A Girl's Life in London
Glossary and Notes

The commonly used abbreviation for the barrage of Anti-Aircraft guns used to defend Britain's main cities and ports. Many ack-ack and searchlight batteries were operated by women.

Air-raid Shelters
Anything that could provide some protection against blast and shrapnel could become an air-raid shelter. See also 'Bin' Cellars, Basements, cupboards under the stairs and even coal-holes were adapted to accommodate weary sleepers in reasonable safety during the night raids. Large Public Shelters were erected in the streets. The Anderson Shelter, which could protect a family of four in reasonable comfort if it didn't flood, was made of corrugated iron almost buried in the ground and covered with a couple of feet of earth. They were supplied free to poor families, while the better-off had to buy them. But they weren't much good if you lived in a flat! Morrison Shelters became available later in the war. They were a sort of steel cage that could be erected inside a room. 2 - 4 people could sleep inside and the top served as a large table. The Government tried to prevent the use of Underground Stations as Public Shelters, but soon gave up the struggle to keep people out and they became well-organized and very effective. No shelter could protect you from a Direct Hit.

A plot of cultivable land allotted to the holder to grow vegetables. During the war every available piece of land was covered with allotments - waste ground, the land at the side of railway lines, even the moat at the Tower of London!

All the household washing was put into a large canvas bag marked with a personal code, tightly closed and taken to the commercial laundry or to a collection point in a local shop in the morning. The bag was washed, unopened, in huge machines and delivered back to the collection point in the afternoon, damp dry.

Barrage Balloons
These were huge silver balloons, as large as dirigibles, filled with gas and trailing a number of steel cables. They were anchored all around London to bring down any enemy aircraft that flew low enough to fall foul of the cables. They were particularly effective against the V1 or Doodlebug. Balloon sites were another defense principally 'manned' by women.

This was a large metal bin, about 3 feet high, with a flat hinged top. It was used by London Transport staff for tools, fire-fighting equipment and general temporary storage. They were not designed to be used as air-raid shelters! The one Dad referred to stood on a huge traffic island in the middle of a big intersection.

By the time war was declared, all street lights and illuminated signs in Britain were extinguished for the duration. ALL windows and doors had to be curtained so that no chink of light escaped to guide enemy aircraft. Torches and vehicle lights had to be shielded so no light escaped upwards. Traffic lights were covered so that only a small cross of color showed. The windows of trains, buses and trams were covered with a material which prevented the glass from shattering, with a small diamond left open in the center so you could (hopefully) see where you were. Most people relied on the driver to tell them which stop was coming up next! The interior lights of vehicles were disabled in the towns, and heavily dimmed in long-distance trains.

Civil Defense
General term for a number of civilian organizations which did invaluable service, much of it voluntary, during the war. It included the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) squadrons, emergency rescue squads, the Auxiliary Fire Service, and the Women's Voluntary Services. They were subject to military discipline.

The British Class system is hard to explain, but impossible to ignore! Basically there are the Working Class, the Lower Middle Class, the Upper Middle Class, and the Aristocracy. Within each of these are a number of subtle sub-divisions. Class is determined by a number of things - the work you do, your accent, your address, and your ancestry. It has little or nothing to do with income. It was much more important in the 1930s than it is now.

A residential street having access only at one end. The term cul-de-sac is too clumsy to be used in conjunction with a street name like Avenue, Street, Crescent, Lane, or Road. Hence 'Close.'

Coal grate
A cast-iron fire grate which fits into an open fireplace. It is designed to hold coal and to keep it burning. So it is raised from the floor to allow a bottom draught. The upper portion fits into the lowest portion of the chimney and has a damper (adjustable flap) with which to regulate the upward draught and thence the rate of burning.

These open spaces in London, some of which cover thousands of acres, are the remains of common land which was not enclosed by the Enclosure Acts of the 18th and early 19th centuries, when suburbs such as Mitcham, Tooting, Streatham, Clapham, Wimbledon, Putney, Wandsworth, and Barnes were still country villages. People used to have the right to graze animals and collect firewood and wild food on the commons, but the need for conservation of these lovely open and still quite wild spaces has made it necessary to revoke these ancient rights.

Currency in Britain in the 1930s
One Pound (L) = 20 shillings (s.) One shilling = 12 pence (d.) So 8d. = 8 twelfths of a shilling and 5d. = 5 twelfths. One Penny = 2 halfpennies, or four farthings. L.s.d. meant something quite different in those days! Though the Pound and the Penny have been retained since decimalization, the new UK Pound = 10 new Pence.

Britain's children were supposed to be sent from the cities to the countryside to keep them safe from the bombs. A lot has been written about it, mostly by those who experienced it in some capacity, but also by people who, as my Dad would have said, are "talking through their hats!" Experiences varied widely, and the effects were just as varied. As for parents who would not send their children away - it was a Catch-22 situation. Evacuees were killed by enemy action in the country, though more rarely than in town, some were abused and exploited, and others suffered lasting emotional damage as a result of being forced to leave their families and familiar environment. But for many, like, for instance, actor Michael Caine, evacuation was a positive and life-changing experience.

A working-class delicacy, something like a miniature haggis, made of liver and lights, herbs and onions, all wrapped in a piece of stomach membrane and cooked in a rich gravy. Mum never bought them, but Gran did, and they were scrumptious!

An enormous above ground tank, contained in a network of steel struts and ladders. (You can see similar tanks at any oil refinery.) The tank got lower and lower as the gas was used up and rose again when it was refilled. They were prime targets for enemy planes - a few bullets could send the whole lot up in flames in seconds. No-one wanted to live near a gasometer but they had to be close to the homes they supplied.

Gas masks
One of the great fears resulting from World War I was the threat of poison gas. The entire population of Britain was fitted with gas masks by the start of the second World War. As well as the fancy ones for toddlers, there were huge tent-like structures for babies. They were placed right inside and Mother had to pump air to them the whole time they were in there. Some people even constructed gas masks for their pets. Thankfully, they were never needed, though teachers still required schoolchildren to take their gas masks everywhere with them right up to the end of the war.

The very British stiff-upper-lip euphemism for anything that happened as a result of enemy action.

An unlined covered area constructed so as to be supported by the exterior wall of a house, usually at the back. It was easier and cheaper, when piped water became available, to place laundry and lavatory facilities in such an addition, rather than to pipe it into the main part of the house. Lean-to's were also used as sheds. They were cheaper to construct and took up much less space.

Most houses in Britain have a letter slot or letterbox in the front door rather than a mailbox at the gate.

London Transport
Still going strong after more than a century! (Visit their Website) It was called the London Transport Passenger Board in those days. It has survived Nationalization and Privatization, IRA bombs, and a few nasty accidents, but without doubt its finest years were during World War II. A modest paperback, London Transport Carried On was published in the late 1940s, but is now out of print. The Imperial War Museum in London probably has a copy in its archives.

Actually 'Lime Mortar' - not a mortar bomb! No longer used by the building industry, it breaks down easily, quickly crumbling to a corrosive, strongly alkaline dust. It damaged many people's lungs and eyes and caused a great deal of pain.

National Health Scheme
Part of a compulsory National Insurance Scheme introduced in Britain soon after the war ended. It meant that for the first time everyone could have medical attention and treatment, medicines, or appliances, when they needed them, without having to pay a fee. Prior to its introduction, many people called the doctor only to a deathbed, because they had no insurance and couldn't afford doctors' fees. It was a revolution, but equally revolutionary was the introduction after the war of antibiotics.


This was the name given to the thick yellowish fog which frequently reduced visibility in London winters to as little as 3 feet! It was a mix of natural fog, vehicle exhaust, smoke from burning coal and industrial emissions. Sometimes they lasted for several days. The vapor was highly acidic, burning the throat and lungs, causing much ill health, and rotting fabric. Few London housewives could make their lace curtains last for more than a year - they would just fall to pieces in the wash-tub.

Police Box
A large blue cabin that also held emergency equipment, such as First Aid box, a stretcher, and tools. Dr. Who's Tardis is a Police Box.

Perambulator. A large coach-built baby carriage. Not the same thing as a push-chair, which I believe you call 'buggies.'

An orderly line of people waiting their turn to be served or dealt with strictly in order of their arrival in the line. People who tried to jump queues without a good reason were very roughly dealt with, but this was seldom necessary. Expectant mothers, the elderly and injured or sick were always spontaneously given priority by other people in the queue.

(Petrol, Diesel, Coal, and paraffin [kerosene]) rationing was introduced at the very start of the war.
Food Rationing was introduced gradually from the start of 1940. Rations varied slightly from time to time, according to availability. Children under five and expectant mothers had green ration books and were entitled to a daily pint of fresh milk, extra eggs, and vitamin supplements. Shopkeepers, who did their best to distribute goods which were unrationed, but in short supply, would often give, for instance, oranges, to holders of green ration books. Children between 5 and 12 had blue books and were entitled to extra eggs, and various other extras when available. School-age children each received a third of a pint of milk and Vitamin A and D supplements daily at school.
The average weekly food rations for one adult were:
This was rationed by price, 1 shilling's worth. So if you bought cheap cuts, you got more by weight. Sausages and offal were not rationed, but hard to get. They sometimes made up part of the ration when fresh meat was scarce.
4 ounces (112 grams)
Between 2 and 8 ounces, depending on the season. (56 - 224 grams)
2 ounces (56 grams)
4 ounces (112 grams) - and it tasted awful - not a bit like today's Table Margarines!
Cooking Fat (Lard or dripping)
2 to 4 ounces, depending on availability. (56 - 112 grams)
2 or 3 pints (600 ml.) plus one tin of National Dried (skimmed) Milk every 2 months.
8 ounces (224 grams)
Jam or Marmalade
1 pound (448 grams) every 2 months. You could get 1 pound of extra sugar instead of this, if you were going to make your own jam.
2 ounces (56 grams)
One! yes, ONE! sometimes only 1 per fortnight!
Dried eggs - one packet, equal to 1 dozen eggs, each 4 weeks.
Sweets (Lollies or Candies) including chocolate.
12 ounces (336 grams) each 4 weeks.
There was also a 'Points' system. An allocation of 'Points' was announced each month and these could be used to buy goods which did not make up part of the basic rations. The number of points needed to buy something varied according to its scarcity. So one rare can of salmon or peaches would need 16 points, while for the same number you could get 8 pounds (3.6 kilos.) of split peas or dried peas or beans.
Clothes and house linens were also rationed, and if a wedding was coming up in the family, everyone saved their spare clothing coupons to help provide a decent outfit and set of linen for the new bride.
Bread was not rationed during the war, but it was in the post-war years. Rationing did not end completely until 1954.

I believe ladies suspender-belts are called 'garter-belts' in the USA. They were not used to hold up men's trousers. The British call such devices 'braces.'

A bicycle made for two - you rode one behind the other.

The British style steel safety helmet, worn by military and civilian personnel alike. Instead of closely covering the back of the neck and the ears, it had a narrow brim to protect them instead. This meant that hearing was not impeded. The civilian Aircraft Spotter in this photograph is wearing one.


This was 8th May 1945 in Britain. VE stands for Victory in Europe.

VJSf-Day, or Victory in Japan Day, was on 15th May 1945.

The V stood for vengeance, or the German word for it. The last V1, or Flying Bomb, to reach Britain got there on 29th March 1945. The last V2 rocket - the first ICBM - on 27th March 1945. Altogether 2,400 V1s landed in Britain in the 9 months from June 1944 to March 1945, causing 5,580 deaths and 16,200 serious casualties. There were 1,115 V2s in the six months from September 1944 to March 1945, causing 2,800 deaths and 6,500 casualties. The destruction of houses and buildings was enormous - 133,000 homes destroyed in London alone, not counting public buildings. The number damaged and afterwards rebuilt was at least 10 times greater, maybe more.

Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

Whistling Bombs
The Nazis had the bright idea of attaching whistles to some of their bombs, so we could hear them coming down. It was supposed to frighten people out of their wits, but it merely got on their nerves - especially when the whistle was repeatedly imitated by small boys re-playing the previous night's raid!


Slide fastener.

The History Place - Personal Histories: A Girl's Life in London
Section One - Britain in the Late 1930's
Section Two - How the War Changed Everyday Life
Section Three - Battles, Breadbaskets, and Bombs
Section Four - More Bombs, a Break, and School in Wartime
Section Five - D-Day and 'Our' Doodlebug
Section Six - Last Year of the War

Read more about the London Blitz
Photos of London during the Blitz

Return to The History Place - Personal Histories Index
The History Place Main Page

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