Life in Wartime Britain

Canadians may find a hint of what is to come in this picture of the effect of war on the average British family


Life in Wartime Britain

Canadians may find a hint of what is to come in this picture of the effect of war on the average British family


Life in Wartime Britain



Canadians may find a hint of what is to come in this picture of the effect of war on the average British family

EVACUATION AFFECTS RETAIL TRADE Octo«r, 1939, compared with October, 1938 (Percentage change in volume of sales)

FACTS ABOUT COST OF LIVING HOUSEKEEPING—MORE OR LESS T In spite of increased wages in some trades the net effect of war was to reduce income in many cases. In December, 1939, we asked 331 housewives in a South London Suburb and in a large reception area 30 miles South.of London, "Do you find you have more, the same, or less money coming in since the war began t ”

THE JONES» GROCERY BILL Before the war the Jones’ grocery bill was £1 I Is. 6Jd. a week. Now it would cost £1 19s. I|d. if they were to buy the same quantities. what the average food budget was in th« towns visited

CANADIANS, as a whole, seem to maintain a complacently tranquil attitude toward the war with Germany. It is not at all certain that this is a good thing.

So far, because the fighting is three thousand miles across the Atlantic from our shores, and up to time of writing our own men have not been actively engaged in it except as individuals, we have felt its effects only in a trifling degree. Also, in many instances those effects have been helpful rather than injurious.

Enlistments in the Canadian Active Service Forces have absorbed thousands of our unemployed. Orders for war materials have put thousands of others to work in our factories. Wage scales tend to rise. The cost of living has not yet notably increased.

We absorbed our first war loan easily, in less than forty-eight hours, even oversubscribed it. We have raised millions of dollars to supix>rt the civilian war efforts of the Red Cross, the Canadian Legion, the Salvation Army and other worthy causes without having had to draw a deep breath.

The extent of our casualties in the first seven months of the war has been limited to a few heroic fliers and the normal average of accidents and sickness among troops in training.

Altogether, as a belligerent nation we have had a pretty soft time of it hitherto. There is a tendency for many of us to think that this happy state of affairs will continue indefinitely. Those who feel that way about it are in for a nasty shock.

There is no peace in sight. Mr. Chamberlain’s blunt declaration: "We shall not lx* diverted,” makes that


The war will last a long time. The British Government is prepared for a minimum of three years of bitter struggle involving ruthless slaughter, severe privations, and violent readjustments in the lives and habits of millions of Britons.

It is fatuous to suppose that we in Canada can escape the rebroussions of so vast an upheaval. In one way or another—through changes in family associations, conditions of employment and business, necessary restrictions affecting foodstuffs and clothing—every Canadian home must sooner or later become affected. The months immediately ahead are certain to bring us a sharp and sudden realization of what it means to be at war.

As a b'ople we need to realize these facts and to face them with a sober intelligence. It does not follow that we should get panicky, or that we should for a single instant relax out faith in the essential rightness of our cause*, or slacken our supreme confidence of ultimate victory.

It does follow that with the certainty of difficult times ahead, we should be prepared mentally to endure them with fortitude, to anticipate the drastic revisions intensified warfare will bring about in our material circumstances and our spiritual conditions, and to stiffen our backbones against them.

The London office of the advertising agency of Lord and Thomas, Limited, has prepared and published a survey of life in Great Britain during the first few months of the war, containing a great deal of information interesting to Canadians, especially to those of British ancestry, and much that may be valuable as well. In a greater or less degree many of the things that have happened to the people of England, Scotland and Wales may be expected to happen to Canadians in the days immediately confronting us.

The Wartime Joneses

BASED upon investigations made by research workers, on information gathered from local authorities, A.R.P. officials, banks, and business and mercantile organizations, the survey traces the war-induced changes

affecting the daily lives of a typical working-class family of four people; a father, mother and two daughters, one a salesgirl of eighteen, the other a schoolgirl of eight. They are identified as the Jones family.

"Dad” Jones is a journeyman painter with ambitions to set himself up in a business of his own some day. "Mum” keeps house for her family, washing, mending, darning, cleaning and cooking with no outside assistance, since the family budget doesn’t run to hired help for even one day a week. Muriel sells things in a local department store. Sally is the youngest, at school.

The pre-war picture of the Joneses is bright enough. Dad earns an average of three pounds a w-eek the year round. Muriel makes twelve shillings a week in her job, but most of that she spends on lunches and fares, the stockings and lipstick a young miss must have, with an occasional sixpence for the pictures. Before the war five sixths of the Jones income went in housekeeping expenses —rent, food, light and heat. Clothes, and the little extras like insurance and Dad’s pocket money, had to come out of what was left. It was close figuring, but it worked. Until the war came.

Between August and December last year the cost of living in Great Britain went up eighteen points on the Ministry of Labor’s Index; from 155 to 173. Dad lost his job when war was declared; who wants painters in war time? In a few days Muriel came home sulky and furious. Together with about fifty others she had been given a week’s notice. "Trade was going down wfith a flop; no one was going to buy a thing, with this new income tax in the offing.”

And eight-year-old Sally came under the plan for child evacuation. The little girl who had “only been on a train twice before, and that w-as with Mum,” reported to her school at 5.45 on the morning of September 1, 1939, to become one of the 700,000 children, ranging from four to fourteen years, evacuated from London.

The Lord and Thomas survey gives figures on the evacuation, a mass movement unique in Britain’s long history. A total of 1,352,000 children and mothers were moved from danger zones to reception areas. From Greater London 709,100 were sent to the country. The Lancashire textile district of Manchester and Salford evacuated 126,000. In Scotland 125,000 were moved from homes in Glasgow and around the Clyde, 32,000 went from Edinburgh and Rosvth, 20,000 from Dundee. Liverpool, Birkenhead and the Mersey territory sent 121.000; Bradford, Hull, Leeds and Sheffield, 104,500. From Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country, 53,700 were moved, and 41,800 went from Portsmouth, Gosport and Southampton. Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham transplanted 10,000; Durham and Northumberland, 10,000. Additionally, 5,600 were evacuated from smaller unspecified areas.

The w'hole of Wales and the Welsh border counties, including the Isle of Man, became a reception area. Another vast safety zone covers a strip of inland counties stretching diagonally from the Wash to the Isle of Wight. Smaller refuges are located in the southeast comer below London and the northwest corner taking in a part of Scotland.

So great a displacement of human beings inevitably had far-reaching influences upon many phases of normal living. Some of the children were unhappy in their new, strange surroundings. Mothers sent into reception areas with babies found it difficult to adapt themselves. Visiting was a problem. "Mrs. Jones couldn’t often go to see Sally. Five shillings is a big bite out of a wartime budget.”

A reverse movement began. By mid-December the Ministry of Health reported that sixty-seven per cent of the mothers evacuated with young children had returned to their homes; thirty per cent of the school children were back; and forty-four per cent of the total number evacuated preferred to take their chances with German bombers rather than suffer boredom and nostalgia in rural safety.

Now, see how these mass movements to and fro affect business, already disturbed by war conditions. In the whole of Britain total retail sales were up 6.5 per cent in October, 1939, above the figure for October. 1938. The big gains were made in clothing, boots and shoes and foodstuffs. Against that, sales of house furnishings

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dropped 14.7, and hardware 10.0. In those two lines business threatened to slow to a standstill. Sales of piece goods declined too, but only slightly.

Trade was transplanted with the evacuees. In Central and West End London every one of ten retail classifications suffered heavy loss, ranging from 43.6 in furnishings to 6.8 in boots and shoes. Hardware lost 41.4; fancy goods, 36.6; women’s wear, 32.5; foodstuffs, 27.1 ; the total loss for this area was 31.2. On the other hand every line in the same classifications showed a gain in Scotland, the Midlands, Wales and the rest of the reception areas. Retail business, and therefore retail employment, increased in the safety zones, fell off seriously in London.

Slowing of Industry

INDIVIDUAL trades were disrupted. In some, increases of employment and wages were recorded. Others discharged men and women by the thousands because there were no new orders or any prospect of new orders. There were 10,552 fewer persons employed by hotels and boardinghouses in November, 1939, than in November, 1938. In printing and bookbinding 13,692 lost their jobs. Many workers in dressmaking, entertainment, furniture, and hats and caps were laid olf; but the miners, shipbuilders, textiles and woollen workers, mechanical engineers and iron and steel men found jobs begging for them. The number of agricultural laborers mounted, too.

Wages for the busy industries increased by a national average of more than a shilling a week, with the miners, shipbuilders, textile workers, engineering trades and woodworkers leading the parade. Miners’ pay jumjied by almost four shillings a week. The total national wage increase, according to the Daily Herald, the official labor newspaper, was £580,000 a week, and this affected the lives of 3,750,000 people.

Although wages in some lines were up, so were housekeeping expenses. In reply to the question, “Do you find you have more, the same, or less, money coming in than before the war began?” asked of 331 housewives in a South London suburb and in a reception area thirty miles south of London, thirty-six i>er cent said they had less money, fifty-nine i>er cent said their income was the same, and only five jier cent reported increase of income. At the same time the average grocery bill increased more than seven shillings a week. Especially did meats and fish, dairy products, sugar and jams and vegetables go up in price.

War conditions have compelled a number of switches in the goods bought by average British housewives. Less butter and more margarine is being purchased. More money is being spent on sugar, fresh meat, bacon and ham, eggs and on clothing. Less money is being spent on amusements, entertaining, magazines and newspapers, drinks and cigarettes. There may be some minor significance in the fact that the average family’s expenditures on cosmetics remain practically the same as in pre-war days. No one of the housewives questioned admitted spending more money for face powder, lipstick and creams than before the war, but ninety-five per cent said thev spent about the same amount. Only five per cent had cut their expenses in this respect.


Then there’s the blackout. This primary air-raid precaution has affected the buying habits of the whole nation. In peacetime the peak hour for retail buying was between five and seven o’clock at night. Because since the war the blackout makes shopping after dark not only difficult but uninteresting—the shops cannot light their windows—the peak has moved back to between one and three o’clock. Six in the evening, formerly the busiest hour of the day for most shops, now is closing time.

That, then, is the general picture on the material side. Study of the Jones family’s psychology, its attitude toward the war and the hardships and irritations it has brought in its wake, gives us a hint of what we in Canada may expect.

While there’s not much painting to be done, Dad Jones has managed to lind a job—as fitter in an aircraft factory, where he works side by side with an ex-butcher. He doesn’t get his three pounds a week, but with the increased rates and overtime he manages to make about two pounds ten shillings, which he thinks is “not bad, considering.”

Muriel’s problem is less easy of solution. Lacking training, she cannot quickly find paid employment. Canteens, A.R.P. and other wartime activities already have their quota of salaried workers. Girls aren’t wanted at the aircraft factories. Nobody is hiring waitresses. So Muriel draws her unemployment insurance money from the Labor Exchange. She gets nine shillings a week and hands five of them over to Mum. Muriel is eating more of her meals at home now. To keep her mind off her troubles she does volunteer work at the Town Hall canteen. “Give you something to do,” Mum says. “Feel you’re doing something for your King and Country and all that, though it’s a shame they don’t pay you.”

And Mum herself, looking at the coal getting low in the bin, Dad’S socks wearing thin, and the bread bill two weeks behind, thinks there must be something she can do herself to bring in a few extra shillings.

There is, too. Mum finds it easy to get work in local households of better-off jieople who are getting along without servants. She goes out five mornings a week, leaving Muriel to do the housework at home. That brings in a bit over twelve shillings. Now the family fortunes are almost back where they were before the war. If you couldn’t say things were looking up, exactly, you could say they might be worse. “Probably be a lot worse before we finish,” says Mum, struggling with blackout paper and drawing pins in the kitchen. Mum has blackout curtains on the living room windows. They cost her eleven and sixpence. Paper’ll have to do for the kitchen, nuisance though it is.

Family And National Exchequers

REMEMBERING the last war, Mum

feels sure that sooner or later prices for everything else, besides food, will rise. She had been saving ixmnies all year for new linoleum in the kitchen and a bookcase in the front room. Now she takes the money and spends it on shoes, cloth to make up later into dresses for Sally, stockings for herself and Muriel, four new blankets for possible air-raid emergencies, and knitting wool. All the shopkeepers tell her that prices will go up when the present stocks are exhausted.

Among the Joneses and their neighbors there is endless talk about the war, how long it will last, and so on. Of 304 men and women stopped casually in London suburban streets, twenty-three tier cent thought the war would last two years and the same number figured on a three-year conflict. Seventeen per cent refused to venture an opinion. Fourteen per cent thought it would be over in a year; a jjessimistic thirteen per cent could see no end to it before five years. Silver-lining addicts, numbering seven per cent, expected Germany to give up in six months, and three per cent thought another three months would finish it.

In the same poll seventy-nine per cent replied, “Yes, definitely,” to the question, “Were we right in entering the war?” Nine l>er cent “supposed so,” five per cent shrugged and said, “Who knows?” and seven per cent were opposed to British participation.

Of all the unpleasant features associated with the war, blackout depression ranks highest. Twenty-three per cent of the men and women questioned placed the blackout at the top of their list of wartime inconveniences. Following resentment of the blackout came parting of families, seventeen pier cent; rising food costs, fifteen per cent; less money to live on, fourteen per cent; danger from air raids, nine per cent; horror of war news, eight p>er cent; and dread of sons being called up, three per cent. It is typical of the British attitude that more than twice as many people should grumble about collisions on unlighted streets, dark buses and trains, and the shortage of electric torch batteries, than express fear of bursting bombs droppied by German raiders.

There is considerable discussion about the financial aspects of the war. Dad Jones just doesn’t see where the money’s coming from; but when it comes to taxation, the folks in the middle income brackets are harder hit than the Joneses. A typical budget for a middle-class family of four shows a rise of eighteen shillings a week since the war began. Almost eight shillings of that is income tax increase.

So far the workingman hasn’t been much affected by income tax, but, with an estimated annual expenditure of £3,000,000,000 in sight, his jiosition in this respect is by no means secure, commenting last December, the Economist stated frankly: "We must levy on working-class incomes or lose the war.”

The British listen to the nightly German broadcasts in English and chuckle over them. Among 304 suburbanites, fifty-nine jier cent said they tuned in on German stations regularly. Of these, twenty-five per cent thought them, “childish and nonsense;” twenty-one pier cent found them “very amusing;” twelve pier cent considered them “dangerous lies,” nine per cent called them “pretty obvious propaganda,” eight per cent said they were “not to be taken seriously,” and only four per cent considered them “sinister and unpleasant.”

Dad Jones isn’t one of the four pier cent. Breaking away from a group of his pals— they have been talking, of course, about the war—he remarks:

“I must be off home to the wife. Got a date, nine-fifteen. Always listen to that Haw-Haw chap.” He paused and grinned. “That’s one place,” he added, “where a chap’s sure of a good laugh.”