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WWII was one of the wars that had the most devastating effects on peoples live in Europe. During five years citizens of the different countries suffered from this brutal war to which they were condemned by their government. Two of the most affected home fronts during this war, were Britain, and Germany. Women, children were the most affected, and by many they were the moral support for their brigades, while men wre fighting in the front line. When war broke out in September 1939, the British government expected that the effects on life in Britain would be very serious. Throughout the 1930s there had been many predictions about the effects that bombing would have on cities.
“In May 1937 there was newsreel film of the attack by the Condor Legion on the Spanish city of Guernica. So it was believed that bombing would cause massive destruction and loss of life. The Local Defense Volunteers were set up, later to be called the Home Guard. These were men who were too old to serve in the army or who were in “reserved occupations”. They trained every week, but would not have been able to defeat the German Army”. (Tuttle, Pg. 111) Children were sent out to collect foliage for camouflage and people were asked to hand in scrap metal so that it could be used for planes for the RAF. These were really attempts to keep morale up and to make people believe that they were doing something to help. The south coast was quickly fortified. Machine-gun posts were built in medieval castles. Signposts and the names of railway stations were removed so that German forces would not know where they were. Church bells were kept silent. They would only be rung in the event of an invasion. Air Raid Precaution Wardens were appointed for every street. They had the job of checking everybody’s house. They had to be told how many people were sleeping in each house each night. Other volunteers manned the Auxiliary Fire Service, the Civil Defense or the Women’s Voluntary Service, which looked after casualties, or worked as firewatchers to put out incendiary bombs. In 1944 and 1945 Britain was attacked from the air once again. At the time the government would only allow stories to be published in newspapers, which said how well the British people were coping. “Britain can take it” was one slogan. This was an example of propaganda. In fact there are many examples of people being very near to total despair in the winter of 1941. The Blitz had much more devastating effects than the government was prepared to admit: “In October 1940 Balham underground station was hit by a bomb that burst a water main. Sixty-four people drowned. This story was never released until after the war, because many people sheltered from air raids in underground stations. If they had found out what had happened there might well have been panic” (Talcott, pg 46). Rationing was introduced in January 1940 and was gradually extended during the war. Food was the main item, but petrol, clothing and furniture were also rationed. Rationing had two aims:
1. To make the supplies of food go as far as possible. This was very important because Britain was not producing enough food to feed the population in 1939.
2. To make sure that the people who needed food really got it. A council was set up to work out how much nutrition different people needed. Children and pregnant mothers received more.
The foods that were rationed were meat, fats, cheese, butter, eggs and sweets. Bread, potatoes and vegetables were never rationed. Milk was rationed, but at a high level. Rationing led to an improvement in people’s health as they could not eat fatty foods and had to eat more vegetables, potatoes and bread. However, most people found it boring and it had a serious effect on morale. Often it was the housewife who had to try to find ways of coming up with new ways of cooking the same limited range of foods. Many children were evacuated from city centers; some of the families they went to were very surprised at their state of health. In 1941 there was a series of articles published by the Women’s Institute describing the health, clothing and manners of many children from city centers. These effects made many realize that something should and could be done to improve the lives of the people of Britain when the war ended. Both Rationing and Evacuation affected women much more than men. It was the housewife who had to cope with them. Sir Winston Churchill stated that it was the housewives of Britain who enabled the country to survive Hitler’s attempts to force surrender.
The Nazis believed that individual people did not matter. What was important, they believed, was a strong central government. Individuals were forced to accept the roles given to them in society – women should be educated to become housewives and mothers, men should be educated to become workers and soldiers. “The biggest changes were in the lives of women and children: Books of nursery rhymes were published which encouraged children to play with guns and enjoy fighting. Children’s songs were about bloodshed, violence and anti-Semitism. All schools were single sex and girls and boys were educated quite differently. Girls studied no foreign languages and the only maths and science they learnt was linked to cooking and childcare”(Bartlow, pg 273). This was all part of a deliberate plan to prevent women having careers. A woman could work until she got married, but she was then expected to give work up to become a housewife. All school lessons were based on Nazi ideas. School textbooks were rewritten and included Nazi versions of German history. Math’s problems involved calculations about bombing Poland and killing invalids. Children were taught Nazi beliefs everyday in subjects such as Ideology and Eugenics. “A woman’s life was described as “Church, Children and Cooking”. Women were discouraged from wearing make-up, smoking or buying expensive clothes. They were expected to allow their hair to grow and put in plaits or a bun. Physical fitness for all, both girls and boys was encouraged. Women were expected to have at least four children. If they did they were given a medal every year on the birthday of Hitler’s mother. This was called the “Mutterkreuz”, the Mother’s Cross.” (Scott, 19) Boys were educated differently. They studied science and mathematics and took part in a great deal of physical exercise. All children had to join Nazi youth organisations by 1939. The Nazis realised that it was very important for them to win over children. They joined at the age of five and stayed until eighteen. Boys joined the Pimpfen, then the German Youth and then the Hitler Youth. Girls joined the League of German Maidens. Girls found that they had little time for homework. This was to prevent them having a career. It also meant that children had little spare time to pick up ideas that the Nazis did not approve of. Children were used to control their parents by being encouraged to report what they did and said. Hitler realized that older people would be less enthusiastic about his ideas, so he made every effort to win the minds of the next generation. Men were forced to go into the Labor Service at the age of eighteen. This lasted for six months and was one of the methods that the Nazis used to cut unemployment In the Labor Service men worked building roads, digging ditches and reclaiming land.
While the government of Britain were doing all in their power to save their land and the people who lived in it, German government made all in their power to influence the citizens with Nazi ideas. In both home fronts the only similarity was that women and children were the ones who suffered the most, and fathers went to the battle. In all other aspects these two country’s home fronts were totally different, one trying to get all the help, to fight the other which influenced people’s minds.
1 )William Tuttle, “Daddy’s Gone to War,” The Second World War in the Lives of European Children, p. 111
2) Valerie Matsumoto, “Women in the Internment Camps,” from Ellen Dubois and Vicki Ruiz, ed., Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History (NY: 1990), pp. 373.
3) Agnes Meyer, “Negro Housing in the Nation’s Capital” and “The Negro and the Army,” from Journey Through Chaos, pp. 322.
4) John Bartlow Martin, “Anything Bothering You, Soldier?,” (orig. from Harper’s Magazine, 1945; repr. in The World War II Era: Perspectives from All Fronts (NY: Franklin Square Press, 1994), pp. 263.
5) Talcott Parsons, “Propaganda and Social Control” (1942). Francis Merrill, New York Problems of War Society, (pp. 46).
6) Joan Scott, “Rewriting History,” from Margaret Higgonet, et al, eds., Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars (New Haven: Yale U.P., 1988) pp. 19.
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