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18 September 2014
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The Home Front in World War One

By Peter Craddick-Adams
World War Two

Image of a tank factory
The interior of a tank factory ©
The coming of war in 1939 affected daily life far more than World War One had ever done.

Like the earlier war, the nation’s labour was mobilised, and 500,000 women joined the uniformed services, and millions more worked in the factories and on the land. Both men (from 1939) and women (from 1941) were eventually conscripted.

Underlining the interplay between the Home Front and service abroad, one male conscript (they were called national servicemen, the very word ‘conscript’ being anathema to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1939) in ten was employed in the nation’s coalmines, such was the requirement for fuel. They were known as Bevin Boys, after the Minister of Labour.

In the reactivated Women’s Land Army, in 1940 Barbara Morris found herself near Dover in the thick of the Battle of Britain:

‘It was harvest time and I remember hearing a terrific screaming sound as a plane seemed to be coming down on top of me. I just ran and ran to the edge of the wood nearby… If we were not sure how things were going… we dived into the shocks of corn; otherwise we would look up and say, ‘it’s all right. It’s one of ours’… We did not pay much attention when planes fell some way off, we were too busy… At the height of the battle… one of our pilots baled out when his plane was shot up. As his parachute descended, he was attacked by a German…[and] landed badly wounded.
His plane fell on the roof of a barn of the neighbouring farm… An American bomber came down in some woods near us. We heard the engine cut out and saw the clouds of smoke; nobody could do anything. All the crew were killed… [Our tin hats] were too cumbersome and heavy to work in…[but] when I first heard an explosion from a German cross-Channel gun [and] found a piece [of shell]…in one of the fields…. [which] weighed four pounds… After that we took our tin hats with us wherever we were working… ’
Nicola Tyler, They Fought in the Fields, The Women's Land Army: The Story of a Forgotten Victory

Published: 2005-03-14

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