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  • An essential guide to faking it in WW2 Britain by Megan Westley

    It’s generally accepted that life in wartime Britain was tough. Civilians on the ‘Home Front’ were faced with a multitude of regulations and restrictions to follow, governing their diets, wardrobes and workplaces. But beyond these well-known rules were many others that came into force only between 1939 and 1945. Some were social, and could instantly mark you out as insider or outcast, whereas others were legal and carried heavy fines (or worse) for non-compliance.

    So, let’s imagine you’ve somehow taken a wrong turn and travelled to wartime Britain. What shouldn’t you do?

    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1Help yourself: Spotted a tin of Spam lying in a bombed-out shop? Even if it looks like nobody’s coming back for it, leave it where it is. Helping yourself to things isn’t a cheeky win; it’s looting. Any form of looting carried a severe sentence. Technically, those found guilty could face the death penalty. Regardless of this, the opportunities offered up by the blitz were too great for many to resist. Some thieves kitted themselves out in an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden’s uniform in order to walk into damaged houses and shops unchallenged.

     

     

    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1 The smiling faces of this couple, bombed out of their house in Coventry, show that the spirit of Britain was not easily broken. (Image courtesy of www.historicoventry.co.uk)

    Bring down the mood: So you’re having a rotten war and think the Germans may win? Keep it to yourself. Defeatist talk caused extreme contempt and could lead to a conviction for weakening national defence. Despite this enforced optimism, householders in their thousands tuned in to the broadcasts of ‘Lord Haw Haw’, an Irishman based in Germany who spoke to the British public with the aim of damaging their morale. Though his communications were upsetting, many listened in the hope of gleaning valuable news about their loved ones overseas.

     

    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1 A shopkeeper is seen stamping a ration book, having weighed out all the items. (Amberley Archive)

    Waste money: If you’d like to avoid making friends with the ‘squander bug’, be sure to spend your money wisely. The War Savings Campaign encouraged householders to invest any spare cash in a fund for the war effort. It was seen as unpatriotic to waste money or keep it stuffed under your mattress when the country was in need. The squander bug was a nasty, swastika-emblazoned character who boasted “Go on! Keep your wallet stuffed with notes! I’ll help you squander them!”

     

    Step off a moving bus: Black and white films show people hopping on and off moving buses as a matter of course. But if you want to be a good civilian, you’d better not do it at night. London Transport released a number of advertisements warning of the dangers associated with getting around in the extreme darkness of the blackout. Every good campaign needs a character, and theirs was Billy Brown, a man ‘much too sensible and knowing to jump down off a bus that’s going.’

     

    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1 (Amberley Archive)

    Talk too much: If, by any chance, you should come across some interesting information, do remember to ‘keep it dark’. The ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ campaign was rolled out in 1940, warning the public about potential spies in their midst. The Ministry of Information even screened films showing how the smallest piece of leaked information could result in loss of life. Keeping secrets wasn’t just a social nicety: in 1944, a Civil servant was sentenced to three months in prison on two charges ‘arising out of careless talk’.

    Find out more about negotiating everyday life in Home Front Britain in Living on the Home Front by Megan Westley.

    Britain - 9781445645278

    Megan Westley's new paperback edition of Living on the Home Front is available for purchase now.

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