Photo story

10 Photos Of Life On The Home Front During The Second World War

Everyone in Britain was affected in some way by the Second World War. Those that didn't see action abroad still faced the realities of war on the home front. These 10 photos offer a glimpse of what was happening on the home front in different regions around the country.

  • Northern Ireland

    Royal Welch Fusiliers assist in clearing bomb damage in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 7 May 1941.
    Royal Welch Fusiliers assist in clearing bomb damage in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 7 May 1941.
    H 9464

    Like many cities in the UK, Belfast was targeted by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) during the Second World War. On 15 April 1941, a major bombing raid killed over 700 people, the biggest loss of life from a single raid, outside London, during the war. Belfast was the most undefended city in the UK and most people did not have shelters they could use. At least 20,000 slept in the open on Cave Hill and in fields outside the city to try and escape the raids. By the end of May 1941, 220,000 people had left Belfast.

  • Scotland

    A group of British Honduran Forestry workers in East Lothian, Scotland.
    A group of British Honduran Forestry workers in East Lothian, Scotland.
    ZZZ 12728D

    During the war one million acres of land in Scotland was set aside for training troops, commandos, members of the Home Guard and special agents. Many volunteers from the Empire and Commonwealth were also based there. This photograph shows volunteers from British Honduras (now Belize) who worked making pit props - wooden beams used to support coal mines - and wood pulp for factories.

    The forestry workers, left to right: Aldrick Garbutt, A Thomas, W Ellis, A Smith, E Arane and B Augustine, and manager John Dunbar.

  • North-East England

    Smouldering grain slides into the river at Hull after the raid 7-9 May 1941.
    Smouldering grain slides into the river at Hull after the raid 7-9 May 1941.
    HU 660

    Towns and cities in the north-east were bombed throughout the war. Sunderland was a major target because of its important shipbuilding industry, and the worst loss of life in the whole north-east happened in North Shields. During the heaviest raids of the Blitz, 593 tons of bombs were dropped on Hull in three raids. Most of the damage from air raids was caused by fire. This photograph shows smouldering grain sliding into the river at Hull, after the air raid of 7-9 May 1941.

  • North-West England

    A female factory worker fits exploders into rows of shells at this filling factory in Chorley, Lancashire.
    A female factory worker fits exploders into rows of shells at this filling factory in Chorley, Lancashire.
    D 2870

    Industry in the north-west played an important role in Britain’s war effort. The largest munitions factory was at Chorley, Lancashire, which employed between 35-40,000 workers. Britain was the only country to conscript women for war work or service in the forces. By 1943, women made up 40% of all aircraft industrial workers and 35% of all engineering industry employees.

  • Wales

    Eighteen year old 'Bevin Boy' Hubert Claud Morgan during his training in a colliery near Canterbury.
    Eighteen year old 'Bevin Boy' Hubert Claud Morgan during his training in a colliery near Canterbury.
    PD 271

    Wales was a major source of coal before the war. It was one of the largest coal exporters and home to some of the biggest and oldest mines in the world. As the war progressed, the country's coal output fell due to shortages of men to work in the mines. In 1943 the 'Bevin Boy' scheme was introduced. The scheme - named for the Minister of Labour and National Service Ernest Bevin - meant that one out of every ten conscripts, were selected at random to work in the mines. In total, 48,000 ‘Bevin Boys’ worked in the Welsh mines during the war. Wales also became a sanctuary for priceless paintings and artefacts from London's galleries and museums, which were stored in disused mines and quarries.

  • West Midlands

    Birmingham's bomb-damaged Bull Ring Market Square. The rubble and the exterior walls are all that remained of the old market.
    Birmingham's bomb-damaged Bull Ring Market Square. The rubble and the exterior walls are all that remained of the old market.
    D 9421

    The West Midlands were hit hard by air raids in the Second World War. During the Blitz, a total of 1,852 tons of bombs were dropped on Birmingham. The damage to the city centre took many years to repair. The air raids on Coventry in November 1940 were some of the worst in the war. 818 tons of bombs were dropped, killing 568 people and seriously injuring 850. 

  • South-West England

    Members of the Women's Land Army help a farmer to plough reclaimed fenland in Cambridgeshire.
    Members of the Women's Land Army help a farmer to plough reclaimed fenland in Cambridgeshire.
    D 8455

    Over 25% of all the wartime airfields were located in East Anglia and Lincolnshire. The east was also an important area for farming, where the Women’s Land Army (WLA) worked on reclaimed fenland to produce much needed food. The WLA, originally founded during the First World War, was reformed in 1939 to farm the land in place of the male farm workers serving in the armed forces. 

  • South-West England

    A harvest taking place on 'derelict lands' cultivated by the Devon War Agricultural Executive Committee at Staverton, Devon.
    A harvest taking place on 'derelict lands' cultivated by the Devon War Agricultural Executive Committee at Staverton, Devon.
    TR 116

    Farms in the south west needed to increase production to help feed the country, but they also suffered from the shortages of male farm workers. Voluntary farm camps were set up for people to spend weekends or holidays working on the land, especially during the harvest. Children, factory workers and American troops, all contributed. By 1943, 40,000 Italian prisoners of war were also put to work on British farms.

  • South-East England

    Gunners run to take post at a 9.2-inch coastal defence gun at the Needles Battery on the Isle of Wight, 7 August 1941.
    Gunners run to take post at a 9.2-inch coastal defence gun at the Needles Battery on the Isle of Wight, 7 August 1941.
    H 12512

    The entire UK coastline was off-limits to civilians and its landscape completely changed during the war. Anti-invasion defences were built across Britain between 1940 and 1941, and many of their remains  can still be seen today.

  • Southern England

    Sergeant Ernest Docherty writes a letter from his unit's camp at Denmead in Hampshire, 29 April 1944.
    Sergeant Ernest Docherty writes a letter from his unit's camp at Denmead in Hampshire, 29 April 1944.
    H 37989

    In the lead-up to D-Day, the UK became an air base, port and military camp for the forces that were to take part in the invasion of occupied Europe in June 1944. Training and accommodation for the troops dominated the landscape of the south coast. They stayed in a variety of places, including tents in woods and forests (pictured here), existing camps and billets in people’s homes. Many years after the war came to an end, unexploded weapons and ammunition were discovered at the sites of the D-Day troops' training areas.

This article was edited by Gemma Lawrence. Other IWM staff members contributed to writing an older version of this piece.