- Home Front
- Age 9 to 11 (KS2)
- Age 11 to 14 (KS3)
What different roles did people have on the Home Front?
From the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce to the Timber Corps, 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 Two
Part of the Adventures in History series created during the UK lockdown in Spring 2020.
Ahoy! Welcome back! Welcome aboard!
Thank you for joining me on this Adventure in History!
My name is Ngaire, I work at the Imperial War Museums. But for now, we are here aboard my boat. And the last time that we were aboard - we were thinking about stories on the Home Front. And I thought for this Adventure in History we could return to the Second World War – to the Home Front and think about some more individuals whose lives were affected by the danger and disruption of the Second World War. And to find out about their stories; we could use some of the museum’s great collections of photographs, film, objects and interviews, with some of the people who remembered how their lives were affected by the Home Front in the Second World War.
One of those was Doris Danher. Now Doris was born in 1923 in the city of Liverpool. She was 15 and a half when the Second World War broke out. And, like Charity in Birmingham and George and John in London (that we heard about in our last Adventure in History). Doris, in Liverpool, was also affected by the bombing raids that were hitting the Home Front. In fact, on one night she was sat on the sofa, and her mum just a few seconds before had called her to the back of the house – and just at that moment a bomb dropped nearby. Shattering the glass of the front window, and that glass went all over the sofa, where Doris had just been sat.
And it was partly to escape the dangers of the bombing raids, that Doris went to the recruiting office to see how she could offer her services on the Home Front. So she sat with the recruiting officer who starts to go through the roles that Doris could do:
She could be a munitions worker – making bombs in a factory.
She could have joined the Women’s Land Army
But – it was the sound of the woman’s Timber Corps that Doris liked the most.
The women’s Timber Corp was made up entirely of women and they were working in Britain’s forest. Selecting, surveying and cutting down trees, that were tall enough to become telegraph poles and carry telephone wires – a vital form of communication – or were stout and sturdy enough to go down into the coal mines as pit pots. Or were part of the vital supply of beech trees, that would be transformed into Mosquito Aircraft.
Doris liked the sound of this, she really liked the independence that the role offered, she liked the sound of working outdoors, she’d always fancied herself a bit of an outdoorsy person. And she loved trees! So she said that she would become a Lumberjill.
Lumberjill was the nickname for the girls of the women’s Timber Corps. She gets her call up papers and she has to set off on quite a long train journey, which she remembers really enjoying. She loves the countryside, that she can see from the train window. And mum had packed her some really delicious cake for the ride as well.
She’s taken by train to Suffolk, and that’s were she joins the rest of the women that make up her section of the Corps. She’s given training, and she moves into a camp and she’s living there. Each morning when they go to work, they are carried on, what she describes as a pretty rickety old, red bus, that she said could have been a museum piece itself. And this bus carries them into the forest with their axes, their ropes – all the things they are going to need to do their job. But I do like that the first job Doris describes doing each morning when they get to the forest, is to make a fire so they can pop the kettle on, so they are able to have their tea later in the day.
The working day was hard and tiring. The Women’s Timber Corps were cutting the trees, felling the trees, with axes not chainsaws, hand axes! And that was physically demanding but also required great skill, because you were cutting a tree that you also have to make fall in the direction that you indented it to fall in.
The reason we know so much about Doris’ Home Front experiences, is because she is one of 34,000 interviews in the Imperial War Museum sound achieve. The part I really like listening to most of Doris’ interview is where she describes hearing about the role of the women’s Timber Corps and knowing she wanted to volunteer. Liking the sound of working outdoors and feeling that this was something she could do. And she proved herself right, she really enjoyed being a Lumberjill. She said she liked the rhythm and the timing it took to cut the trees down and the feeling of hard work as well; because even once the tree was down she then had to trim off the branches, cross cut the trunks into smaller pieces and stack these as well.
She said at the end of a very long day they felt like they had done vital work. And it was vital – the women were doing this job because it was a role that had been performed by men before the war. Those men had gone to fight in the fighting front and so the Lumberjills took over from the Lumberjacks, to ensure the vital supply of wood that the country needed, kept on coming.
The very final job in their day in the forest was to return to that little fire and make sure they had thoroughly extinguished it – put it out. And that’s the fire they had used to make their tea, and also apparently the most delicious toast – which they held on branches over the fire. So they’ve put the fire out, they’ve cleared away the tools from where they have been working that day, they get back on the rickety old bus and Doris and the other woman return to their camp to enjoy their evening meal. She does say that every muscle would ache, and they would have lots of cuts and bruises, but they found the job satisfying and rewarding – and they were certainly hungry for that evening meal as well.
That’s made me feel quite hungry too! So maybe we will go onto our next story, on the theme of food.
We’re going to start off with a cake. Now, looking at this cake (image of cake on screen), can you imagine what special occasion it is celebrating? Making a cake in the Second World War was a challenge because of something called rationing. And if you joined me on another Adventure in History where we talked about carrots into cakes – you’ll know things like butter and sugar – pretty vital ingredients in cake making – were in short supply and were rationed. So everybody got a very fair share of the food that was available during the Second World War.
Let’s look again at that cake in the photograph. It’s got a pretty fancy lot of icing there. That would have required far too much sugar than you would get on the ration – unless it is a fancy fake cake top. Because what you are looking at is icing made of plaster of paris. (If you have ever broken an arm or a leg, that’s the stuff they would use to put a cast around the bone). Underneath was a very real, very small, un-iced cake that was the celebratory wedding cake for the couple in the photograph. Years later when Lillian spoke to the Imperial War Museum, she couldn’t remember the flavour of the cake. But it’s the wartime experience of Lillian on the Home Front, that I would like to share with you for our next story of this Adventure in History.
Lillian’s is a really great example of how complicated it can be to look at the impact of War on peoples lives. She’s shown on her wedding day in her uniform as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce, but Lillian experienced and fought racial prejudice, to be able to carry out that role.
Lillian’s father was Jamaican, and her mother was Irish. In 1939, she volunteers to work with the NAAFI – that’s the Navy, Army and Airforce institute. And that’s a new organisation that for those armed forces, provide things like canteens. She does that job for just seven weeks before her district manager summons her to the office. And she says, years later, he very apologetically explained that ‘head office had rung him and told him to dismiss me because my father was not born in the UK’. Incredibly, despite this prejudice, Lillian is still determined to support the war effort. And she’s listening to the radio one day, and she hears some West Indians being interviewed and they had been rejected from the Army, but the Royal Air Force had accepted them. Having heard that, Lillian Bader decides that it might be the Air Force for her.
We saw from the photograph on her wedding day, that Lillian Bader was accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce. And I find her story truly inspiring. She has to relocate entirely, she lives in Yorkshire, she’s got to move to practically the other end of the country, to a RAF base in a town called Melksham in Wiltshire. And when she arrives, she says she is the only black person in a sea of white faces. Someone said to her that she looks smart in her uniform, and she says – ‘that cheered me up no end’.
She also loved the work that she that was doing. The hours were long and the training was intensive. There were classroom lectures as well as practical work – and she thrives and passes and becomes an instrument repairer. Up until this point, Lillian admits, her scientific education had been non-existent. And now suddenly, as an instrument repairer, she is repairing the instruments that go onto the aircraft, that were vital to the work of the Royal Air Force. The days were long, but she loves it and she describes being in these aircraft hangers full of disembodied parts of planes. And she’s creating and repairing these instruments to ensure these planes can go back together and back into the air to do their jobs.
This type of skilled engineering job would never have been available to Lillian if it weren’t for the realities of the Second World War. She remembers that for most girls living in Yorkshire, their jobs were limited to domestic service. And she’s good at this job, she has a real ability for science. She takes trade exams – Lillian becomes a leading Aircraft woman and achieves the rank of acting corporal. And just imagine, none of this might have happened because of racial prejudice.
The only reason she leaves the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force is because her and her husband discover that they are going to have a baby. And it’s with another wartime mum, that our Adventure in History today will end.
Because we’ve looked at some pretty dangerous jobs on the Home Front, like repairing aircrafts and felling trees. But sometimes acts on the Home Front were just very small and small simple acts of kindness.
This is Bernie Bristol (picture on screen of a young man). Bernie was a little boy during the second World War, and his mum worked in a munitions factory. (Remember that was one of the jobs that Doris was offered when she went to the recruiting office.) So, Bernie’s mum – difficult, dangerous job – building bombs and munitions and working some pretty long hours. He remembers her coming home one day and producing from the pocket of her overalls – a doughnut – that she had saved all day to bring home for her little boy.
That little boy grew up, wanting to be a sailor and many years on, he achieved that ambition and still remembers the story of his mum bringing home something sweet and sugary as a treat for him.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the last two weeks of our Adventures in History to the Second World War Home Front. On Friday, why not put your newfound knowledge to the test on our social media channels, where we have a quiz.
Imperial War Museums is a charity and if you would like to and feel able to support us in our work collecting and sharing these vital stories of people whose lives have been affected by war and conflict. Please go to our website to find out more:
On our next Adventure in History, we will discover more stories that you won’t find in the classroom.
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 personal stories of women and their roles during the Second World War.
Home Front Quiz
IWM expert Ngaire has brought you tales from the Home Front, now it’s time to put that knowledge to the test and see how much you have remembered in our truly tricky quiz!
Second World War Posters
Discover how posters were used to spread messages on the Home Front during the Second World War.