The Impact of the Second World War on a London Borough: Bexley 1939-1945

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Last updated: November 10, 2019

From studying the different sources of information about the Home Guard in Bexley, the reader can learn that people from all walks of life were enthusiastic and eager to be involved in helping to support their country. Old soldiers were proud once again to be representing their country and organising their ranks. The people banded together to form obstruction gangs that might be able to delay possible invasions by soldiers and tanks. Although their efforts were futile because of the lack of equipment, it kept the people’s morale high to think that they were doing something positive for their local community and country.From looking at the information about the care of the community, the reader can learn that great care and attention was given to preparing for every worst possible event that might have happened within the Borough of Bexley. Safety seemed to be one of the highest priorities and people were given plenty of information on safety precautions.

Preparations were made for passers-by in streets where there might have been air-raids. Plenty of information was given to people who might like to be able to build their own shelters on their properties. School children were well prepared in such things as using gas masks.Local women were taught the skills of basic fire fighting and would in some areas do fire watching duties twice a week. The Borough seemed to be prepared for the worst and even had an underground emergency hospital in Erith, so as to protect the sick and wounded in the event of a bombing raid. From studying the sources about the different impressions of the effectiveness of the efforts to defend the Borough from enemy action, the reader can see two completely different sides of how the people were feeling. On the one hand some people seemed to think that whatever they did, it would not be enough.

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An example of this was in Source B when a Mr Priest tried to form an obstruction gang to try to delay any invasion by soldiers or tanks. Although the gang tried their hardest to build some sort device for this purpose, there were not many materials to allow them to do this. The man making the comment reports “Our best effort was made from old scaffold poles and barbed wire and would not have harmed a “jeep” let alone a Panzer tank. ” In source E an Erith resident describes how he refused to use his air raid shelter because he felt that “If I’m going to get hit, I’m going to get hit”.He felt that he might as well be in bed and resting. By reading these two different accounts you can tell that although the first reporter would like to think he is doing something positive for his community, he is actually feeling negative about his actions and thinking that whatever he did would not have been any help in making the community a safer place.

The second account feels exactly the same way in having negative thoughts. Both seem to think that whatever they may do to make themselves safe, any effort will be completely futile. Both these two sources, B and E, are accounts that were made long after the event.

Source B was an account that was published in 1973 by a member of the Home Guard. The fact that it was made in 1973 is important if we are to use this as an accurate witness account. After the war you could say whatever you wanted without it being censored and things were often exaggerated to make the story sound more exciting. The same goes for Source E, which was written in 1983. It is easy for someone to look back with bravado at what had passed, but what would this resident really have been thinking when lying in bed with bombs dropping around them. In contrast to these negative thoughts the next few reports seem be more positive.In Source C where King George V is inspecting the home guard, although the whole picture appears to me to propaganda, it is actually working well, as the morale of the reader or visitor on the day would have been high on seeing that someone was actually caring about them and their community. In the next example, Source D, the public are given instructions on the ‘Use of Public Trench Shelters’.

Most people would have felt that they were given good instructions and information and would have felt safe in this fact and that something positive was being done to make them safe.Similarly, in Source G of a picture of a woman turning out to do her fire watching duties, the public would have felt safe in the knowledge that there were people out there watching out for them. Again making for positive thoughts. Although, in reality what good would this lady really have been in a major incident? So the reader can see the way in which people were thinking.

Propaganda was a good way to help the people to feel safe. Some people were never going to feel safe whatever safety measures and precautions were made for them.You can see how useful the sources of evidence of the impact of the war on the civilian population of the Borough are by studying them individually. Source I is about an eye witnesses report of a bombing raid carried out in the Broadway in Bexleyheath. The witness tells of a “whole crowd of aircraft overhead, hundreds of them. ” Fighter planes had been trying to get between them.

The bombers “let off a stick of bombs, right the way down the Broadway. ” The witness tells how he and his colleagues had gone to help with casualties at the Woolworth’s store.A lot of people had been killed and a small boy, between 3-4 years old, had been killed right by the doorway. Many people in the Broadway had been taken to the local Church and the Church had also been used as a mortuary. Though this account was made 40 years after the actual incident, it is still a primary source as it was made by an actual eye witness.

Primary sources are not always reliable accounts of what actually happened, they can be exaggerated accounts, but what reason would this particular man, who was working at the local meat depot, have for not telling the whole truth?Source J is a table showing the effects of enemy action in the Borough from September 1939 to May 1945. It gives figures of the numbers of people killed or injured and also the amount of damaged property that had been caused by various bombs or devices. This is just a set of statistics, they are facts and not individual opinions. The table gives an overall view of the whole Borough. But are these statistics correct? Damage caused to properties can be counted and casualties can also be counted, but how can you count the amount of bombs dropped over a period of six years! Source K shows the effects of the 15 October bombing raid in Bexleyheath.

It shows a picture of a corpse with its face covered, surrounded by debris. There are onlookers. The scene appears to be in the front of a church. This picture, at the time, was censored probably as not to lower the morale of the people, as such pictures were considered too shocking during those days. By studying these images today, we can learn a lot about the devastation that was caused to local communities. By studying Sources L and M, that are based on representations of events made long after the actual events they depict, we can see that Source L is a drawing of a reconstruction of an Air Warden’s Post.The Post was originally at Woolwich Road, Belvedere and was accepted by the Ministry of Information for exhibition purposes in Erith Museum.

Because this picture was accepted for exhibition purposes I feel that it would be a true representation of the actual Warden’s Post. Exhibitions are made for people to learn and a great source of real events. Source M is an advertisement for a television programme called ‘Dad’s Army’, which was a BBC programme made in the 1960s about a group of men who were in the Home Guard.

The programme had been made long after the war had ended, but people were able to relate to it because they still had vivid memories of the war years. Although ‘Dad’s Army’ was a comedy entertainment programme, it was based around fact and told of the adventures and shenanigans of an elderly, but sprightly, group of Home Guardsmen as they went about serving their local community. The writer of the series was, in fact, an active member of the Home Guard and would have used some of his experiences to create some of the storylines and be able to put some truth into them.By looking back over all of the different sources, they seem to suggest to me that the residents of the Borough felt that they had vital parts to play in the war effort. If you look at Source A, it would appear that men from all occupations were willing to make every effort to do all they could for the LDVs in their community.

Source D and the building of the Shelters seems to suggest to me that people had strong positive attitudes towards helping to make themselves safer and again in Source F where school children alike were taught such things as how to use their gas masks properly.In Source G, in particular, local women were happy to take part in vital duties, such as fire watching. It is reported in the picture of Source G, that Ruth Dawe (as photographed) had attended fire fighting demonstrations and lectures given by the local fire brigade. By looking at Source H, I feel that the Borough was making every effort to make its civilians safe with its building of an underground emergency hospital.In Source I, even when civilians were working in their day-to-day jobs, they were still playing vital roles, as was the eyewitness in this account, who as well as working at the Meat Depot in Bexleyheath, was willing to act as a Warden in emergencies. In my opinion ordinary civilians were playing extremely vital roles everyday of their life’s during these difficult years. Civilians were expected to cover any chink of light during the compulsory blackouts at night. Women were requested to evacuate their children out of the cities to the countryside during the Blitz.

Women also had the responsibilities of working in the munitions factories, such as the Woolwich Arsenal. Many farm workers were away fighting for their countries and women were, therefore, required to work the farms in what were known as the Women’s Land Armies. Ordinary people were required to collect any scrap metal that they could find for recycling to help with the war effort. Civilians grew their own vegetables in their back gardens and in allotments as part of the Dig for Victory campaign. All these things were done to help to support the war effort.Even though they may have not been doing much to help, the people still felt that they were doing something and this increased their morale. On the other hand, there would always be the negative thinkers, who would always believe that whatever they did would not help at all.

For example in Source E, in which a resident of Erith did not want to stay in his shelter. “If I’m in the shelter and it’s meant for me, I’m still going to get hit” he said. In Source B, a man describes how he had collected stuff to make obstacles for any invasion, but he did not belief that these obstacles would have any effect whatsoever.In Source J, (the table of incidents), if civilians had taken a look at the numbers of incidents, they would have felt very low in their morale and by not showing the photograph of the corpse in Source K I feel that this too would have saved any negative feeling that the civilians would have had. Overall I feel that the majority of civilians made every effort that they could to make their local community a safe one.

Civilians were mostly positive with their thoughts and their morale’s high. If you were talk to anyone who lived through these times, the stories are of people pulling together and making the most of the things that they had.

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