How were the British affected by World War II?

I know that many people know that the British endured a lot during World War II. You will have to forgive them making comments about the Americans showing up late to fight but they know that we came in just the nick of time otherwise they would have lost the war and the world would be a different place. They are very proud people, but they are thankful for our commitment to save their way of life and you can see this through the support that the UK gives us in our endeavours such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A lot of the ‘weird’ things that they do or eat came out of the war. The British are renowned for their stiff upper lip because they ‘made do and carried on’.

I think as Americans I don’t think that we can fathom how tough it was and how amazing that the British came through on the other side of the fog, dust and smoke.

I will tell you a little bit of what I know through personal contacts and experiences as to paint a picture of why the war memorial in every village is so important and how it was worth the fight. I also have a few suggestions of places that I have been to that would be a great experience for you and your family. If you can befriend some elderly people they will without a doubt mention the things that used to happen and how they got on with it.

I had the pleasure of getting really close to my husband’s grandmother, Ruth before she passed away in October 2008. She was originally from Durham (up north) but moved to Cambridge before the war. In fact, we lived in her house. She would tell me about the bombings that happened and how she was on the Air Raid Patrol and they had to go out and put out the fires and make sure people were okay. She even spoke about a time when a German pilot crashed and they caught him after his raid on Cambridge and sent him off to a POW camp. When she passed away, we sorted through her house and found ration cards for food and clothing. Many of the people that lived through that time have houses full of stuff in fear of throwing something away and needing it because they didn’t have much. You may have heard about rationing in America during the war but it was nothing compared to the rationing experienced over here.

Ruth was just like other women in Britain. Since most men were off fighting  the war, they had to fulfill the responsibilities that were left empty. They shot anti-aircraft guns and worked in manufacturing plants.

These women were amazing as  they had to become inventive due to the lack of resources. Here are just a few that I thought were quite interesting:
  • They had to make their own underwear.
  • They often made new clothes for themselves out of their husband's old suits.
  • They continually saved the extra bits of fabric because they might use it in another garment like a housecoat made of patches.
  • Women often only shampooed their hair once or twice a week  as shampoo was very scarce.
  • If there wasn't enough toothpaste, people cleaned their teeth with soot.
  • A lot of the 'homemade' cleaners and ways of doing things were used.
Children were boarded on trains and relocated from London out of the countryside, sometimes without their parents to try to ensure their safety.

People had to black out their windows at night and it was a struggle to get certain fabrics and foods.

I was at Duxford Air Museum escorting some new airmen and a man approached me to tell me that he remembered as a boy how he would go to the local rail station with eggs and the American soldiers would give him chocolate for them as that was something hard to get at that time.

On the way to Thetford you will see huge cement buildings dotting the fields. The buildings are called pillar boxes and you will find these all over the country. These were built in case the Germans invaded Britain by land.

I don't think that we were as affected and so I am not sure that we will ever fully realise what they have gone through but it was admirable.

I recommend a visit to Duxford Air Museum which is right outside of Cambridge.  They have an excellent display about the Battle of Britain.

Americans made also the ultimate sacrifice and so I recommend a trip to the Cambridge American Memorial Cemetery.

All the Best!

American to Britain