The Blitz was part of ‘total war’ – that is, everyone, whether civilian or soldier, man or woman, adult or child was affected. Never before had women and children been affected to such a great extent by war.
Each night, hundreds of tonnes of bombs would be dropped by the Luftwaffe on major cities, such as London, Portsmouth and Southampton. This meant that it was necessary for residents to seek shelter from the bombs. The Anderson shelter was dug into the back garden and the Morrison shelter fitted under a dining table and protected people from flying debris. Thousands of Londoners sheltered in the Underground, although 60% stayed in their own homes throughout the war.
However, although the shelters saved countless lives, they could not protect the houses. Despite various measures such as sandbags and taping up windows, by June 1941, two million houses had been destroyed, 60% of which were in London and 16% of Londoners had been bombed out. Some homeless families had to live for months or years in their Anderson shelter, or with friends or family, or in government rest centres. The loss of basic services such as running water and gas was a regular occurrence.
To try and make it more difficult for the Luftwaffe to find their targets, the government introduced the blackout. Street lights and headlights were turned off, and blackout material had to cover every window. If anyone had any lights showing after dark, they could be fined up to ï¿½150 and receive a prison sentence. These draconian laws caused road deaths to double, and the government eventually had to amend some of the regulations.
Conscription of both men and women for war work meant that many women had to combine a job with family tasks. Women faced long days in dangerous factories making munitions, in the Land Army, or otherwise doing traditionally male jobs. They were paid less than men doing the same job and were often treated badly. The numbers of men going off to war and not returning meant that many children grew up without a father figure, and there was a drop in birth rates.
The Home Guard was formed for men who were too old for the Armed Services, in the hope that they could fight off a German invasion. ARP wardens were employed to make sure that regulations such as the blackout were followed.
The government believed that a large number of child deaths would lower morale, and so, between 1st and 4th of September 1939, 1.4m people, mostly children, were evacuated to the countryside. Never before had the classes mixed as they did during evacuation. Some found it impossible to adapt to this new way of living, and because no bombs fell on the cities, parents began to fetch their children home again.
However, when the Blitz did begin, these children had to be re-evacuated, but even more refused to be evacuated than before – only 47% of London children were evacuated. This caused thousands of unnecessary mortalities throughout the Blitz.
Overall, the Blitz caused more damage to houses than factories, due to a lack of precision bombing. This ‘carpet bombing’ affected the British public more than precision bombing ever could as families, homes, and basic services were lost, not just workplaces.