Primary History

World War 2: Daily life

  • The wartime kitchen

    In some kitchens people cooked on a 'stove' heated by a coal or wood fire. The stove heated the room and cooked meals. Most kitchens had a gas cooker though some had electric cookers.

    Not many people had a refrigerator. People went shopping to buy fresh food most days. To keep flies away from meat, they kept meat in a small cupboard called a 'meat safe'. They kept bread in a bread bin and biscuits in tins. Families ate some tinned foods, such as tinned meat, peas and baked beans, but hardly any frozen foods.

    You could only buy fresh fruit grown in Britain, such as apples or pears. Fruits that had to come in ships, like bananas, vanished from the shops. Many ships were being sunk by enemy submarines, and precious ship-space was needed for war materials (such as oil or guns) not bananas.

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  • Listening to the Radio

    Almost every home had a radio or 'wireless'. Most radios came in a case made of Bakelite, a kind of plastic. In Britain, all the programmes came from the BBC. People listened to the radio news, and read newspapers, to find out what was happening in the war.

    The BBC also broadcast war news in foreign languages. People in France and other occupied countries listened in secret, because the Nazis punished anyone caught listening to the BBC.

    Radio was not all news. There were comedy shows, talks and plays, and sports broadcasts. Lively music on the radio helped weary factory workers keep working!

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  • Writing Letters

    Not every home had a phone (and there were no mobile phones). Pay-phones in red 'telephone boxes' did not always work after air raids, because of bombs. To keep in touch, people wrote letters. Evacuees wrote postcards and letters home. Men and women in the Forces wrote home too.

    The sight of a messenger hurrying to a door with a telegram made people feel anxious. Telegrams often brought sad news - that someone had been killed in an air raid or in a battle.

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  • Friends and Neighbours

    With many parents away or at work, children were often left to look after themselves. They played in fields or in the street. Street games were safer than they would be today, because there were so few cars.

    Children helped clear up after air raids. They ran errands to the 'corner shop'. Older children looked after younger ones. Often neighbours and grandparents helped too. Many families were 'bombed out' (their homes were damaged by bombs). When this happened, neighbours offered food and beds, and lent clothes or furniture.

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Fun Facts
  • Milk, meat and groceries were often delivered - by bike, by van or by horse and cart.

  • Unusual wartime recipes included Crow Pie and Squirrel Tail Soup!

  • Some wartime recipes sound a bit odd. Would you like potato and chocolate pudding?

  • A tip to save coal was: stuff a tin can with tea leaves and coal dust. On the fire, it gave ' a lovely glow and plenty of heat'.

  • In 1940 aged 14, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) broadcast a radio message to evacuees.

  • A 'save-fuel' kitchen tip was 'cooking two at a time'. Cover a cooking pan with a biscuit tin lid. Then stand a second pan on top.

  • From 1942 no white flour meant no white bread. So everyone had to eat the 'National Wholemeal Loaf'.

  • 'Keep fit!' was one wartime message. Being sick with colds and flu lost Britain 20 million working days a year. Enough to build 3,500 tanks!

  • People listened to music on the radio. They liked cheerful or sentimental songs that made light of the Blitz, such as 'Meet me in the blackout, sweetheart'.

  • An ARP first aid case for families included sticking plaster and safety pins!

  • When people went out at night, they often took a torch. It was very dark without streetlights! You had to stick paper over the bulb-end, to dim the beam in the blackout.

  • Mothers gave small children cod liver oil and orange juice. The Ministry of Food asked people to return empty bottles for re-use.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

air raid
An attack by planes dropping bombs.
air raid drill
Practice for what to do in air raid, such as going to the shelter.
air raid shelter
A building to protect people from bombs.
Allies
Countries (including Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the USA) who joined forces to fight the Axis Powers.
allotment
Small plot of land for growing vegetables.
atomic bomb
Weapon first used in 1945 when two bombs were dropped on Japan, killing more than 100,000 people.
Axis Powers
Germany, Japan, Italy and other countries that were allies in World War 2.
blackout
Wartime ban on street lights and other lights at night.
Blitz
German air raids, from a German word 'blitzkrieg' which means 'lightning war'.
British Empire
Countries ruled by Britain.
censorship
Controlling what people say or write.
civilians
People not in the armed forces.
Civil Defence
A network of civilian volunteers who assisted in the war effort by helping in air raids and rescuing people from bombed buildings.
Commonwealth
Group of friendly countries almost all of which were once part of the British Empire.
concentration camp
Prison where Jews and other prisoners were kept by the Nazis.
coupons
Slip of paper marked or torn out of a ration book.
D-Day
6 June 1944, the date Allied forces landed in Normandy, France.
department store
Large shop selling different things in different departments.

E to G

evacuee
Someone who was evacuated, moved from a danger area to a safer place.
factories
Places where things are made.
Forces
The Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and other services.
Frank,Anne (1929-1945)
A German Jewish girl who spent two years hiding from the Nazis in a house in Holland. Her wartime diary was published after the war.
gas mask
Face mask to protect people against poison gas.
general election
Vote to choose Members of Parliament, and a new government.
gramophone
Machine for playing music records.

H to L

Hitler,Adolf (1929-1945)
Leader of Nazi Germany.
Holocaust
Mass murder of Jews and other people by the Nazis.
host family
People who took in evacuees to live with them.
invaded
Attacked and taken over by an enemy.
Jews
People who follow the religion of Judaism.
liberate
To free from an enemy's control.

M to O

military uniform
Clothing worn by soldiers, sailors and airmen.
To do with the navy or warships.
A fight between ships at sea.
Nazi
Short for National Socialist Party (in Germany), a follower of Hitler was also called a Nazi.
occupied
Taken over by enemy forces.

P to S

prime minister
Leader of the government of Britain.
prisoners of war
Soldiers captured by the other side.
propoganda
Controlling news media (such as radio) to show your side in the best way.
rationing
Controlling the supply of food, clothes, petrol and other things.
refugee
A person forced to leave their home, often by war.
register
A list of names. In WW2 people had to register with shops before they could use their ration books there.
Resistance
Fighting back in an occupied country, for example by refusing to help the enemy.
scrap metal
Waste metal such as old cooking pans.
siren
Machine that made a wailing noise as a warning when enemy planes were seen.
slogan
A catchy phrase or saying.
Soviet Union
Country made up of Russia and other states that are now independent.
steam train
A train pulled by a locomotive burning coal.
stirrup pump
Small hand pump for squirting water to put out fires.

T to Z

telegram
A short message sent by phone, then printed out and delivered.
Underground
London's Tube rail system.
United Nations
Organization set up in 1945 by the Allies to work for world peace.
Vegetarians
People who don't eat meat.
war crime
Mass murder or cruel treatment of people during a war.
washboard
Wooden board with ridges, for scrubbing dirty clothes on.