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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
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.
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
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.
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.