Primary History

World War 2: Growing up in wartime

  • Did children go to school?

    Yes, children did go to school though some schools moved from towns to the country. As well as ordinary lessons children learned air raid drills, leaving classrooms when the sirens sounded to go to air raid shelters.

    To raise money for the 'war effort', schools started 'Spitfire Funds' and National Savings Groups. More than 6,000 school savings groups started in 1940. Children saved money each week. Many schools gave children free milk, and there were school dinners too, for a small charge.

    Some things stayed the same - exams!

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  • Did children have toys?

    Because many toy factories were now making guns or plane parts or other war equipment, there was a shortage of new toys. Children swapped old toys at 'toy-exchanges'. Many wartime toys were made of paper or card, because rubber, plastics, wood and metal were needed for the war.

    Lots of toys had a war theme. There were toy planes, toy tanks and toy battleships to float in the bath, There were books such as the 'ABC of Aeroplane Spotting', card games with pictures of soldiers and sailors, and a darts game with a picture of Hitler as the bullseye to throw at!

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  • Did children have to fight?

    Not in Britain. Most children left school at 14 (in 1944 the school leaving age was raised to 15). From school, most young people went to work. Only a few went to university. You could join the Forces at 16. At 18 most young people knew they would be 'called up' (conscripted) for the Forces or for war work in factories, farms or coal mines.

    In 1945 German boys as young as 10 and 11 took part in fighting during the last weeks of the war.

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  • Family entertainment

    At home, children listened to the radio. For many, their favourite programme was the teatime 'Children's Hour'. Children listened to music and comedy shows too, though perhaps not to the 'Radio Doctor' telling people how to stay healthy.

    People played records on a gramophone. Records in those days were black shiny discs, easily broken. At the cinema ('the pictures') you usually saw two films, plus a cartoon and a news film. There were Saturday morning film clubs for children.

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Fun Facts
  • Some schools had half-day lessons, with two schools sharing classroom morning and afternoon.

  • C S Lewis, who wrote the 'Narnia' stories, had evacuee children staying at his home in Oxford.

  • One wartime toy was a doll-dressing kit with uniform called 'Dolly Joins the Forces'

  • 'The Lord of the Rings' books by J R R Tolkien were written during the war (though not published until the 1950s).

  • Richmal Crompton's 'William' (who'd first appeared in 1922) had wartime adventures involving unexploded bombs.

  • The Disney films Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942) became children's favourites.

  • Pop tunes came from bands such as Glenn Miller's and singers such as Vera Lynn and Frank Sinatra.

  • Children were told not to fly kites, in case a kite got in the way of 'our planes' or was mistaken for an enemy plane!

  • The BBC's Brains Trust, a question and answer panel show on radio, had over 10 million listeners and 5,000 letters a week.

  • Children told one another to watch out for enemy parachutists, disguised as nuns or Scouts - a government leaflet said they might drop in disguise!

  • Some girls borrowed their mums' glow-in-the-dark brooches - useful in the blackout.

  • A favourite comic book character was 'Tiger Tim' who appeared in the Rainbow Annual.

  • One wartime game about a sea battle came with a wooden ship - you tried to fire a torpedo at it, to 'sink' it.

  • There were lots of 'fighting hero' comic characters, such as Rockfist Rogan and Biggles, who in every story defeated the enemy!

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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.