Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Britain at War, 1942 — Part 1

Britain was emphatically a nation at war. Food rationing began in January 1940, and that autumn saw the beginning of the London Blitz, with endemic air raids thereafter. A 1940 extension of the 1939 Emergency Powers Act gave the government “complete control over… all persons, rich and poor… and all property.” Britain mobilized a higher proportion of its population than any other combatant: by June 1944, 22% of the working population was in the services and another 33% in war work. Women replaced men in factories, public transport and on the land. Men were not only drafted into the forces, but eventually down the mines as well.

Mrs Minnie Murless of the Wynnstay guest house (above) clips the ration books of her guests. There were weekly forms for butcher and grocer, and every two month the local Food Office required detailed lists of consumption. Fuel and animal food required separate permits.

“Local defense,” reads the original caption, “releases men for overseas offense.” Like most Home Guard units, this one includes those too old or too young for regular service as well as men in some key occupations which spared them regular call-up.

Rail travel was cramped and uncertain. Here a member of the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and a soldier sit on their luggage in the corridor of a London to Scotland express.

In May 1942 Molotov, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, flew to England to sign a Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Assistance. Here he is walking next to Churchill in the garden of No 10 Downing Street. Clement Attlee, Deputy Prime Minister, is shrouded in tobacco smoke in the centre of the photograph, and Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary, is just behind Churchill.

Russian ambassador Ivan Maisky accepts the first tank produced under the “Tanks for Russia” scheme. War material was shipped to Russia, often at great cost, in the arctic convoys through the Norwegian and Barents seas.

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