Second World War teaching resources

Second World War Loan Box featuring items found in the box
© IWM Mat Norman
IWM Second World War loan box featuring example items.

Taking our collection beyond the walls of IWM, schools and groups can book a Second World War-inspired loan box to use as a learning resource at no cost.

The wooden crate contains a specially curated selection of real and replica artefacts which explore the Second World War and its impact on people’s lives and society, such as a gas bell, shrapnel, an ARP Wardens helmet, and a replica incendiary bomb.

All objects can be handled and have a story to tell, providing a basis for discussion and an opportunity to explore their significance in a historical context.

You can borrow the box for two weeks, or longer if arranged in advance with the Learning Team at no cost.

This learning resource is suitable for all ages and can be used flexibly for historical enquiry, art projects, whole school learning, drama and literacy for non-commercial purposes.

Programmes of study and learning outcomes

Our Second World War loan boxes can assist with teaching across a broad array of subject areas and learning outcomes:

    • History 
    • English language and literacy 
    • Art and design 
    • Design and technology 
    • Geography  
    • Citizenship  
    • Numeracy
    • Intellectual skills 
    • Motor skills 
    • Cognitive skills 
    • Attitude 
    • Verbal information 
    • Working with others 
    • Research

How to book your loan box

To book your loan box contact: [email protected]. We will talk you through how to arrange pick up and drop off of your box at IWM North and answer any enquiries. 

Boxes and their contents are checked and cleaned between each loan period.  Each loan box measures 52.5 x 52.5 x 52.5cm, is on wheels and weighs 23.5kg.

Please note. During busy periods it may not be possible to borrow the Loan Boxes for longer than two weeks.

For more information on school activities and learning resources at IWM sign up to our Teacher eNews.  

Alternatively, IWM offers First World War-inspired kit bags to use as a learning resource at no cost. Find out more about IWM's First World War-inspired kit bags

Second World War Loan Box training video

A 20 minute user reference guide to IWM North's Second World War Loan Boxes.



Claire Shaw: "In this training video I'm going to go through our Second World War Loan Boxes. These loan boxes focus on the Homefront and what life was like in Britain for many civilians during the Second World War. I'm going to go through the box covering the topics explored, the objects inside, giving some historical information and also some handling advice.

So Candace is going to be helping me today and we're going to chat through the box and I'll firstly want to start with when the box arrives at the school.

It'll arrive at the school locked as you can see here with the padlock, but before you do jump into the loan box and try and find out what's inside, what you can do is you can actually use the box itself as a resource to get students to ask questions and to understand what the Second World War is about.

For example, if we just look at the outside of the box you will see that there's various markings and dates so you may want to start with your students like, "where do you think this box has come from?",  "what time period do you do you think it comes from?" "what do the markings say about possibly what's inside the box?"

As we're focusing on the impact it had on people living within Britain, one of the topics we explore within this is civilian roles and one of the roles I want you to bring you to is the ARP Warden and for this is a steel helmet. If you just want to have a feel. Now this was issued to ARP Wardens and ARP Wardens, their job was to monitor bomb damage in cities when the Blitz happened, they would advise people on air raid precautions, they would also kind of ensure that the blackout was enforced and helped coordinate other civil defence services as well.

So the purpose of this hat as you can see is quite, quite sturdy was to prevent debris falling on the head and injuring them and also as the war continued they became a figure of authority and people recognised them and saw them as a person to go to to seek advice, a voice of authority.

What you'll also find within the box is that it'll be wrapped in this black cloth so this is kind of giving a sense of the blackout procedure. Now the blackout began 19th of September 1939 when the war began but again, they were testing the blackout in 1938. And they would go around and they would check that windows were blacked out and it could be with newspaper, it could be with pieces of thick black cloth, any heavy sort of material that would block out the lights because it was quite important that no light was on show, else it would give the enemy an indication of where certain targets were.

If households didn't follow it they actually could be fined."

Candace: "So do people go out at night?"

Claire: "When the war started there was some restrictions put on people, they didn't like them going out but then as the war continued those restrictions were relaxed and people would go out. However, in a blackout it's pitch black, people would get lost."

Candace: "What's this?"

Claire: "So this is another piece of equipment, you might want to be a bit careful with that because it can be really loud, that the ARP Wardens would also have. The public were at constant fear that when we were attacked it would be by gas and that we would be poisoned so ARP Wardens if they suspected a gas attack they would sound a wooden rattle that you may have seen. These bells were actually used to give the all clear, so if there was no gas attack then they'd bring these and it'd let the local people know that everything was safe so that's what they were used for.

You will also find in the loan box that this comes wrapped in this hessian material and the reason why we've put that hessian material in is that, again, preparations were being made well before the war started and one of them preparations was protecting government buildings and they would do that by putting sandbags in front of them, so that's just if you wanted to talk to the students about the preparations before the war that is one of the things they did.

But one thing I do want to show you is this. So if we, if you want to just hold it out. So this is based on an item within our collection. So this item would be given to like ARP Wardens who could be the first on scene to provide medical or treatment and it just gives a guide of how to use a bandage for different wounds and on different parts of the body as well. This is another item that we've put in our box that you might be familiar with."

Candace: "A gas mask?"

Claire: "Yes, so this is a common symbol, a link to the Second World War so from 1938 this threat of a gas attack amongst people was so strong that they issued everyone with a gas mask, okay, and there was different sizes you had ones where you could put babies inside them and for the children, I mean to me, I don't know about you but they look quite frightening."

Candace: "Very frightening."

Claire: "And you look a bit like an alien when you put it on. So for children, some children didn't like them at all so they turned it into like a Mickey Mouse mask to make it more friendly but it was expected you'd carry a mask everywhere that you went, and some people we hear with stories who arrived at work without the gas mask and they would be sent home to get it."


Claire: "The next item to talk about is the Blitz and I'm going to go through a number of objects associated with the Blitz.

The Blitz took place between September 1940 to May 1941 and these are just some of the objects that are linked to that. So what do you know about the Blitz?"

Candace: "I know that it happened in London."

Claire: "Yeah, it started on the 7th of September and from the 7th of September for 57 consecutive days and nights it was, it was bombed. But it also took place in other key cities and industrial areas so we have Bristol, Hull, Coventry, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, even the museum where this loan box has come from is built on a bomb site.

When you think of the Blitz you think of the big bombs that caused most of the damage. However, I want to show you this object here."

Candice: "Okay, what's this?"

Claire: "So it's quite small and it's known as an incendiary bomb and these were, these were dropped and on impact they would start a fire and they would burn for about 15 minutes and they created a lot of damage because fires could spread so easily. 

So it was it was a job of the fire watchers, ARP Wardens, other civilian defence services to kind of knock them off the buildings to prevent fires taking place. If you want to see more of the devastation of what the Blitz caused we do have this diorama which gives a scene.

Candice: "Okay"

Claire: "Of the destruction of buildings and firefighters trying to battle the blaze. So another interesting object we have in here."

Candace: "What's this?"

Claire: "They are pieces of shrapnel. You might be thinking why on earth has anyone decided to keep pieces of shrapnel. So, what people will do is that children in particular they'd go out and find pieces of shrapnel and then when they'd meet up with friends they'd like compare who'd got the biggest piece. So it turned into a bit of a game really which I suppose during something that was so terrifying this is one way that they could get through it. And they'd, you know people would store them in like little metal tins like this."


Claire: "You may have heard like children were evacuated or it was encouraged children were evacuated and they were evacuated slightly just before the war as well, again, with this imminent threat of we are just going to be bombed and they wanted to get them out of the cities. And it came in different waves, evacuation, so the evacuated people at the start and they sent children off to the country, some with the parents and without the parents which must have been quite daunting and scary for them. And to explore the issue of evacuation we have put in which is typical of children being evacuated an evacuation label, okay.

So these were an identification tag which had the details of the children on it and these were issued to every, every children who was evacuated but also you may have seen photographs of children like carrying suitcases and the gas masks and I've seen the label on there as well but I also want to give you that."

Candace: "Is this a pillowcase?"

Claire: "So it is a pillowcase."

Candace: "Why a pillowcase?"

Claire: "So the whole reason why I've put a pillowcase in there is we often see them with a suitcase but you've got to bear in mind that some children either didn't have a suitcase or they had quite a number of siblings and they all didn't have suitcases so what else could they put their belongings into it? So they would use pillowcases as a means to pack the stuff in. So it's just another thing to talk about rather than just your typical suitcase that we so often associate with evacuees."


Claire: "Now as children went to the countryside we obviously needed people to look after them and women took a very important role within that and you have the Women's Voluntary Service. So they looked after, you know, giving them drinks, making sure they were looked after, showing them where to go when they arrived at the countryside and that was that was one of their roles.

And I do want to move on to talk about women in general and the roles they did. So for this and not only did they look after the children but women also went back into the factories. We know that they worked as ARP Wardens as well, they worked with the barrage balloons, they joined the forces and from 1941 it was compulsory for women to be conscripted between the ages of 18 to 60 in various different roles.

So for this we have got these factory goggles. Like I said, they did all different types of jobs. And they'd put them on and we can see here an image of one of the factory workers. Apart from the goggles women would also wear these snoods to help protect their hair and getting caught in any of the machinery but these became a fashion accessory as the war continued because it was quite easy to just pin your hair back and put it away, and they decorate these as well with as we can see on this one, bows and ribbons. So it started off as a practical function this snood but then it became a fashion accessory which we'll talk about a little bit later on. 

And on the other side of this bag you will see the picture of a woman. You can see she liked putting her makeup on and stuff and like what I said to you about the snood, how they adapted the snood and put ribbons and bows on it and it became an accessory. It was important for women you can see her putting her lips are coming you might be thinking she's in the middle of a Blitz or something like that and she's putting a makeup on but it was really important for for women to maintain standards and keep up appearances because it helped keep morale boosted in a time of crisis really.

Women went into the countryside not only to look after the children but also to help farm the lands and for that we have this, which is a Women's Land Army. So you will see the Women's Land Army armband and the cat badge as well. And they were quite important these women as they kept the farms going to keep the food supply going they had different jobs ploughing fields, looking after the crops and also catching rats as well, okay, which children like to hear about."


Claire: "The next topic I want to talk about is rationing which came into effect in 1940 and it came in a number of waves. So it started in January and certain things were taken, you know, it all became rationed so it wasn't as easy to buy, you had coupons, you were given a ration book and there was a number of coupons to buy certain things and then and it was things like sugar that was rationed and then in March meat was rationed and then in July tea started to be rationed as well. So people really had to start thinking carefully about how they were going to use the food. Eggs became difficult to get hold of and food like bananas and lemons things that we see every single day just disappeared because we we couldn't get them, we couldn't source them. So people created their own allotments in the gardens and it was encouraged if you had a spare bit of land to dig it up and start an allotment and one of the main things that was grown was potatoes. And what you can see here as I say when you haven't got a lot going around you've got to be kind of inventive to it this is a mashed potato pudding which could be seen as like a pudding after a meal if you wanted to use it in that way.

Now to me I don't know how it looks to you but it looks, it looks a bit bland, a bit boring and also to me it looks a bit like a brain. And what people would do is it would add any flavouring, you would kind of put that in as well so you'd just be creative with whatever you've got."

Candace: "Was rationing limited to food?"

Claire: "No it wasn't just food that was rationed. Clothing was rationed as well and there was this big drive called um you might have heard of something called make do and mend, this government drive? And it was to encourage people to kind of reuse old clothes so it might be, you know, if you've got an old pair of trousers well you know cut the legs off and turn them into shorts or if you had to buy clothes buy them a bit bigger so you know especially for children so they could grow into them. 

So as part of make do and mend, the darning mushroom is a good insight into that. This was used. I don't know if you've seen one of these? I remember my grandma having one of these and she would sit there and darn socks and that's what it, what it was used for. So you'd put the cloth over it and it helped you close up the hole basically like on a sock or even on some trousers.

So it was being resourceful with what you've got. Again, just like food, clothing was on coupons as well so that, like, a coupon book, and also with the the clothing they introduced this utility clothing so it had like a little symbol on it, a utility symbol, and it made clothing more affordable for people.

But rationing didn't end in 1945. Rationing with food ended in 1954 and for clothing it ended in 1952. The impact was still being felt for many years after."


Claire: "One other I want to talk to you about is the Merchant Navy. Now the Merchant Navy here we have a war service badge and you will see a poster.

They played really important a role within the Second World War and they helped get food to Britain, they helped get transport to soldiers to different parts of the world as well.

It was a really dangerous job. So, as I mentioned they had cargo and they would transport cargo from one ship to another ship. Now one of the ways that they would communicate with other ships is through light so sending light messages, through like radio Morse code or they would also use the Semaphore Flag Code the system for that as well. That was the most successful, less risky way to communicate to another ship because if you had a light communication going on, the enemy could kind of infiltrate it and figure out what was on board and use that to kind of capture the ship whereas this was a little bit more difficult to decipher what message was being communicated between ships."


Claire: "Also within the box we have a folder which has a wealth of other information in there that can help support you with any of these topics. So you will see that there's plenty of objects and topics for you to explore with your students in the classroom whether it be taking a topic on on its own or using it as an overview to what life was like in Britain during this time."

Related content

IWM also offers a range of learning resources for use in the classroom that support the teaching of the Second World War:

Graphic for learning resource Health and Wellbeing : Food and Nutrition tile
Classroom Resource

Health and Wellbeing Food and Nutrition: Memories of rationing

This resource looks at the experience of rationing through the personal memories of Graham who was 9 years old when the Second World War started.

Don’t Do It, Mother – Leave The Children Where They Are
© IWM (Art.IWM PST 8235)
Classroom Resource

Second World War Posters

Use these sources to understand more about propaganda poster campaigns, and the artists behind them, during the Second World War.

Team Spitfire graphic
Classroom Resource

Numeracy: Team Spitfire! Working Scientifically

Join IWM experts Ngaire Bushell and John Delaney as they give you a special tour of IWM Duxford’s very own Spitfire.