World war two was officially started with the invasion of Poland, September 1939 where the British being an ally of Poland and disagreeing with Hitler’s actions, declared war against Germany. The war lasted for 6 years in Europe until 1945. It managed to involve most of Europe and Asia, America, Canada, Australia, Africa. Debatably more the 30 million perished as a direct result of the war and generally it was the war that the world collectively lost more in than any other through out history. Not surprisingly it was proclaimed to be ‘ the war to end all wars’.
In my essay I will be discussing and evaluating how the turning points of Dunkirk, battle of Britain, battle of the Atlantic and D-day affected the British home front. I will also go into more detail on the subjects of evacuation, rationing and women’s role. I will justify my statements by analysing and evaluating sources relating to the titled subjects. These factors of the war that I am going to research are relevant because; – each turning point in the war would have had a major effect on the morale of people, and roles of women, rationing and evacuation were all aspects in which significant changes in societies attitude were provoked.
The war was described as a ‘Total war’ because the complete economy and populations of the participating nations were geared in to the production and support of the war effort. This made warfare totally reliant on the industrial capacity of its country, forcing everyone to be included somehow. In the case of Britain, this unified the citizens and strengthened its spirit through hardships. Without co-operation on the home front we would not have succeeded in the war. The government encouraged people to get involved in helping the war even if it made no difference, to try and keep the British moral high.
Organisations like the local defence volunteers, first aid post and the home guard provided people with opportunities to help the community in the times of trouble. Many communities rallied together for church and town hall meetings in order to discuss the organisation of blackouts and the suitable procedure in such circumstances. Often reliable people were given certain jobs to do like warning people of air attacks by going through their street and shouting the message. The war opened new opportunities for women, who suddenly realised they could be independent and faced responsibilities like earning money for the family and being in control.
The government still did not treat women equally and were reluctant to give them jobs, but they realised they needed the extra employees so paid them 2/3 the men’s wage, most women accepted their duties and many jumped at the chance to prove their worth in skills previously thought of as purely for men. The unfair wages angered a few women as they felt they deserved the same as men considering they were producing the same quality work as equivalent male employees, some even refused to work sticking to their traditional values and way of thinking.
Propaganda had a major role in influencing the national opinions of certain events. It often disguised or bent the actual facts of war situations in order to maintain the desperately needed public positive moral. This cunning deception encouraged patriotism. The government used radio, newspapers, posters, leaflets etc, so you could not escape its views and interpretations. For normal people these were the only methods of finding out the current events concerning the war, this dependence on one source of information lead to the country not really experiencing the failures as well as the successes.
Without the governments optimism roused from Churchill the country could have sunk into despair and admitted defeat to surrender, particularly in the battle of Britain where the war was brought to the home front. British soldiers are often stereotyped as courageous and determined this was partially due to the sparkling speeches and propaganda produced during the war in order to boost a sense of national pride and the righteousness of defending your country until the death. Churchill became a figurehead of national identity because he organised the war and had an excellent charisma that could motivate people.
Another stereotype, the British bulldog, represents peoples view of Churchill; fierce, loyal and brave. By defending your country against the nazi dictatorship you were seen as truly Christian, fighting for liberty, democracy and your king. This is reflected in the increase of church congregations during the war. Also people turned to God in this time of crisis in order to find solace from their panic and seek answers concerning divine intervention as it seemed the situation could not be settles between humans. Turning points
Many events and battles occurred during the war, which had immense effects on the mentality of the British people. The stories shown in the papers or radio broadcasts were often altered and polished interpretations of events, presented to the public in an optimistic, enlightening manner. Key turning points for Britain, such as Dunkirk, battle of Britain, battle of the Atlantic and D-day were conveyed as heroic successes even if the overall impact on Britain’s military status had depleted their strength dramatically.
People were unaware of the government’s censorship of the press and there fore their ulterior agenda to manipulate the emotions of the country. However, with- out this intervention the press could have destroyed the courageous attitude that millions clung to, by publishing negative articles that would depress people and there fore affect the countries efficiency and determination as loss of hope set in. A perfect example of a catastrophic military mistake that evolved into a remarkable rescue attempt exhibiting British compassion, ingenuity and bravery is Dunkirk.
Hailed by the press as ‘the Miracle of Dunkirk’. The battle lasted from approximately May 25th to June 3rd. The battle of Dunkirk occurred as the British expeditionary forces and the French army combined, were forced back by the Germans bursting through the Ardennes. They were cornered and trapped at the coast of the Franco Belgium border because the Germans had so rapidly captured Calais. They could not escape by sea because the harbours had been destroyed; their only option was to continue fighting, so the allies had practically lost already.
In the eyes of the media the focus was not so much on the overwhelming defeat and retreat of nearly 350,000 troops but the amazing rescue of the men by the Skylark navy. Emphasis was put on the fact that many of the vessels were leisure cruisers and a rabble of fishing boats collected from the south coast by ordinary people to complete a heroic mission to save their comrades and fellow allies. Individual tales were shown in papers to relate it on a personal and more emotional level to the public, thus bringing people together.
Many explained how the British soldiers were singing and lining up calm and organised for their turn to get a board the boats, whilst faced with bombing and battle conflict all around. The evacuation persevered constantly with a fleet of 700 vessels for 8 days while The Germans attacked from all directions destroying all military bases. The allies were resisting purely defensively. All they had to do was wait patiently until their chance to escape the body littered devastation that had been created on the French coast.
Information on the mortality and colossal equipment and munitions supplies lost were not published as prominently and accurately. This technique of hyping up the good aspects of Dunkirk was a major moral boost for the British at a crucial point where circumstances were spiralling dismally out of allied control. The battle of France was almost over and the Germans were putting the pressure on Britain to surrender as they advanced boldly towards the French coast.
The government realised if the Germans got control of the extensive French navy they could invade easily, but this was never mentioned in the papers either, so the public was not concerned. The media took the stamina and courage displayed in Dunkirk as a tool to motivate the British citizens. It presented examples of ordinary untrained British people conquering all odds and succeeding in the face of danger. It also proved that the whole country being involved was necessary to defend the country.
Although most people realised it was a major set back in the war, glossed over the grim facts of loss of men, munitions and land and concentrated on the positive perspective i. e. defined unity and saving of thousands of lives. This attitude of seeing the best in situations was influenced immensely by media coverage and continued throughout the war. As Germany threatened to invade people clung together and helped each other for moral support. The Battle of Britain was a particularly important conflict for the British public as it was the first time the battlefield had progressed over England’s soils.
The Germans main objective was to obliterate the RAFand destroy the major cities in an attempt to demoralise the population so they would submit to neutrality and convince the government to comply with the Germans insistence of co-operation. They planned to use their own air force, luftwaffe (fighter/bomber planes), to obtain airspace control. By destroying the air force the Germans could efficiently invade Britain, as this was her major defensive shield. The battle began in August 1940 after the French surrendered and the British refused to collaborate and admit the war was closing in favour of Germany.
The RAF needed to be smashed to enable the British to see the supposed inevitable German victory. During this period Churchill campaigned rigorously for people to persist with the war effort despite considerable opposition from pro-peace politicians like lord Halifax. The outlook was daunting and shaky for Britain and even the government couldn’t hide the fact that the war had been brought to the heart of their civilisation but they had no intention of relenting. This was the first occasion where public casualties were present and the destruction of many ancient beautiful city centres was occurring.
The enormous physical view of the war was anticipated by evacuation, Anderson shelters, gas masks etc, but was obviously a huge shock to the population as the reality of war suddenly confronted them. This generally depressed the nation as the bombardment continued for months and people had to hide in shelter as their world was flattened around them. However a new wave of intimacy was formed with neighbours as everyone learned to help each other. People in rural areas were less affected and did not experience the bombing.
They were more prone to absorb all the positive spin on the radio about the British gaining advantage. As time passed it became apparent that the Germans had under estimated the British and the advantage they had as the location was conveniently over British airspace. This meant the Germans had to travel long distances to reach targets and return quickly in order to refuel. This left them as easy pickings for the British waiting near their bases. They planned many raids which when performed were disastrous and eventually resulted in a British victory.
The British had also learned to decipher the German high security radio communications, the enigma cypher. This was vital in the construction of British tactics. After the struggle the RAF were idolised as heroes and a perfect example of British perseverance. This was displayed in posters stating ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’. This filled people with a new confidence and a sense that the worst was done and the British alone withstood the might of Adolph Hitler. It was a narrow victory, but it allowed everyone to feel totally involved in the war operation, as they now made a proper difference.
People had to adapt and become more co operative and resourceful. The papers expressed the Blitz in a very optimistic way; by printing the German losses in bold headings and describing the shameful actions and lies spun by the Germans. They advertised the British successes widely and went into great detail, exaggerating the glory of certain battles, which the RAF had won, encouraging people to be patriotic. The civilian casualties were not published even though there were over 23000 dead and over 32000 wounded. There fore people could not be affected by the extent of death caused by the city bombing.
However, the people in the towns and cities who experienced the Blitz often disregarded the media’s sunny view as they were actually facing the horror of destruction and personal loss unlike those who gained their information from the press and radio. Most decided to buckle down and commit themselves to keeping their families and neighbourhood’s safe. But obviously exceptions began to occur more frequently as the situation worsened and people became depressed and unable to function normally, disrupting industry and morale.
The battle of the Atlantic spanned most of the war and was the ultimate competition for naval supremacy. The aged yet mighty British navy with it’s large weapon protected cargo vessels had always reigned over the sea as it had supported a vast network of colonies and been involved in many wars. The Germans in this respect had a large disadvantage but had been developing u-boats; a modern fast and dangerous sub marine vessel, which could send torpedoes, that homed in on targets and submerged so they weren’t visible.
Hitler put immense effort in the production of these boats so the fleet was quickly increasing and kept upgrading with new technology. He created a new style of naval warfare so the ships travelled in groups called wolf packs. These ‘wolf packs’ literally found an enemy vessel alerted it’s associates to surround and bombarded it, hence the name. For Britain to keep the pressure on the Germans they desperately needed support with munitions etc from America, so it was essential that the North Atlantic passage was kept functional and cargo ships were safe from attack.
This proved to be extremely difficult at the beginning as Hitler kept manufacturing new boats and the British were relying on their old fleets to transport the equipment. The British public did not find out about the dismal losses in the Atlantic as most of the focus of the media was on the battles occurring on the continent concerning the majority of the soldiers. This was deemed more important in the eyes of the people as it affected them on a more personal level getting them more involved.
If the naval losses had been prominent in the papers and radio the public would have become gradually more and more depressed which was obviously against government initiative. However, because of the constant dependence on the supplies connections from America the British people often worried about the progress of the Atlantic battle, as it was essential to the fighting on the continent. The destruction of huge expensive and highly regarded ships also enhanced the worry of the British and the fact their never defeated navy was being defeated was an even bigger scare.
After the fall of France in 1941 he could use Atlantic ports to launch his boats. During the following year he had his most successful year but the British development of sonar and the enigma machine meant they began to be more efficiently detected and the tide started to turn in the favour of the British. It was brought to the publics attention that the Germans were losing their reputable U-boats, again presenting what was a great loss overall into a positive event in the eyes of the nation. Even though in 1942 1299 British vessels were lost compared with the pitiful 87 U-boats sunk.