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Very Well, Alone: How the British Population Survived the

London Blitz

By Nicholas Peacock

0
At twelve past six the anti-aircraft guns fired up as searchlights swept across the

night sky. Sirens sounded and fire patrols throughout London sprang into action. Five

minutes later a bomb chute on a Heinkel 111 opened, beginning the nightly barrage.

During the next half hour over 10,000 firebombs were dropped over London, lighting the

way for the rest of the Luftwaffe raid party. It was the 114th day of the London Blitz and

the night of December 29th was to be its worst. The incendiary bombs touched off what

became known as the Second Great Fire of London, destroying an area almost as large as

that as that burned in the fire of 1666. The following day, the front page of the Daily Mail

displayed a photo of St. Paul Cathedral standing undamaged amidst the flame and

destruction. This came to be seen by many as a representation of the British spirit to

continue against a seemingly relentless assault. Although incredibly devastating, the raids

killed far fewer civilians than had been predicted. The survival of the British population

was aided in large part due to government evacuation, creation of shelters, and the

implementation of anti-aircraft defense weapons.1

1
Secondary accounts of the Battle of Britain include Leonard Mosley, Backs to the Wall: The Heroic
Story of the People of London During World War II (New York: Random House, 1971); Harold L.
Smith, Britain in the Second World War: A Social History (Manchester: Manchester University Press,
1996); Helen Jones, British Civilians in the Front Line: Air Raids, Productivity and Wartime Culture,
1939-45 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006); Tim Clayton and Phil Craig, Finest Hour:
The Battle of Britain (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999); Richard Collier, The City That Wouldn’t
Die (London: Collins, 1959); Philip Ziegler, London At War: 1939-1945 (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, Inc., 1995); Robert Mackay, Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain During the Second
World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002); Margaret Gaskin, Blitz: The Story of
December 29, 1940 (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2005). The last book focuses primarily on the most
destructive bombing, which occurred on December 29. Scholarly journal articles about the Blitz,
including David K. Yelton, “British Public Opinion, the Home Guard, and the Defense of Great
Britain, 1940-1944,” The Journal of Military History 58, no. 3 (1994): 461-480; M. Kirby and R.
Capey, “The Air Defense of Great Britain, 1920-1940: An Operational Perspective,” The Journal of
the Operational Research Society 48, no. 6 (1997): 555-568; Mary Bradley, “A Matron of the Blitz,”
The American Journal of Nursing 43, no. 12 (1943): 1110-1111; Anthony J. Cumming, “Did Radar
Win the Battle of Britain?” Historian 69, no. 4 (2007): 688-705. For secondary works examining
mainly the bombing campaigns and aerial battles, see Richard Hough and Denis Richards, The Battle
of Britain: the Greatest Air Battle of World War II (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc.,
1989); T.C.G. James, The Battle of Britain (London: Frank Cass, 2000). Information on the British

1
The London Blitz was not the first time British citizens experienced aerial

bombardment. On the May 31, 1915, a German Zeppelin flew over London and dropped

a series of bombs. The targets seemed random, killing seven and wounding thirty-five.

The raids continued for eighteen months until high death rates for Zeppelin crews,

resulting from their slow speed, brought about the use of conventional bombers. By mid

1918 the raids had ended, leaving 670 British killed. Worse than the physical carnage of

the bombings was the psychological devastation it wrought on the population. One bomb

had fallen on a school in Poplar, killing fourteen children. This event helped foster what

would become known as the doctrine of dispersal: children, the elderly, and the

physically handicapped should be evacuated from likely target spots and people should

be kept from congregating in large areas such as cinemas. This principle, although

amended, would influence policies taken by the British government decades later during

the Second Great War. An important lesson learned from the bombings was that there

was no effective defense against continued aerial attacks. Prime Minister Stanley

Baldwin summed it best when he noted, “the bomber will always get through.”2

Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 sent the Western world into panic. Between

September 1-3 the British government evacuated one and a half million of its people from

potential bombing areas. This number was less than hoped for since the evacuation was

not made compulsory, since it may have hurt civilian morale. In London barrage balloons

myth can be found in Mark Connelly, We Can Take It!: Britain and the Memory of the Second World
War (New York: Pearson Education Limited, 2004). Edward R. Murrow’s broadcasts from London
were helpful in winning American support for entering the war. A collection of his broadcasts can be
found in Edward R. Murrow, This is London (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1941). Primary sources
can be found in Len Deighton, Battle of Britain (London: George Rainbird Limited, 1980); the British
National Archives online and the London Times (London), 7 September 1940-10 May 1941.
2
Ziegler 9-12; Hough 7-16.

2
were seen floating high above rooftops and an increasing number of people in uniforms

appeared. Gas masks were distributed to all remaining civilians and were made for even

babies and dogs. A mandatory blackout went into effect, forcing blackout curtains to be

put up in every home and business. Heavy fines and possible imprisonment were the

penalty for noncompliance. London was prepped for war and then…nothing. What

became known as the Phoney War was the period of time beginning with the invasion of

Poland ending with the Battle of France. It was marked by a lack of major military action

in Western Europe. As the Phoney War went on, Londoners became increasingly

dissatisfied with the wartime changes. Children who had been evacuated were brought

back home. Gas masks were seen less in public and in some cases were converted to

colorful handbags. The blackout became the most infuriating aspect of the Phoney War.

Nighttime driving became hazardous since motorists could not see pedestrians and

pedestrians could not see obstacles. Theatres that had been closed reopened and

restaurants resumed serving full meals despite attempts at minor food rationing. Although

no military action occurred during the Phoney War in England, it did help prepare the

English population for the bombings that were soon to come.3

The London Blitz began on 7 September 1940 and lasted until 10 May 1941. It

was an attempt by Hitler to break civilian morale and end England’s determination to stay

in the war. Many cities were targeted, but London received the largest and most deadly

raids. The bombings continued for 57 days, only stopping one night due to inclement

weather. In total, 18,000 tons of bombs were dropped on London alone, with several

thousands more dropped on surrounding cities and areas of strategic importance and

3
Mackay 46-59; Mosley 21-25.

3
national pride. Seeing that England would not surrender, the Germans abandoned the

majority of their bombing campaigns over Britain. By the time the Blitz ended, millions

of homes had been destroyed and 43,000 civilians were dead.4

Much of what occurred during the Blitz has become prey to myth. The image of

national unity in the face of adversity has been portrayed in popular culture and dispersed

through mainstream society in large part to film and television. The Blitz myth ignores

the panic and confusion felt by many during the raids. It also overlooks the animosity felt

towards many aliens, especially the Italians.5 The myth also overlooks government

suppression of morale damaging information and British anti-Semitism. Although the

myth affects conceptions of actual events during the Blitz, it is not the focus of this paper.

I will be examining the means in which the population was able to survive during the

continued aerial assault.6

The most effective way to protect civilians was by moving them out of the cities.

The doctrine of dispersal was once again taken into consideration. People who could not

make contributions to the war effort such as infants and their mothers, school children,

the elderly, and the sick, were given priority in the evacuation plans. Before the

bombings began, the British government realized that cities would be targeted during

German raids, in an attempt to damage the morale of the armed forces. Men in uniform

would be more likely to worry about their family’s safety if they knew nothing was being

done to protect them. Evacuation plans were a way of assuring those away that their

loved ones were being looked after and as a way to counter enemy tactics. The plans also

4
Mackay 10-14, Ziegler 20-22.
5
When Italy entered the war in June 1940, an entire group of harmless foreigners were
transformed into an enemy. Italian owned businesses were subject to destruction from mobs with
misplaced anger.
6
Smith 2-4; Connelly 1-6; Ziegler 97.

4
served to ease the stress of those men and women who would stay behind in the cities to

continue the war effort, while their children left for the safety of reception areas. It was

assumed that parents working in the war industry would be more productive if they knew

their children were out of the cities.7

The British government itself had at first thought that staying in London would

help boost morale by braving the dangers along side its people. However, later on it was

decided that morale would be better preserved if leaders were kept alive. Two plans were

drawn concerning government evacuation; Yellow Move, the evacuation of civil service

from Whitehall and Black Move, and the evacuation of the government itself. In order to

prevent chaos in an unorganized mass departure, the government stepped in. The

Government Evacuation Scheme established the priority classes, the first being

schoolchildren accompanied by their teachers, followed by preschool children with their

mothers, then expectant mothers, and finally the sick and disabled.8

The evacuation was always meant to be voluntary. The Minister of Health noted,

“obviously it would be completely unjust, and indeed impossible, to go down to the

homes of people and begin driving the people out of them.” Families who did not want to

be separated were able to remain together. In total, only 48% of all children in England

were evacuated during the war. Socialist and sociologist Margaret Cole remarked that the

evacuation plans failed to gain acceptance among many citizens because they were

created “by minds that were military, male and middle-class.”9 Governing officials

largely overlooked the considerations of how the evacuees and host families would

interact. Their primary concern was with removing as many possible human targets from

7
Mackay 32-34; Ziegler 34.
8
Mackay 32-34; learningcurve.gov.uk, “Home Front.”
9
Smith 41 “Evacuation Survey.”

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cities that would be most damaging to national and personal morale. The tensions that

arose from accepting evacuees largely undermined the idea of national unity during the

time of the Blitz. Most of the children and mothers leaving the cities were from the lower

and working classes, while the countryside was predominantly middleclass. Many of the

host families had no problem coping with the children, but had a hard time dealing with

the mothers, causing many owners of large country homes to opt not to take in anyone. In

the 28 October through 4 November Home Intelligence report, “Evacuation,” it was

noted that as a whole evacuees were being better received than the previous evacuations a

year earlier during the Phoney War. However, certain “well-to-do people would not take

in evacuees, and compulsory billeting had to be resorted to.” The report stated that

friction was growing between hosts and evacuees for several reasons. These included

social incompatibilities, the use of one kitchen by two or more women, the uncooperative

of hosts, the untidy and dirty habits of evacuees, over-crowding, splitting up of families,

and lack of occupation for evacuee women. Despite grievances on both sides, the

evacuations still helped save many people in cities from the horrors of the bombings. 10

Not only were people evacuated from cities to the country, but some children

were evacuated overseas as well. The British Dominions: Australia, New Zealand, South

Africa, and Canada opened their doors to evacuated children from England. The United

States even offered to take 200,000 more. At first the public and government supported

the overseas evacuation, reasoning the further away the children went, the better.

10
Ziegler 34-35; Smith 42 “Preliminary report on evacuation of children and others to Lindsey
(Lincs.),” memorandum by Lily Boys, county organizer of Women’s Voluntary Serives for Civil
Defense, 13 September 1939, HLG 7/74, Public Record Office, London; “Evacuation,” Home
Intelligence report, 18-25 June 1941, INF 1/292, Public Record Office, London; “Evacuation,”
Home Intelligence report, 28 October – 4 November 1940, INF 1/292, Public Record Office,
London.

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Gradually, as the need for passenger ships to move troops and supplies grew, the support

for overseas transport of children declined. Warships needed for escorting non-military

vessels were being used instead for defending home shores, which further decreased

support for overseas evacuation. Government support finally came to an end on 17

September 1940, when a U-boat sank the passenger ship the City of Benares. Seventy-

seven children died along with two hundred adults, ending official support of overseas

evacuation. In the War Cabinet minutes from June through September 1940, the Prime

Minister lamented on the sinking of the City of Benares. He was noted as being anxious

for the overseas evacuation to be effectively discontinued. Although government support

was over, private evacuation overseas continued. In addition to the 3,000 sent under

official plans, 10,000 children were evacuated to other countries. The ability for wealthy

families to continue to send their children overseas further deepened animosity among the

classes. Although few families were able to send their children abroad and even fewer

were evacuated officially, a small amount of children were able to escape the Blitz.11

Approximately two million people from London were evacuated before and

during the Blitz. An alternative to leaving for an extended period of time, some civilians

began what was known as trekking. The relentless bombings left many people afraid to

spend the night in their homes. Even though the government implemented ways to protect

its citizens, there was no guarantee of absolute safety during a raid. Thousands of

civilians would spend the day working in cities and helping in the war effort. However,

come night they would leave for the outskirts to sleep in places hours away. The

government often denied trekking taking place or condemned those that did it as having a
11
Mackay 46-50; Westall 82-84; Smith 43-44 “Overseas evacuation of children,” Home
Intelligence report, 16 July 1940, INF 1/246, Public Record Office, London; “War Minutes,”
June-September 1940.

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weaker constitutional mental makeup. The Ministry of Information estimated that in

April 1941, a maximum of one-tenth of the population engaged in trekking. The number

of people that were evacuated or participated in trekking was significantly lower than

those that chose to remain in the cities during the Blitz. Since so many people remained,

it was essential the population find means of survival during the bombardments. The

most obvious solution was to create shelters.12

For the millions of civilians working the factories in the cities, the threat of

bombings was a nightly occurrence. It was the responsibility of the Air Raid Precautions

to help minimize the threat for British population. Deep shelters were at first seen as the

best option against direct bombings, providing more shelter and space. However, they

were expensive to build and would consume too much time to provide adequate shelter

for the masses. Deep shelters also ran counter to the doctrine of dispersal; the more

people gathered in one location, the more likely a chance for loss of life. It was also

believed that deep shelters would cause people to remain underground for longer periods

of time. The more safety, the less likely it was for people to abandon it. The government

would eventually open the tube stations to the public, but it was domestic shelters that

were opted in favor of public.13

Anderson shelters (Figure 1), named after Sir John Anderson14, were the preferred

home shelters. Created by William Patterson and Oscar Karl Kerrison, the Anderson was

the British government’s first attempt at providing shelters for most citizens. They were

cheap to build and simple to manufacture. They consisted of six steel plates bolted

together at the top, had an entrance protected by a steel shield with an earth embankment,

12
Mackay 80-82, 87.
13
Mackay 32-35; Ziegler 70.
14
Sir John Anderson was the Home Minister, in charge of Air Raid Precautions.

8
and were sunk three feet into the earth. The structure was six feet and six inches by four

feet and six inches and was six feet high. It was recommended that the shelters be

covered with eighteen inches of soil, sometimes being converted to a garden to lively up

its bleak look. Anderson shelters provided safety for up to six adults from most anything

but a direct hit. 15

The largest flaw was the lack of drainage. When it rained, the shelters would often

flood, causing the owners to bailout the water by hand. During raids, this could lead to

people choosing to stay in their homes, rather than be in damp conditions. Another more

important drawback was that these shelters could only be constructed in gardens. In

certain cities, especially the cramped East End in London, such areas could not be

allocated. Despite this, over two million Anderson shelters were constructed before and

during the Blitz. Shelters cost £7 to have delivered and built, or were provided for free in

households who made less than £250 a year. Anderson shelters were not the perfect

response for all British civilians. However, they did help in the dispersion of people

during the raids (doctrine of dispersal) and provide adequate protection for approximately

27% of the city population.16

To help protect those without cellars or the space for Andersons, the government

hired John Baker to design indoor shelters. Named after the Minister of Home Security,

Herbert Morrison, Morrison shelters (Figure 2) were officially known as Table Indoor

Shelters. They were approximately six feet and six inches long, four feet wide, and two

feet and six inches high. A solid 1/8-inch steel plate sat on top of four welded wire mesh

sides and a metal lath mattress floor. The floor itself was designed to absorb the damage

15
Ziegler 24-26; Mosley 160.
16
Ziegler 24-28; Mackay 71, 190.

9
of being driven through the floor by debris on top. The mesh sides could be removed,

allowing entrance, or serving as a table during the time in between raids. When the

bombings did begin, the shelter provided safe beds for up to three adults.17 Morrison

shelters were distributed mostly for free to over half-a-million households.18

Figure 1 Anderson Shelter Figure 2 Morrison Shelter

Unlike the Anderson shelters, the receiving families assembled the Morrisons

themselves. They came in packages of 359 individual parts with three tools to help in the

assembling. A report conducted by the Ministry of Home Security found that the

Morrison shelter was very effective in protecting its inhabitants. Thirty-nine houses with

the shelters that had been subject to heavy bombings were examined. Of the one hundred

and nineteen people that had been inside the Morrisons, only four died and twenty-one

were injured. The study concluded that the deaths and injuries were caused by either a

direct hit on the shelter or the improper assembly of the Morrison. Given their

17
A limited number of two-tier Morrison shelters were built in a response to morality issues
between single men and female housekeepers.
18
Mosley 272, Mackay 190-191.

10
effectiveness and convenience, Morrison shelters were successful at helping protect those

civilians in densely populated urban areas.19

The large size of city populations made it impossible for the British government

to create and distribute shelters to each individual family. The creation of mass shelters

posed many problems for those in charge of protecting the citizens of England.

Government officials met the public’s demand for deep shelters with the initial

reluctance. In 1937 Lord Woolton,20 a prominent politician, was appointed to the head of

a committee debating the benefits of deep shelters. The notion that a deep shelter

mentality might grow within the population caused the committee to rule against their

creation. Woolton and others were afraid that people seeking shelter deep underground

“would grow hysterical with fear and would never surface to perform their duties.” The

government chose instead to support a program of building surface shelters, converting

solid buildings, cellars, and vaults into safe areas for the public. Possible deep shelters,

such as the Underground Tube stations, were intended to have served as a means to

handle casualties and other traffic, not for public use. It would not be until the

shortcomings of surface shelters became more apparent that the government would

reverse its policy on the use of underground shelters.21

The first public street shelters suffered from lack of planning and organization to

accommodate local residents. Most were unheated, poorly ventilated, lacked electricity,

water, and proper bathrooms. In these often-cramped shelters, disease was able to spread

quickly. In some cases the smell became so strong that people covered their faces in

19
Mosley 272, 382; Mackay 190-191; Ministry of Home Security, “For Press and Broadcast;
Morrison Shelter in Recent Air Raids.”
20
In 1940 Neville Chamberlain appointed Lord Woolton Minister of Food. In 1943 he joined the
War Cabinet as Minister of Reconstruction.
21
Ziegler 10-11, 27; Mosley 161-164.

11
handkerchiefs soaked in cologne. During raids the shelters became overcrowded, noisy,

and lacked privacy, further increasing peoples reluctance to using them. A more

important inadequacy of the street shelter was that many were unsafe. They were

typically constructed or converted without government oversight and in the most cost

efficient manner. Street shelters were never intended to endure a direct hit, but often

could not withstand small blasts. However, several civilians continued to use them,

fearing that they would do worse in the streets or in their homes.22

The government realized that the alarming state of street shelters needed to be

fixed in order to preserve civilian morale. An ambitious program of renovation and

improvement was begun. Local authorities were instructed to install lighting and bunks in

the public shelters. In the larger ones, those with room for 500 people, it was

recommended wardens be hired to help preserve order, implement a ticket system, install

heating, toilets, first aid equipment, and catering facilities. Officials maximized the

deployment of limited resources by focusing on repeatedly bombed areas and areas of

national importance. The improvements were largely carried out, with the exception of

running water. Local civilians began to detest the public shelters less and sometimes

organized entertainment, discussions, and occasionally educational courses. However, a

nationwide survey revealed that despite the improvements many people still did not like

the street shelters. When asked if it was wise or unwise of the government to favor the

building of surface shelters rather than underground shelters, 71 percent said unwise.

Civilians were not the only ones opposed to the surface shelters; many top officials

disliked the seeming abandonment of the dispersal policy. It was the government’s desire

22
Ziegler 10-11, 115-117; Mackay 71-72.

12
above all else to preserve morale that forced them to allow public shelters and eventually

the use of underground shelters.23

The public support for the use of the Underground tube stations as shelters was

overwhelming in areas such as East End London where large masses of civilians worked

and lived in tight quarters. The government’s refusal to allow civilians in ended on

September 8, 1940 when a crowd assembled outside Liverpool Street Station. Blocked

off by soldiers, the crowd demanded entrance and refused to disperse. Eventually local

officials gave in and permitted the people into the tube station. Coupled with Churchill’s

support, many Underground stations were opened the following nights to those seeking

shelter from the bombs. Despite this, only four percent of the population used the tube

stations as shelters as opposed to the ten percent in communal provided ones. Like the

communal street shelters, the tube stations were initially dirty and overcrowded. The

warmth of bodies in tightly packed spots led to mosquitoes surviving the cold winter and

helping spread disease. Complaints levied at those seeking shelter in the tube stations,

were that they impeded people trying to use the train for transportation and that they

made the Underground unsanitary. The government stepped in once again, issuing bunks

to be constructed allowing those trying to use the trains more room. Bathrooms were

made more readily available and the stations themselves were cleaned more often. Lord

Woolton was responsible for beginning what became known as Food Trains. From 7:00-

9:00 a.m. and 5:00-7:00 p.m. trains would run in the Underground distributing food to

those using the stations as shelter. A sense of community for those that used the tube as

23
Mackay 186-191; Mosley 185; M-O, File Reports 501 (22 November 1940) and 508 (29
November 1940).

13
shelter developed. However, almost everyone returned to their homes and jobs during the

day, helping to debunk the government’s worry of deep shelter mentality.24

Throughout cities shelters were becoming more prevalent. Trenches were dug

along fields and parks, strengthened by concrete linings. Basements in large steel-framed

buildings were turned into refuges for local residents. Unlike street shelters, they proved

to be very effective in protecting large numbers of people from blasts. The government

continued to overlook the doctrine of dispersal in favor of protecting its citizens and

morale. Owners of industrial and commercial buildings were required to make their

basements open to the public, even after business hours. By October 1940, over 340

basement shelters in London were available, giving shelter to up to 65,000 people. The

departure from the policy of dispersal and deep shelter mentality continued with the use

of caves as shelter. The caves surrounding many cities became home for many civilians

during the raids. For those remaining, new tunnels connected to the Underground were

burrowed. In London alone, the tunneling provided new shelter for over 50,000

civilians.25

A survey conducted during November 1940 reported that only 40 percent of the

capital’s population used shelters during air raids. As the raids continued, people became

reluctant to give up a night in their homes for shelters. Many choose to stay at home

because of pride, desire for privacy, an unwillingness to travel, or simply because of a

warm bed. When a particular raid became too brutal, shelter could be sought under a

stairwell or sturdy arch. People’s reluctance to use shelters was not a sign that they were

ineffective in helping the British people survive the Blitz. The main value of shelters was

24
Mackay 186-192, 200-201; The London Times; Ziegler 134-136, 155-157.
25
Mackay 186-189, 191; T.H. O’Brien, Civil Defence (HMSO, 1955), p. 526; Ziegler 137-138.

14
the fact that they were there. They provided a sense of security and the idea that the

government was trying its best to help.26

Besides defensive measures, the British government implemented offensive

means in combating the threat of German bombers. Before 1938, officials had hoped that

the Royal Air Force (RAF) would be able to deter any aerial threat facing Britain. In the

summer of 1940, Hitler began his campaign to try and soften England’s defenses in an

attempt to make invasion easier. Outnumbered, RAF pilots were unable to counter the

Luftwaffe’s attacks over major cities and strategic locations. The government had

realized a few years earlier that air defense would have to be considered in an attempt to

protect people from bombings. By the time of the first raid over London, 100,000 men

had been recruited to the Territorial Army Reserve. It was their job to control antiaircraft

(AA) guns in the event of a bombing.27

Despite manpower, the Territorial Army Reserve did not see much action at the

start of the Blitz due to the lack of AA guns. The skies were also left intentionally open to

allow RAF night fighters access to the airspace above cities. The public was not made

aware this and began to complain that nothing was being done to combat the German

bombers. The government decided that in order to help increase morale more AA

batteries would have to be placed in cities.28 Antiaircraft fire was not very effective until

late 1940 when advances in radar helped track enemy planes. In September, 30,000 shells

were fired for every enemy plane shot down. By January 1941, the number had dropped

to 4,000 shells per plane destroyed. The barrage forced the Luftwaffe bombers to fly at

26
O’Brien, Civil Defence, p. 392; Mackay 188-191; Ziegler 134-136.
27
Mackay 36-37, 194; Hough 48.
28
When the decision for more AA batteries to be placed within cities was approved, the RAF
night fighters were called off to allow guns to focus on all plane targets.

15
higher altitudes, making it harder for them to hit strategic targets such as railroads and

more likely to hit civilian homes. Although their advantage in combating raids was not

immediately noticeable, it was the people’s want for the guns that kept them in the cities.

It was reasoned that the visible and more importantly audible presence of AA guns would

enable the public to maintain a higher level of morale. The loud booming of the guns was

a conscious choice by those in charge. The worth of the guns was judged not by their

effectiveness, but by how the noise helped counter the belief that the government was

doing nothing against the bombers.29

The feeling of safety provided by the AA guns came at a price for the British

civilians. Although the noise symbolized the government’s presence in fighting the

bombers, it also kept many up throughout the night. Mass Observers30 concluded that

roughly a third of London’s population went sleepless as a result of nightly AA barrages.

Fatigue was not the only consequence of the guns. Shrapnel and unexploded shells would

come down from the AA guns, damaging buildings and killing and injuring more

civilians than some nightly raids did. Even if the public had known the full extent of the

AA guns deficiency, few would have opted to have them removed. They served an

important psychological role in maintaining morale and helping the British population

brave even the worst nights of the Blitz.31

Move visible than the AA guns, barrage balloons were seen flying high over

many major cities. The blimps were sixty-two feet long and twenty-five feet in diameter

and flew at altitudes of 5000 feet (Figure 3). They prevent German dive-bombers from

29
Ziegler 117-119; Mackay 36-37, 194-195.
30
Mass Observers were part of a government program of monitoring civilian morale and opinion.
A group of 500 untrained volunteers would conduct surveys or simply listen in on people’s
conversations.
31
Mackay 194-195; Ziegler 117-118, 235-236, 268; Hough 48.

16
targeting streets and forced other bombers to fly higher, making them less accurate. It

also became easier for RAF fighters to acquire targets since the bombers flew at more

predictable altitudes and directions. The public reacted well to the sight of the balloons

and in Chelsea the first two balloons actually received names, Flossie and Blossom. 32

Figure 3 Barrage Balloons over London

At the height of the Blitz approximately 1,500 barrage balloons were used. In

order to help manage their increasing numbers, the government created Balloon

Command. Fifty-two squadrons consisting of 33,000 men oversaw the placement and

movement of the balloons in cities and other locations of national importance. Like the

AA barrage, the balloons served more to help boost civilian morale and present the image

that something was being done to combat the bombers.33

Other forms of anti-aircraft defense included searchlights and roof spotters.

Searchlights primary use was to locate bombers and help guide antiaircraft fire. The first

searchlights put into cities suffered from their inability to reach the height the bombers

flew at. Like the AA guns and barrage balloons, searchlights played a part in giving the

32
Ziegler 31-33.
33
Ziegler 31-33, 77.

17
impression of fighting back against the Germans. When a plane was spotted sirens would

sound throughout entire cities. In large cities such as London, several locations would not

be subject to continued bombing during a particular raid. It was the duty of roof spotters

to alert local residents if the bombs began falling too close. This meant that civilians

could continue working during raids, helping further the war effort.34

The Blitz brought incredible devastation to millions of British civilians.

Evacuation saved the lives of numerous children and helped alleviate the worries of

parents remaining in the cities. For those that had to endure continuous bombings,

shelters were made readily available and provided both physical and mental notions of

safety. To protect civilian morale, the government created an anti-aircraft defense in

many major cities. Before the Blitz began, officials had predicted that up to 600,000

people would be killed in a sustained aerial bombing. Through the dedication of the

British government to protect its citizens and the will of the public, England was able to

survive the Blitz, losing only seven percent as had been predicted.

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Mackay 37-40; Mosley 130-132.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Primary Sources

Bell, Amy Helen. London Was Ours: Diaries and Memoirs of the London Blitz. London:
I.B. Taurus, 2008.

This work examines several memoirs, dairies, and letters written by civilians during the
Blitz. The sources come from people of social importance to those from the poorer parts
of English cities.

British National Archives. “Home Front.” Learning Curve. http://www.learningcurve.


gov.uk/homefront/default.htm.

On this site are several primary sources, including dairies from evacuees, pictures of how
to assemble shelters, government documents on public morale, and photos of the civilians
during the London Blitz.

Mosley, Leonard. The Heroic Story of the People of London During World War II. New
York: Random House, 1971.

A collection of civilian interviews and conversations during the Blitz are reprinted and
examined. It also contains different works of art created in England dealing with the
bombings.

Murrow, Edward R. This is London. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1941.

This book is a mix of journal entries by Murrow and actual broadcasts during from
London during World War II. It touches on the Blitz and how the population reacted to
the continuous raids.

Smith, Harold ed., Britain in the Second World War: A Social History. New York:
Manchester University Press, 1996.

This is a collection of British official documents from the time of the Blitz. They cover
many aspects of the social aspect of how the Blitz affected the civilians. It includes
reports surveys conducted by Mass Observation as well as reports filed by leading
Cabinet officials.

The London Times. London: Printed by New International. 7 September 1940-10 May
1941.
Website by Times Digital Archive (Gale). (http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itw
/infomark/0/1/1/purl=rc6_TTDA?sw_aep=viva_jmu).

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This online archive has digitally scanned copies of The Times from everyday of the war.
There are editorials on the government’s handling of the Blitz as well as articles on the
Underground being used for shelters.

Westall, Robert. Children of the Blitz: Memories of Wartime Childhood. New York:
Viking Adult, 1986.

After his novel The Machine Gunners met public success, several people sent in letters
about their time during the Blitz as children. This book captures how the younger
generations perceived things such as the evacuation and use of shelters.

II. Secondary Sources

Connelly, Mark. We can Take It!: Britain and the Memory of the Second World War.
New York: Pearson Education Limited, 2004.

This book addresses the Blitz Myth; the idea that England was brave the Blitz and stand
up against the Germans, unified as one, strong nation. The conception of the myth is
looked at, as well as how it has spread through British society and culture.

Gaskin, Margaret. Blitz: The Story of December 29, 1940. Orlando: Harcourt Inc., 2005.

This book focuses on the worst raid to hit London during the entire Blitz. It follows
several stories of different civilians from when they first wake up, through he actual
bombing, and how they carried on the following day.

Hough, Richard and Denis Richards. The Battle of Britain. London: W.W. Norton &
Company, 1989.

This book begins with Hitler’s plans for invading England and initial battles with the
RAF. The second half focuses more on the shift to bombing of cities and the attempt to
break civilian morale.

Jones, Helen. British Civilians in the Front Line: Air Raids, Productivity and Wartime
Culture, 1939-45. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

This book examines how the Blitz affected the daily life of those still in the cities. It
looks not only at the bombings, but how the war itself changed many aspects of civilian
life.

Mackay, Robert. Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain During the Second World
War. New York: Manchester University Press, 2002.

An excellent source touching all aspects of the London Blitz and how it influenced
civilian morale. It explains both the lead up to the bombing of Britain, the Blitz itself, and
its later implications in English history.

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Ziegler, Philip. London At War: 1939-1945. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

This book focuses mainly on London during the war and more specifically the Blitz. It is
a mix of both accounts of people during the bombings and interpretations of how the
government handled itself during this time.

III. Illustrations

Figure 1-Anderson Shelter, taken from http://www.learningcurve.gov.uk/homefront


/bombing/shelters/default.htm.
Figure2-Morrison Shelter, taken from http://www.learningcurve.gov.uk/homefront
/bombing/shelters/default.htm.
Figure 3-Barrage Balloons Over London, taken from http://aghs.virtualbrum.co.uk
/agww2/antibarr.htm.

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