Baddow & Galleywood

004 April 2018 - Mike Brown

A child’s war – growing up in wartime Britain, 1939-45

Once again we had a great meeting with a good attendance.

Those of us who saw the new sculpture in the National Memorial Arboretum were reminded of a painting and Audrey brought a picture of the painting 'Gassed' by John Singer Sargent

Mike Brown brought along a lot of childhood memorabilia from the years of WW2 and gave us a wonderful talk.

Although in Germany children were prepared for war – the Hitler Youth trained children for war; here it was a surprise to children. The first sign was in 1938 when 50 million gas masks were issued. The gas masks were ‘loaned’, but Mike was sure that the government did not want them back at the end of the war. They were to be carried everywhere. So many were ‘lost’ in London, that London Transport had a separate lost property office for gas masks. The gas masks for under-6 year olds were called ‘Mickey Mouse’ masks – they were made in bright colours so that young children would not object to wearing them; and those for babies were like miniature iron lungs. In 1939 cases for gas masks were being produced by firms that had previously made luggage – there would be no holidays in the war.

In the week before war broke out, the black-out was started. Cars had to have one headlight removed and the other fitted with a ‘filter’ – more children were killed on the road in the first 4 months of the war than in the previous 2 years, and more were killed than soldiers at the front!

ID cards were issued by the end of the first month of the war – a precursor of the ration book. The 1939 register was to provide the government with information about what age men were and for rationing. ID cards had to be produced to get ration books and were stamped so that extra ration books could not be claimed.

The must-have presents of the first Christmas of the war were miniature uniforms military for boys, Red Cross nurse [made by mum] and tin helmets.

Rationing started in January 1940 and everyone got the same rations, but in May, when a coalition government was formed, things changed and children’s rations changed – half a pint of milk a day [given to school children at school so that it was solely for the children]. One third of a pint came in after the war.

The first attack on the docks was on 8th September 1940 and from then until 24th December London was bombed every day but three. In theory 30 minutes was the longest people were expected to stay in shelters, but the worst day in London was 23 hours out of 24. Siren suits were created so that children could be zipped into the suit over their pyjamas before being taken to the shelter. As paper was rationed there were no cigarette cards to collect during the war – instead children collected shrapnel! In the shelter they would have card games and books [stories, puzzles and games].

‘Make-do-and-mend’ – clothes rationing was introduced not because there was a lack of materials, but more that the workers were needed in munitions factories. Most women knitted, often re-using the wool from an old garment. Often there wasn’t enough yarn for a new garment, so fair-isle was a useful method! Utility garments could only have three buttons with button-holes, but could have press-studs.

I942 was the best year of the war for little boys – soap was rationed!

Towards the end of the war children became involved - they collected ‘salvage’ and six George Medals were awarded to brave children [aged 12 – 16] who were ARP Messengers. There is the story of one ARP messenger here.