Many people grow up hearing about the amazing British spirit during the Blitz; of how the war brought out the best and greatness of Britain, of how everyone put aside their differences and came together when it truly mattered, of the collectively endured hardships and the unbelievable social fusion that came about as a consequence.
But just how much of this delightful recollection of the war leans towards wishful thinking? And how much towards fact? Did the people of Britain truly suffer in equal doses or are the influences of the past government’s propaganda still in action-take for example Source C.
Even those who do not believe that Britain worked in total unity during the war, must at least admit that the invisible lines that had divided citizens before the war became gradually more and more indistinct as the war went on; Women in Glasgow worked extremely long hours in production to do their part for the war effort. Source B helps to re-enforce this by showing us an image of civilians-both male and female- working with officers to clear up dead bodies. A task they would surely have preferred not to do in normal circumstances. This proves that the British people were courageous in the face of tragedy and came together to overcome it.
Source C shows that the line became hazy, not only between the sexes, but also between people of different class. We are shown a mixture of the smartly dressed, troops and the shoddily dressed standing together after an air raid unexpectedly happy and united by the ‘British grit’ that they all possess. This Source, as was Source A, is also susceptible in terms of its accuracy. Source C was most likely staged-as I mentioned- by the government to boost morale. Most likely to give a false impression of things, to feed people the lie that the people were unified and brave.
One line of division that did not become hazier but in fact more distinct was that between races. There was still a lot of racism during the Blitz e.g. discrimination against those of Jewish belief became evident in the East End. If there was division between races then how could Britain have been truly unified during the Blitz?
There is no denying that there is a lot of evidence to support the positive version of how the British people responded in the face of terror; Source A indeed mentions that people ‘didn’t have to be in uniform to be heroes’ and talks of the British’s ‘courage…unshakeable determination…in the most appalling circumstances.’ But the source was written long after the blitz occurred and the author has only passed down information to support his written view. So the accuracy of this statement is questionable. We must also take into account the purpose of the source; it was written to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Blitz, so we know the author is unlikely to include many, if any, negative observations of the British during the Blitz.
The government had many schemes to try and encourage unity and accord between the people. Some worked, some didn’t. Take for example when rationing was introduced, the government passed a law forbidding restaurants from charging more than five shillings a meal in order to prevent the upper class citizens from avoiding the hardships of rationing. This law was, in theory, a good idea but wasn’t thoroughly enforced. Some hotels were exempted from the ruling and still continued to serve many delicacies and charge high prices for them-including caviar!
Those who couldn’t afford to avoid rationing in this way turned to a rapidly growing black market. Rather than helping their nation’s war efforts and braving through the problems of rationing for the good of their country, a large majority chose to circumvent it.
The government tried to solve this problem by encouraging citizens to become self-sufficient and grow their own food. This only served to highlight further differences between the rich, middle-class and working class, as those who lived in low-income houses had no gardening space to become self sufficient. So this attempt to unify Britain failed.
On the other hand, we also know that not all the rich chose to avoid the restraints rationing brought. The Royal Family themselves had rationing cards, the fact that they had the resources to avoid rationing yet chose not to, once again causes us to believe that during the Blitz our nation, Britain, was a unified one.
Another scheme of the government, which led to division between the citizens, was the provision of air raid shelters. Though public shelters were provided by the government they were not enough, and those that there were, were in poor condition; unhygienic and dirty. The statistics during the war clearly showed that you were more likely to die in a raid if you were working class. The rich were of course above this, they had there own private shelters or secure basements in luxury hotels to take refuge in. And those wealthy enough to enjoy the luxurious comforts of a hotel sheltered there. Not exactly a situation that screams unanimity is it?
Source D doesn’t suggest that Britain were unified either. The people in the picture do not look courageous, rather aimless and defeated. They stand aloof and separate looking for their belongings. We are given the impression here that people were not looking out for others-they were too busy looking after themselves. This belief becomes even more likely when we consider the stampede at Bethnal Green; 173 people were killed as people ran madly for shelter.
Despite these selfish and uncourageous acts we cannot dismiss the many selfless acts that did take place; as the capital city erupted in constant flames from round the clock bombing, firemen from all over the country came to help; many civilians volunteered as ARP wardens. And when it was discovered that ships and boats were being sunk, the Royal Navy began to escort them in convoys to improve their chances of safety; homeless people were taken on buses and evacuated to safer areas. And throughout the terror, tragedy and widespread fear we are told, in Source G, that many still continued to turn up for work. With this added information the British attitude during the war once again begins to take a rosier tint.
But we must then consider the rest of the information given to us in Source G. We are told that ‘Londoners escaped to Epping Forest.’ Perhaps a more accurate word than ‘escaped’ would be ‘abandoned’ or ‘deserted their city.’ Source E tells us how ‘group after group’ fled from the East End. If the people of Britain during the Blitz were truly so united and courageous shouldn’t they have felt safe enough to have stayed.
Though the citizens were running away for safety, two very important figures stayed behind- the King and Queen. Despite Buckingham palace having already been bombed once, the royal couple refused to leave their subjects to suffer alone.
The sources can only give us a partial idea of how things truly were morale wise during the Blitz. They do not tell us about the way things were in the rural areas, only major cities, and they do not give us an idea on whether the attitudes of the people mentioned were long term or short term.
So some people may have been courageous and unified, but things certainly weren’t harmonious or peaceful in the workforce. As prices rose, pay fell. Many workers began to protest and were blacklisted for their efforts- they were unable to get jobs anywhere. The employers knew that many of them were eager to help the war effort and so would stomach the less than adequate working conditions to do so. The fact that the workers were so eager to contribute to war efforts shows that the British were united during the horrors of the blitz. But the obvious ways in which their employers took advantage of the people’s patriotism and bullied them in order to make a profit for themselves proves other wise.
At one point over 6000 men were on strike at once, and in total over four million working days were lost between 1940 and 1944. Such disarray surely shouldn’t have been present within a country that was so strongly bonded and courageous?
A country that is truly united, should be willing-if not keen-to help their fellow citizens in any way that they can. We know that in cases of evacuation this was commonly far from the case. Many evacuees were treated badly or even abused by the families they were sent to. A lot of people only agreed to take in evacuees for the money rather than out of sentiment or the goodness of their hearts and many families didn’t want to take evacuees in at all.
In my opinion, the idea of Britain totally courageous and unified during the Blitz is nothing but an attempt by the government to prettify the situation during the Blitz. But I do not blame them. If they didn’t do this people would become caught up in the negative aspects and forget about the good. And they’re truly were some good aspects; People stayed determined and continued to face work every morning despite the terror of the night before, and people continued to open their shops. In their own little ways they defied Hitler and fought for what they believed in.
Yes they weren’t perfect citizens after all they were only human but in those circumstances many people would have taken as much advantage as possible-only a minority turned to crime during the Blitz.