffering from a few signs of ageing. I may be able to repair that as i do a lot of photo restoration work for friends etc. If you want me to have a go at repairing it for you then please get in touch.


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 6 years ago from Southern California

Maggs, this is a very interesting hub, kept me mesmerized for a long time. The videos are a bonus, I love your vivid storytelling. I eagerly look forward to the sequel.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Thanks Paul yes the photo has sufered some damage I have tried to repair it myself but that part that you can see defeats me. It is a black and white photo that was hand tinted this was quite common in the 1940's and early 50's. I might take you up on your kind offer.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

fastfreta Thank you for your kind ocmments, I am in the process of doing part two at the moment and hope to publish shortly.


Useful Knowledge 6 years ago

You have done a fine job at putting this hub together. I can not imagine how it must have been to have lived during this time. How I do love the way you tell your stories of your life straight from your heart. I will read part II of this hub. Thank you for sharing.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Glad you like the hub, life was very different back then not half so complicated as it is now and the only PC we knew was PC Plod the Police constable lol. Political correctness is killing so much of what it aims to protect.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Hello, maggs, I am glad I have found you and read this hub. I am sorry to say I am from Germany and come to London in 1962. I was born in the forties and just took everything in my strite. But when you look back a lot dawns on you. I will read all you hubs because this just what I am looking for, experiences from ordenary people. You learn so much and I love learning. Thank you for writing all these hubs.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Hello, thanks for your comments, I had a German pen friend when I was a girl her name was Freiderchen and she came from Bremen. She came over with her friend Jutta in 1966 for a months visit and I remember watching the world cup on the TV with them. Jutta was a good sport and was not that upset when Germany lost and England won but Friederchen was not very happy. lol


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

I love it that you are telling your story here on HubPages. There is nothing better than a first-hand account of historical events. Your writing is top-notch and clean. I enjoyed this Hub very much.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Thank you so much for your kind comments James, I am glad that you enjoyed the hub.


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 6 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

Hello maggs224

Excellent and informative hub. I have a friend in NZ who was evacuated from Britain to NZ. I cannot imagine how tough that must have been for a young girl. However, she was adopted by a lovely family and has had a lovely life downunder.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

travelespresso thanks for your comments. It seems that most peoples evacuation experiences were mostly either very good or very bad and which ever it was it has stayed with them right up to the present day.


old albion profile image

old albion 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hello again maggs. I have been perusing your hubs today. Absolutely first class. Your enthusiasm shines through, your research is excellent, photographs and videos are tip top. Not only that but you live in Spain! voted up/interesting/SHARED.

Graham.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 4 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Thank you Graham you are a real star thanks for the lovely comments and the boost they give me and the voted,shared and interesting all of which I really appreciate :D maggs


bella 3 years ago

This does not answer my question. It is what did they use during world war II?


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Bella, I am sorry this was not what you are looking for, maybe if you share with us what your question is we might be able to help you answer it.

Who is the "they" in your question, and what is it that they used it for?


Hendrika profile image

Hendrika 2 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

In South Africa the war and the results were not felt as much. Very few men actually went to war and for many life simply continued as usual, except for the shortages of course.

When my parent as well as my in laws married the women did not even have wedding gowns and married in simple 2 piece suits. Of a reception and a honeymoon there was no thought at all.

My parents did not speak about those years too much. My mother told us that it was impossible for them to really put up house as there was nothing to do it with. She tells us how one would give them a few plates, another some cutlery etc. Food was also in short supply and they had to be very careful with what little they could get.

One tale my mother loved telling was about an incident when my brother was born in 1942. I must add my mother was a maternity sister. This was also the time they thought a woman has to stay in bed for 10 days after the birth. The hospital she went to was no more that a house with one nursing sister on duty. One night my mother heard sounds from the room across of hers. She got up, saw that the woman was bleeding terribly and she went and called the sister, who was asleep! The next day this woman’s husband brought my mother a pair of stocking for "risking" her life to help his wife. In those days, stocking were as good as non-existing so this was a priceless gift.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 2 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

What a fabulous comment Hendrika I think that you should consider writing a hub about this, if you would like to use your comment as a basis for a hub let me know so that I can delete it so that it does not conflict with your hub.

I really enjoyed reading your comment and I am sure that there are many others that would enjoy reading about the things that you have mentioned in this comment. Thank you so much for commenting.


Hendrika profile image

Hendrika 2 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

Thanks maggs224. I will seriously consider it. Never thought it would interest anyone!


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 17 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Hendrika, I for one would be interested, if you ever do get around to writing about this period please drop me a link as I would love to read it :D


Sam King 12 months ago

Thank you for this. I'm throwing a 1940's themed party next year and i was searching the internet just to get some ideas and, sadly being completely ignorant and blinkered to what went on in the war. However, your hub completely captivated me and has encouraged me to genuinely want to find out more about life during the war and has completely humbled me by realising the struggles that were faced during this difficult time, compared to the present time where everything is taken for granted! Chamberlain's speech and the video of the children being evacuated, reduced me to tears. Thank you again for opening my eyes and educating my ignorance.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 12 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@Sam King Thank you so much Sam for your comments, if this article had only ever gotten this one comment it would have been worthwhile writing. Your comment has encouraged me and blessed me beyond measure. Thank you so much for taking the time to not only read but also leave a comment. The majority of people who read the articles do not bother leave comments so I really appreciat those who do.


Sam King 9 months ago

I must admit i don't usually make comments on articles but this really did make an impact. Thank you again and I'm so glad it gave you encouragement. You're an excellent author - keep up the good work! :-)


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 9 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@Sam King Thank you once again Sam

kind regards

Maggs


Jackieo999 3 months ago

I came across your blog quite by accident and so glad that I did. I first read your articles about life in England in the forties and fifties. I was born in 1942 in the U.S., so I may be more aware of the hardships you Brits suffered during WW II. Over here, many times I have heard those who fought and supported their soldiers "the greatest generation." I am in awe of the courage your countrymen displayed not only fighting overseas but also enduring the upheaval in your lives with bombings, rationing and evacuations. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of these historically important times. I look forward to reading all of your articles.

P.S. Your parents' portrait reflects a very handsome couple. Even though they could have only one photo, it is beautiful. Best wishes from Texas!

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