• Home Front
  • Age 9 to 11 (KS2)
  • Age 11 to 14 (KS3)

How did life at home change during the Second World War?

Join IWM expert Ngaire as she helps us discover the extraordinary stories of the people who rose to the challenge of life on the Second World War Home Front.

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On the Home Front - Part One

Part of the Adventures in History series created during the UK lockdown in Spring 2020.  

Ahoy! Welcome on board, come on in. My name is Ngaire, I work for Imperial War Museums, and you are very welcome here aboard my boat, while we've got some time to think about some of the fascinating stories the museum has collected and shares. Now here on board the boat it's vital that I have some equipment for the safety and protection of the boat like this strong rope, which I can use to tie the boat to the shore – keep it where it's supposed to be and stops it and me sailing off on unplanned adventures. One of my favourite objects inside the galleries of Imperial War Museums is also about a home, a home which from 1939 also had to have in it vital equipment to keep it safe and the family that lived there safe as well. 

Today's Adventure in History is taking us to the Second World War home front, so-called because war affected the lives of ordinary people - their working lives and their home lives. And the home front to find out more about that and some of the people that experienced it, is really well explained by this object. Let's take a closer look - it is a home in miniature because it's a really carefully made, very precise model of a real house that was in South London and was home to the Allpress family in the first years of the Second World War and in which from 1939, they had to start protecting against the threat of war. Let's look closely and see if we can spot some of the protective measures that they took. If we look at the windows in the house, you can see that long strips of paper have been stuck to the panes of glass. Now that was because if a bomb was to drop, the glass would shatter and to stop the glass shattering into thousands of sharp pieces this, the tape, would hopefully keep the pieces together and much larger and hopefully cause less damage. So that's one vital area where they have the house has been prepared for the coming of war. 

Just behind the front door is another preparation. A rather curious looking object. It is a stirrup pump, and it was designed to help protect against another type of bomb. Just next to the stirrup pump are buckets that might give you a clue as to the threat this bomb would have posed - there's buckets of sand and water, this is all firefighting equipment and one type of bomb - an incendiary bomb - would be burning and when it landed it would set alight to whatever it landed upon and start really serious big fires and so the family have got the stirrup pump and some firefighting equipment to try and tackle that bomb, so it would hopefully contain the damage and they could protect their home.  

For us adventurers in history, this is all evidence that as the 1930s progressed, the threat of war was becoming ever more real and the terrible knowledge that that war would affect people on the home front. Other evidence of this were the plans that were drawn up to evacuate children from the cities to places of safety into the countryside. This also affected the youngest member of the Allpress family.  

John was just 10 when the Second World War started, and he was one of 1.5 million children that were evacuated in just three days from the 1st of September 1939. Now, in one of our other Adventures in History, World's Best Den, we thought about the experiences of some children who were evacuated. But we didn't think about what it was like for the children who received the evacuees, who were the hosts, who suddenly had their family grow with the arrival of evacuees one of these children was Henry Jamison. 

Now Henry's mum was a district nurse and Henry's dad was a farmer and 1939, they agreed to have two evacuees come and stay with them on their farm near Aberdeen. Jim and Peter arrived from their home in Glasgow at the end of September 1939. They stayed for six years. At first, Henry was quite jealous. Here were two strangers moving in and sharing his home and he would have also been afraid of them as well because he was six and Jim at twelve and Peter at nine were much older than him. But Jim and Peter also felt overwhelmed too. The family were strangers to them, and they had left Glasgow for a completely different part of Scotland, they were now living on a farm surrounded by animals that they were afraid of. Henry's mum and dad helped the boys to settle by showing them different tasks around the farm and soon the boys were all helping out together. So, they were feeding the chickens, collecting or washing their eggs, feeding calves and lambs and together, one of their favourite jobs was to take the Clydesdale horses, that the family used for ploughing, with Mr Jameson to visit the blacksmith to get new shoes put on their hooves. Soon the boys were calling each other brothers, they went to the same school and when they grew up, they even went to the same University in Aberdeen. They studied the same course, and all became engineers.  

Many children had their lives affected by the Second World War from Henry, whose family suddenly grew, to John Allpress who had had to leave his home. John did not stay an evacuee for as long as Jim and Peter. John Allpress actually was very homesick and after six months he returned back to his home in South London.  

Let's return with him and let's go back to that stirrup pump that we were looking at earlier. Can you see how it would have worked? The handle at the top there is where you would put your hands and pump up and down which would create suction that would suck up water into the hose, that could then be pointed directly at a fire and it's that stirrup pump that becomes vital for our next story.  

Charity Bick was a little bit older than John Allpress and when the Second World War started, she decided that she wanted to do something. She was never an evacuee and she looked at the role her father had and thought she could do that as well. Charity's father was an ARP warden. ARP stands for Air Raid Precautions and the wardens had lots of different tasks to help protect their communities during bombing raids. To find out more about their tasks, let's look at this painting though it's not of Mr Bick, Charity's dad, it's of Charity herself. So, if we look carefully at the painting, we can see from the band on her arm that she fulfilled her ambition she did indeed become warden and what she's sitting on in the painting? Being on a bicycle gives us a clue to Charity's job. She was a despatch rider so when messages needed to be sent very quickly, it was Charity's job to get on her bike and to deliver these messages. No mobile phones, no sending a quick text to say that a fire has broken out and the fire brigade are needed. Now, Charity was so determined to help her city, she and her family lived in West Bromwich near Birmingham, that to get the job of ARP warden she lied about her age. It was a dangerous job, so the minimum age requirement was 16. Charity was 14 and so she did lie and say that she was old enough. Now this decision could have had very serious consequences as we will see.  

One night, Charity is on duty with her father and those incendiary bombs that we thought about earlier, well they were falling, and they started a very large fire. Charity and her father start to fight the fire using the stirrup pump that we thought about earlier. The pump jammed and so was useless, so Charity was told by dad to get on her bike and to go back to the main central ARP post to call for help. Charity cycles through the falling bombs, she's knocked off her bike at one point by blast, she gets back on, and she makes it to the central warden's post and there the alarm is raised, the fire brigade called, and that building is saved, the fire is put out. Let's take another look at that painting from the Imperial War Museums' art collection. Can you see on the uniform that Charity is wearing, a red flash. It's the reason the painting was made. Charity was the youngest ever recipient of the George Medal for her bravery. Charity certainly showed great determination to become a despatch rider, great bravery in a very dangerous situation but when her story made the newspapers, she did say that she felt really guilty that she had lied about her age. Charity's story made the newspapers because she had done her job, she had got the message quickly back to the central post, that enabled the fire brigade to do their job and our final story takes us to the role of many thousands of firefighters who defended the home front during the Second World War. 

Now I could have introduced you to George Roberts using a photograph of him in his fire brigade uniform. However, this is a photograph of George in a very different uniform because it just makes the story even more fascinating. I love how on our Adventures in History we can take one object and that leads us to many different stories. We started with a stirrup pump and that took us to John Allpress and three boys who had their lives changed by the Second World War to the bravery of Charity and now on to a firefighter. One object leads to a person leads to another person's story and onwards and onwards – except I'm under really strict instructions about how long these films are allowed to be!  

So, let's get back to that final photograph. I said that George Roberts is shown here not in his firefighter's uniform of the Second World War. He is in his army uniform of the First World War. Like many men who served on the Homefront in the Second World War, George was a veteran of the First World War. That meant he had been trained, he had served on the fighting front, he had seen action. He'd been involved in the Battle of the Somme and so although now too old to re-join the army, he brought those vital skills and experience to defending Britain on the Homefront through the Second World War. Charity and George both received medals - Charity for her quick action in helping to put out that fire and George for his role on the Homefront but also his other community roles that he went on to perform during his lifetime. In fact, there's a plaque that marks the home of George in South London and a second plaque on the fire station where he started work in 1939.  

Inspired by these stories, join CBBC presenter Ben Shires on Friday on Imperial War Museums Twitter and Facebook to see how you can create your own volunteer portrait. Imperial War Museums is a charity and if you would like to and feel you are able to support our work sharing these fascinating stories, please go to our website to find out how you can support. Next time, our Adventure in History will take us back to the home front. Until then, farewell! 

Curriculum Links and Learning Objectives

  • KS3/4 - Challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world, 1901-present.   

  • GCSE - Warfare and British society, c1250-Present.     

  • To explore the lives of children and their contribution to the war effort during the Second World War.                   


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