Death from Above
Any city-dwelling mother who kept her children close to her must have regretted her decision by September 1940 when Nazi Germany unleashed the Blitz. The Blitz was a devastating aerial bombing campaign that killed an estimated 43,000 civilians and smashed cities to pieces. In September 1940 alone 5,300 tonnes of explosives were dropped on British heads by the Luftwaffe. For eight months night raids were constant and black-out was strictly enforced. Anderson shelters, flimsy-looking corrugated steel structure covered with a layer of soil, became a home away from home and thousands of Londoners took to sleeping in Tube stations.
Alice Beanse’s account describes the 7th of September 1940 as one of the most traumatic days of her life:
“… when Hitler decided to unleash his fury on the East End of London, and my mother, father and I endured, along with thousands of other people, the worst bombing attack on that part of London. That day will live with me forever.” (6)
In Britain, the Second World War did not end on the 8th May 1945 when Prime Minister, Winston Churchill broadcast his message to the nation, just as it had not begun on 3rd September 1939 when Neville Chamberlain had broadcast his. A long road to recovery lay ahead and people immediately set about building a country back up out of the rubble. Anti-war sentiment was surprisingly rare, especially following the war when the full horror of the Nazi’s final solution became known, and the people of Great Britain were united for a time. It was this sense of solidarity that led to the emergence of the collective welfare state.
Physically and mentally scarred men returned from the battlefront, women returned from the workplace and children returned from their temporary rural homes, each carrying their own painful memories and resentments. For those who survived the war life went on but it was a life that would never be quite the same again.
* Between June 2003 and January 2006, the BBC ran the WW2 People’s War Project with the aim of collecting the memories of people who had lived and fought during World War Two. All quotes used in this article have been gleaned from the online archive of this project.