Uncover Britain's Home Front During WWII
Gain insight into the social, economic, political and cultural affairs of Britain throughout the Second World War. Sourced from The National Archives U.K. and The History of Advertising Trust, this digital primary source collection provides a full picture of the impact of modern warfare on civilian life. Explore a wide range of documents from social surveys to food offences trials, from Propaganda film scripts to wartime advertising.
May 10th, 1940
Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister
On June 18th, barely a month after becoming Prime Minister, Churchill reported to the House of Commons that France had requested an armistice with Germany, leaving Britain the sole unconquered Ally still fighting the Axis powers. Churchill's speech acknowledged that 'The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.' This advertisement from June 21st quotes the famous speech and asks the British people to persevere in the face of overwhelming odds, assuring them that future generations will remember their courage and remark, 'This was their finest hour.'
May 14th, 1940
Home Guard established
Officially known as the Local Defence Volunteers, the Home Guard was established to support the police and the armed forces in case of invasion. Entirely formed of volunteers, the Home Guard at its largest numbered 1.5 million men, who manned road blocks, guarded airfields, factories and munitions stores, and patrolled coastal areas. This book tells the history of the Warwickshire Home Guard, describing it as 'a thoroughly British affair', marked by a 'spirit of comradeship and goodwill'.
May 26th – June 4th, 1940
Evacuation of Dunkirk
The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in the North of France. The war-time film "Channel Incident" was released in 1941 by the Ministry of Information. The script, shown here, tells the story of 'an old Navy man' who borrows a 25-foot yacht from the local yacht club and takes it across the English Channel to aid in the evacuations.
September 15th, 1940
The Battle of Britain
The Day that Saved the World, a film produced by the Ministry of Information and the Crown Film Unit in 1942, chronicles the events of September 15th, 1940. On that day the outnumbered and largely inexperienced Royal Air Force shot down dozens of German Luftwaffe aircraft and effectively ended the plan to destroy the R.A.F. and invade Britain. The film script concludes, 'It has been a long two years since that 15th day of September 1940, on the triumph of which the whole development of the subsequent campaign against Hitler was made possible.'
September 1940 - May 1941
After the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe shifted their attention to bombing civilian targets in London and other cities. One of the most severe raids took place over Coventry on the night of November 14th-15th, 1940. This report from November 18th, prepared by the Mass Observation Group, assesses the damage caused by the bombing during that raid, the effectiveness of air-raid warnings and shelters, public opinion, and the spread of rumours.
August 7th, 1941
The Atlantic Charter
The Ministry of Information produced the 1941 film, "Atlantic Charter", to celebrate and promote the signing of the agreement between U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Atlantic Charter set out the war aims of these two allies, including the restoration of self-government to conquered territories, global cooperation for improved social and economic conditions, freedom of the seas, and disarmament of aggressor nations.
December 7th, 1941
Japan enters the war
On December 7th, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, as well as Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. The U.S. and Britain both declared war on Japan the following day. This document, written the day before the attacks, considers what to do about Japanese nationals living in Britain in the event of war between the two countries.
June 6th, 1944
Beginning on June 6th, 1944, the combined forces of the Allied nations landed on the beaches of northern France in the first stage of a prolonged battle to defeat the German forces in western Europe. The war-time government film, By Sea and Land, released in 1944 by the Ministry of Information, the Admiralty, and the Crown Film Unit, follows the soldiers of the Royal Marine Commandos in Normandy after Operation Overlord.
May 8th, 1945
Victory in Europe was declared on May 8th, 1945, when a defeated Germany finally surrendered unconditionally. Days before, the British government anticipated the public's excitement over the end of the war in Europe. This May 4th advertisement urged grocers, milkmen, bakers and restauranteurs to remember that, although VE Day would undoubtedly be a public holiday, people would still need to be fed.
December 30th, 1945
The banana returns to Britain
The expense and dangers of shipping anything across the Atlantic during wartime meant that only essentials were imported. Luxuries like bananas were out of the question. The Kitchen Front radio programme suggested making this 'Wartime Banana Spread' out of parsnips as a tea-time treat for children. Recipes like this suggest the long-awaited arrival of real bananas in December 1945 must have been met with delighted smiles... and perhaps some confusion about how to eat them.
March 8th, 1967
International Women’s Day
The first International Women's Day was actually celebrated before World War I, with communist countries being the first to adopt March 8th as an official date. The West didn't officially acknowledge March 8th as International Women's Day until decades later. In honor of those first Russian women, who inaugurated the Russian Revolution with their protests on March 8th 1917, this war-time British film was dedicated to the millions of Russian women who contributed to the war effort in their country, and to the Allied victory: "100,000,000 Women".
Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England
Watch this video to discover what lies within War, State and Society:
This resource will allow students to delve into the material and draw their own conclusions, rather than relying on partial view or the interpretation of others. The sheer volume of material available here deserves recognition: this is not a partial nor selective view, but rather a comprehensive catalogue of various aspects of British Society during the Second World War.
David Clampin, Liverpool John Moores University.