Historical Events and People in The FitzOsbornes at War

Montmaray and the FitzOsborne family are figments of the author's imagination, but many of the people and events mentioned in The FitzOsbornes at War are borrowed from history.

The Blackout and the Blitz

The Second World War changed the lives of everyone in England. Even before war was declared, the government had imposed nighttime blackout conditions on all households and businesses. It was thought that even a pinpoint of light might assist German bombers, so people covered up their windows, doors and skylights with heavy curtains, wallpaper or dark paint. There were no street lights or illuminated advertising signs, and cars, buses, trains and trams had their lights masked. Sandbags were piled up against buildings, windows were criss-crossed with tape to prevent injuries from flying glass, and priceless works of art were moved from London's galleries and museums into secure underground hiding places. Even weather forecasts were banned, for fear this would help the Germans plan their air raids. More than a million people, mostly working-class children from the cities, were evacuated to the country. Other children were sent to North America (tragically, one ship, the SS City of Benares was sunk by German torpedos in the middle of the Atlantic and most of the child evacuees drowned).

Churchill visits the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, 1940

When the bombing began in September, 1940, the population moved underground, spending their nights in cellars, dug-out backyard shelters, underground train stations and even caves. The Blitz lasted until May, 1941 and killed more than 43,000 civilians. Among the historic buildings damaged were Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the British Museum, Kensington Palace, the Houses of Parliament, St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Many other British cities were attacked, including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Clydebank, Exeter, Glasgow, Hull, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Nottingham, Brighton and Southampton. Coventry was devastated, with so many people killed that the authorities had to bury the bodies in mass graves (the photograph above shows Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspecting the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in 1940). The Germans later carried out further bombing raids, including the Baedeker Blitz of 1942 (which attempted to destroy every historic building in Britain that had been awarded three stars in the Baedeker tourist guide), the Baby Blitz of 1943-1944 and the Robot Blitz of 1944-1945 (in which the Germans launched robot bombs and rockets at London from their bases on the Continent). By the end of the war, more than 50,000 civilians had been killed and more than three million properties had been destroyed in the bombing raids.

Shortages and Rationing

As if worrying about being bombed wasn't bad enough, people also had to cope with limited supplies of just about everything – food, clothing, toys, furniture, crockery, matches, batteries, spare parts for broken machines, coal for heating and petrol for cars. It was difficult to replace possessions destroyed in bombing raids because most factories were now making munitions instead of household items. In addition, the Germans were sinking the ships that carried supplies to Britain.

Food rations, 1943 Food was the greatest concern, so the British government brought in food rationing in January, 1940. Small amounts of sugar, meat, butter, bacon, tea and cheese were available each week, but only if you had the correct number of coupons in your ration book (the photograph at right shows a week's rations for one adult in 1943). Eggs, milk, fish and chicken weren't rationed, but were in short supply. Later a points system came in, which allowed people to choose tinned meat, fish and beans, cereals, dried fruit, biscuits, preserves, jellies and canned puddings, based on the number of points they had saved. There were special allowances made for pregnant women, small children, vegetarians and those who had particular dietary requirements (for example, Jews and Muslims could exchange their bacon rations for cheese). A 'Dig for Victory' campaign encouraged people to grow their own vegetables, and food plots were dug in parks, football pitches, railway banks and cleared bomb sites. Those who had gardens kept chickens for eggs, and 'pig clubs' were set up all over the country to breed pigs for pork, bacon and ham. The Ministry of Food also provided information, in the form of recipe booklets, short films and a radio programme, to teach people how to cook creatively with such limited supplies. Recipes included 'mock goose' (made from potatoes, apples, cheese and vegetable stock), 'mock apricot tart' (potato pastry and carrots, with a few spoonfuls of plum jam) and 'mock cream' (margarine, milk powder and sugar). The most famous wartime recipe was for Woolton pie, named after the popular Minister of Food, Lord Woolton.

Clothes were rationed from June, 1941. At first, everyone received sixty-six coupons each year, although two years later, this had fallen to a mere forty coupons. There were complicated rules about what each garment was worth. For example, a woman's woollen dress required eleven coupons, but a cotton dress only seven coupons; women's pyjamas needed eight coupons, but a nightdress only six. In 1943, the first 'Utility' clothes went on sale. These were designed according to strict specifications to save labour and materials, with each garment having a limited number of buttons, pleats and pockets, and no 'unnecessary' trimmings of fur, velvet, embroidery or lace. Other 'Utility' items included furniture, towels, sheets, pottery and even pencils (with no paint or varnish).

Women at War

Serve in the WAAF poster, WWII Women of Britain, Come into the Factories poster, WWII The war brought enormous changes to women's lives. From 1941, young, single British women were conscripted into the armed forces or munitions industry if they weren't doing vital war work - although, of course, many of them already were. During the war, women built aeroplanes in factories, grew food on farms, nursed injured servicemen in hospitals, drove ambulances, ran canteens and worked as Air Raid Wardens. The Women's Voluntary Service helped organise the evacuation of children to the country, ran salvage campaigns to collect metal and paper for recycling, wove camouflage nets, darned socks for soldiers, and distributed donated books and gifts to army camps. Women who joined the navy, army and air force worked as cooks, telephonists, motorcycle messengers, lorry drivers and clerks, but also plotted convoys of ships and enemy planes, decrypted German codes and operated anti-aircraft guns. Some of them even trained as secret agents and were parachuted into Nazi-occupied France to help the Resistance.

The Enemy Within

When the war began, the British government immediately rounded up and imprisoned Germans who were living in Britain. Some of these Germans were Nazi supporters, but a large number were Jewish refugees, Lutheran pastors and others who opposed Hitler. These 'enemy aliens', as they were called, ended up living in camps together, mostly on the Isle of Man. After Italy joined the war on Hitler's side, Italians in Britain were also interned. Some German and Italian 'enemy aliens' were shipped off to Canada and Australia (one ship, the SS Arandora Star, was hit by a German torpedo and sank, with the loss of more than six hundred lives).

The government was also concerned about British Fascists, the most famous of whom was Oswald Mosley. Mosley, his wife Diana and leading members of his British Union movement were imprisoned from 1940 to 1943 under Defence Regulation 18B, which allowed the government to detain anyone who was associated with, or sympathetic to, enemy powers. The British Union had been funded by the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis, Diana Mosley was a close friend of Hitler, and Oswald Mosley had given speeches and written articles in favour of Nazism and against 'the Jewish conspiracy'. However, some British people expressed concern that the British government was now able to imprison its own citizens indefinitely, without charging the prisoners with a crime or sending them to trial. It seemed a little too close to how the Nazis were behaving.

Although Hitler never went ahead with his plans to invade Britain, a few German prisoners of war ended up in Britain. One of these was Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, who flew to Scotland in May, 1940, without Hitler's knowledge or agreement, bearing a proposal of peace. However, most German prisoners of war were Luftwaffe pilots who'd been shot down or crash landed during bombing raids or reconnaissance missions, or Wehrmacht officers captured in battle overseas and brought to Britain to be interrogated. The London Cage in Kensington Palace Gardens was one place where it was alleged that prisoners of war were tortured to extract information or turn them into double agents. High-ranking Nazi officers were taken to Trent Park, where they lived very luxuriously in a mansion filled with hidden listening devices.

Animals at War

Commando, a messenger pigeon awarded the Dickin Medal in 1945 The declaration of war was heartbreaking for pet owners, with hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats being put down (pets were not allowed in public air raid shelters and there were fears that there wouldn't be enough food during the war for humans, let alone animals). However, many animals did their bit for the war effort. For example, dogs were used to search bomb sites for buried victims, while a St Bernard called Bamse was a famous mascot of the Free Norwegian forces stationed in Scotland. Horses were used in place of tractors, delivery vans and cars after petrol rationing began, and pigeons such as Commando (pictured at right) were used as messengers, with thirty-two pigeons being awarded the Dickin Medal for 'conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in military conflict' (you can watch pigeons Gustav and Paddy receive their medals here).

Churchill's Speeches

One of Winston Churchill's most important wartime achievements (other than persuading the Americans to join the war) was probably boosting the morale of the population. His three most famous speeches, all delivered in 1940, were 'Blood, toil, tears and sweat' on the 13th of May, 'We shall fight on the beaches' on the 4th of June, and 'This was their finest hour' on the 18th of June.

For timelines of the Second World War, see History on the Net and The World at War.

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