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