Posts Tagged ‘World’

World War Two anniversary: how news broke that ‘Britain and Germany are at war’

September 3rd, 2015

Ceremonies will take place in Europe today to mark the 75th-anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

War came formally to Great Britain at 11 o’clock in the morning of September 3 when a dejected Neville Chamberlain informed the public that London had told Berlin that unless it delivered a pledge to withdraw its forces from Poland a state of war would exist.

“I have to tell you now no such undertaking has been received so consequently this country is at with Germany,” stated the prime minister.

In Poland, the presidents of Germany and Poland have met at the small Westerplatte peninsula near the city of Gdansk at which the very first shots of the war were fired when the Nazi battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the tiny Polish garrison defending it.

Polish and German bishops also met in the town of Gliwice in southern Poland to commemorate a “false-flag” raid on a German radio station by German troops posing as Poles on August 31, 1939.

Hitler used the raid as a pretext to launch his invasion of Poland on the next day, and two days later Great Britain and France, abiding to pledge to support Poland, declared war on Germany.

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How Donald Duck helped win Second World War – and beat Mickey to the job

August 30th, 2015

A BBC Radio 4 documentary is to explore how Disney helped the Allied war effort with a series of films dedicated to educating Americans on what they could do to help at home.

Other films showed public information such as how to collect war bonds, and attempted to explain how Nazis were indoctrinated.

The documentary, presented by former Disney cartoonist Gerald Scarfe and to be broadcast on September 2, will explore the question: “Why did Donald Duck get drafted?”

How Dad’s Army nearly became a casualty of BBC battle

It has been made to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, and will interview historians as well as featuring archive audio from Clarence Nash, the original voice of Donald.

The final show will detail how Walt Disney Studios helped the US government spread their messages by using favourite cartoon characters in newly-created films.

They included The Spirit Of 43, which saw Donald praise the benefits of income tax, The Fuhrer’s Face, in which Donald has a nightmare he works in a Nazi artillery factory, and Commando Duck, in which he destroys a Japanese command base.

“He was a duck who was very typical of an American,” said Clarence Nash, in a clip featured on the show. “He would express his opinions real well, you know?”

Brian Sibley, who has written books on Disney and Mickey Mouse, told the programme: “Mickey Mouse was very important to Disney. It was his lucky talisman, he’d built a studio really on the back of the success he’d had with Mickey Mouse.

“I don’t think he wanted him tarnished, really, with having him involved in propaganda.

“Certainly not the way in which Donald Duck was involved.

“He was irascible, he was apt to fly off the handle, lose his temper.

If you wanted a character to stand up to Hitler, you couldn’t have one better than Donald Duck.

“Mickey was always used for slightly more reserved roles. He would be an ARP warden with a tin hat, telling people to ‘put that light out’. That kind of thing.”

At the time, the use of Donald was described as the equivalent of “MGM giving Clark Gable”. Polls shortly afterwards found 37 per cent of the American public did indeed feel more inspired to pay their taxes.

Disney himself is said to have been inspired to contribute after serving as an ambulance driver in First World War France, fibbing about his age.

He was rumoured to have been put on Hitler’s “personal hit list” as a result of the studio’s wartime efforts.

A Radio 4 spokesman said: “This documentary explores how the iconic Californian studio became a war plant in the 1940s, which churned out ground-breaking military training films and propaganda shorts, educational posters and leaflets, along with insignias for troops to help boost morale on the frontline.”

The programme will be broadcast on Radio 4 on Wednesday, September 2 at 11am.

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A history of the world in funny puns

August 21st, 2015

For many of us, it's a punderful life (pun: a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words which sound alike but have different meanings) and to mark the UK Pun championships, we present a history of the world in puns. So here goes. Once a pun a time . . . it all started with THE BIG BANG, a theory which describes how the Universe began in a rapid expansion about 13.7 billion years ago. It is thought that all of space was created in this first moment. Expert and scientist Stephen Hawking (and who can put down his book about anti-gravity?) has even appeared in a cameo for American sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Here are some space puns:  •  How does the Solar System hold up its trousers? With an asteroid belt • What kinds of music do planets sing? Neptunes • An astronaut broke the law of gravity and earned a suspended sentence • That was a poor joke about infinity – it didn't have an ending Gallery compiled by Martin Chilton Picture: Alamy


Ancient Egypt

noah's ark



Julius Caesar



hadrian's wall

King Arthur

Battle of Hastings

The Black Death




Spanish Armada

Gunpowder Plot

Great Fire of London

Acts of Union

Boston Tea Party

French revolution



the gold rush


Abraham Lincoln


Vincent van Gogh



Queen Victoria

Ford Model T


Russian Revolution

Wall Street Crash



Cuban Missile Crisis

James Bond

Moon landings



berlin wall

Dolly the Sheep



Harry Potter



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Children play with live World War Two bomb on Welsh beach

August 20th, 2015

And stunned dad Gareth, 34, tweeted his surprise when he learned of the news and shared photos of Erin, six, and Ellis, four, and their close call online.

Gareth posted: “So the bhoy my kids were jumping on all weekend turns out to be a WW11 bomb. Oops.”

Kelly said: “The tide was up so we discovered what we later learned was the bomb – we just thought it was a bhoy.

“We were more interested in the barnacles on it and the kids were looking at them while Gareth noticed that it had a chain on.

“I even made the joke that it was a big bomb at the time but did not think anything of it.

“It’s only afterwards when the reality has set in that we were actually very lucky.

“We were close to disaster – it’s shocking.”

Despite the close call Gareth and Kelly, who run a waste management firm and also coach the town’s rugby union team, they insist that they would return to the beach.

Kelly said: “I wouldn’t be worried about going back but we will definitely be more cautious when we do.

“I’ve heard of things being washed up on the beach before but nothing like this.

“We’ll definitely think twice before messing with something like that in future and we went down for a look to see it get blown up.”

Cllr Meryl Gravell, executive board member for leisure for Carmarthenshire Council, said: “I would like to reassure the public that we have taken the appropriate action, we apologise for any inconvenience whilst the beach is temporarily closed.”

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Fireworks mark end of World War Two in Pearl Harbour

August 16th, 2015

Fireworks were launched on early Sunday in Pearl Harbour to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific.

The firework display was provided by the Japanese city of Nagaoka, which is the partner city of Honolulu.

Nagaoka is the hometown of the late Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbour that launched the U.S. into the war in 1941.

US planes bombed the city during the last weeks of the war, killing nearly 2,000 people.

The war ended when Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945.

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V-J Day: rare colour archive footage shows people celebrating end of World War II

August 14th, 2015

The Imperial War Museum has released rare colour film showing the Victory over Japan (V-J Day) celebrations in central London on 15 August 1945.

The amateur film was shot by Lieutenant Sidney Sasson of the US Army Signal Corps, Army Pictorial Service. It shows in incredible detail the celebrations that took place in and around Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square in central London.

Londoners celebrate in the street (Imperial War Museum)

US servicemen and civilians are seen throwing paper and ticker tape, and dancing in a conga line to celebrate the end of the war.

A woman laughs as she dances in a conga line through central London (Imperial War Museum)

At one point a staff sergeant reaches to kiss a woman in a scene reminiscent of the famous photograph captured during the Times Square V-J Day celebrations.

A US staff sergeant draws a woman in for a kiss (Imperial War Museum)

V-J Day marked the victory over Japan after the country surrendered to allied forces on 15 August 1945.

It effectively brought an end to World War II and followed the surrender of Nazi Germany to the allies a little over over three months before.

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UK’s biggest Second World War air raid shelter reveals life on Home Front

April 10th, 2015

Howard Green, the museum’s duty officer, said: “Chestergate, the street outside was busiest east-west routet the town; even at the levels of 1930s traffic it was too narrow. The long term was to cover over the River Mersey, which is where the M62 is.

“But in the interim, they decided to buy properties there and demolish them for widening and straightening.

“A lot of the older properties backing into the cliff had cellars and it seemed a pity to seal them up. There were things to be done, so there was talk of joining them together as an underground car park.

“The other thing was that in the lead up to the Second World War, local authorities had to establish public air raid shelters in towns.

“So they decided to join cellars together, get the grant for the air raid shelters, then they could get the money back twice by letting out the parking spaces.”

The biggest purpose built air raid shelter in the UK attracted terrified victims of the blitz from across Cheshire and Lancashire at the height of the war. The tunnels, dug into the sandstone cliffs running alongside the river Mersey in Stockport were state of the art in 1930s Britain, with electric lighting and flush toilets, and could hold up to 6,500 people.

Unfortunately for the council at the time, the car park proved impossible after the engineering survey.

Mr Green said: “The official capacity was 3,850, so outside they painted 4,000, but what they didn’t advertise was that they thought they could squeeze twice as many in if needs be.

“They were used extensively by people from Manchester and Salford, and even as far as Eccles.

“Stockport was less of a target, and the underground shelters were a particularly safe place, so they came on a regular basis, what they did was introduce season tickets, they were issued to locals, although you could write in if you had difficult circumstances. We still have some letters from people in Manchester who’d been bombed out several times.

The biggest purpose built air raid shelter in the UK attracted terrified victims of the blitz from across Cheshire and Lancashire at the height of the war. The tunnels, dug into the sandstone cliffs running alongside the river Mersey in Stockport were state of the art in 1930s Britain, with electric lighting and flush toilets, and could hold up to 6,500 people.

“It was really only a way of damping down demand, nobody was denied entrance in an alert.

“In the winter of 1940 and 41, it went up to 6,500, with another four sets of tunnel shelters. Once they had the format right, it was something that could be done elsewhere in the town, where they could get into red sandstone.

“If you know where to look you can see the blocked up tunnels of one set of shelters on the other side, where the M62 goes through Stockport; further back into hillside, you can see the tunnel cut short and bricked off.

“People are always surprised by is the extent of them, and just how much thought and planning went into them, we’ve had German visitors saying our government did nothing as elaborate.

“There were first aid posts, electric lighting and flush toilets, which people living in back to back cottages of town centres wouldn’t have had at home.”

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Japan searches for Second World War soldiers’ remains in sealed caves of Palau

March 29th, 2015

A team of experts took five days last week to clear their way into just one small cave with a 7ft opening.

Archaeologists found a set of bones which are believed to be human and will be taken back to Japan for testing.

“They found some bones while they were clearing the entrance of the cave,” Bernadette Carreon, a local journalist, told ABC Radio. “They did not use heavy equipment because they have to make it clear of heavy ordnance. When it’s clear, the archaeologists can go in and start bone collection.”

Marines smoke cigarettes, but keep their weapons close in a blasted landscape of Peleliu Island, Palau during WWII

The attempt to find the bodies has been welcomed in Japan and is part of an effort to end a brutal chapter from the war, in which US marines were pitted against Japanese troops who had set up their defences in the intricate labyrinth of heavily fortified caves and underground bunkers. It is still regarded as one of the harshest conflicts in the history of the marines.

Unlike previous battles in the Pacific, the Japanese did not focus their defence on using suicide charges to prevent the Americans from establishing a beachhead.

Instead, the Japanese forces largely allowed the marines to land but staged their defence from inside the caves.

The Japanese, who had occupied Palau for about 30 years, had spent decades using dynamite and axes to enlarge existing caves on Peleliu and blast out new ones. The caves and their entrances were then heavily camouflaged.

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The US forces expected the battle in September 1944 to last only four or five days. “It will be a hard-fought quickie,” predicted William Rupertus, the US marine commander. It took more than 10 weeks.

More than 1,600 US soldiers were killed during the battle, which ended with the marines blowing up many of the caves, leaving thousands of the enemy trapped inside. Shortly before the Americans finally seized the small island in late November, Col Kunio Nakagawa, the Japanese commander, atoned for his defeat by committing ritual suicide in his post.

About 35 Japanese soldiers remained hiding in the caves until April 1947, more than 18 months after the war officially ended. They were the last troops to surrender.

Keiji Nagai, 93, and Kiyokazu Tsuchida, 95, two of the 35 soldiers who surrendered in 1947, met the Japanese emperor and empress earlier this month to provide an account of the hand-to-hand combat they experienced during the battle. The empress quietly told Mr Nagai: “You went through a lot.”

Authorities began collecting the remains at various locations around the island in 1953, but Japanese authorities say 2,600 soldiers have yet to be found. The bodies are believed to be holed up inside about 200 caves which were deemed dangerous and left sealed to prevent public access. About 450 Japanese soldiers survived the battle and later helped to direct the authorities to the site of graves.

The island of Peleliu (Alamy)

The entire island has become something of a monument to the battle, with unexploded bombs a constant threat to residents and tourists. Following the war, Japan created a peace park which included a Shinto shrine with the inscription “To all countries’ unknown soldiers”.

Officials in Palau have worked closely with Japan to try to recover the remaining bodies and return them to the families of the soldiers. Some representatives of the families of the Japanese soldiers have assisted with the search.

Sachio Kageyama, from a group representing families and fellow soldiers of those who fought on the island, told The Japan Times: “I hope the forthcoming visit by the emperor will pave the way for [further] collection of remains.”

Palau, a remote cluster of islands east of the Philippines with a population of about 21,000, was the scene of heavy fighting during the war. The fierce battle at Peleliu was over an airfield now deemed of questionable strategic value by most historians.

The search for the bodies has also focused on a long-lost mass grave on the western side of the island, close to where the current cave search is being conducted.

US military documents indicating the cemetery’s location were found two years ago at a naval museum in California. The documents included a map created in January 1945 which says “Japanese cemetery” and points to the centre of the island. A separate report from a construction battalion says that logs were placed on the site to prevent people disturbing the graves. US officials reportedly told Palau in 1994 that a mass grave was located near Nakagawa’s grave.

US experts have also been searching Palau’s coral reefs, lagoons and islands for planes that were lost in the conflict. Last year, underwater robots were used to find two warplanes on the ocean floor.

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World War Two hero’s wedding ring returned 70 years after it was lost

March 13th, 2015

The ring was presented to one of his surviving relatives, his 92-year-old sister, Dorothy Webster, along with a fuel gauge from the bomber and a rock from the mountain into which it crashed.

The inside of the gold ring is inscribed with the names John and Joyce – Flt Sgt Thompson had married a Londoner called Joyce Mozley in June 1944, before being sent off on active service. She remarried after the war but died in 1995.

His Halifax, part of 148 Squadron, crashed about 25 miles north of Tirana, the Albanian capital, while delivering weapons and other supplies to Albanian partisans fighting the Nazis.

In 1960 a local man, Jaho Cala, found the ring while out collecting wood in the mountains.

Nervous about informing the Communist authorities of the Hoxha regime, he took it home and kept it hidden for decades.

He later revealed its existence to his son, Xhemil Cala, instructing him to try to find out who it belonged to.

His son, who became a police officer, wore the ring for years and made several attempts to find out who it belonged to, but without success.

Two years ago he contacted the British and American embassies in Tirana, guessing that it may have belonged to an Allied airman flying missions over Albania.

In October, a team of British and US officials located the remains of the aircraft on the sides of a 6,000ft high mountain.

The British embassy were eventually able to confirm that the ring belonged to Sgt Thompson, who came from Darley Dale in Derbs. The embassy contacted his family and the relatives of the six other RAF crew members.

“Seventy years we’ve waited. We can’t believe that we’re here today celebrating this after all this time,” Mrs Webster, who was a year younger than her brother, told The Associated Press. “My father would have been thrilled to pieces with it all.”

She said she was “overwhelmed” to receive the ring and other items and that she still remembered her brother “very well, as if it were yesterday.”

She was accompanied by four of his nephews and other family members at a ceremony at the Albanian defence ministry in Tirana.

“Your brother helped to liberate my country. He will never be forgotten,” Mimi Kodheli, the defence minister, told her.

“All these years it has been a story of loss,” said one of her sons, Alan Webster. “We now know almost everything that happened. It’s a sense of closure. We know where John is. He’s over there in the mountain.”

His brother, Brian Webster, said: “Our grandfather and grandmother never locked the house in Matlock – (they were) waiting for their missing son.”

Another relative, Philip Thompson, said the family had struggled to obtain information from the War Office about Sgt Thompson’s fate “because he was part of a secret operation in Albania.”or a long time the family believed that he had crashed in Poland.

Presenting the ring, Xhemil Cala said he was relieved to have fulfilled his father’s wish that it be returned to the airman’s family. “I will go to his grave and say rest in peace for your dying wish has been fulfilled,” he said.

Arthur Gilbert, 91, a childhood friend of the RAF flight engineer, told the Matlock Mercury last year: “He was a cheery little lad and he came from a big family. It was very sad to hear that he had never returned from the war.”

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Fashion on the Ration: how World War 2 finally let women wear the trousers

March 5th, 2015

As the Fashion on the Ration exhibition opens at the Imperial War Museum, this extract from Julie Summers’ book of the same name reveals how women’s style changed forever in1940s Britain

BY Julie Summers | 05 March 2015

"Land girl", Doreen Bacchus, 1942

In 1939 what you wore still said a great deal about who you were. It defined the class you came from and was a powerful reflection of status. Men and women in the highest tiers of society changed several times a day and always for dinner. The Vogue pattern book for June-July of that year defined five categories of clothing: “For Town, Active Sports, For Afternoon, For Evening, Spectator Sports”.

Although for some time clothes had been designed with greater flexibility so that the wearer could go between town and country without having to change constantly, dinner jackets and dresses were still de rigueur for the evening. While it was acceptable to look businesslike and efficient during the day, the image of the woman in the evening as “mysterious, alluring, witty, veiled, gloved, corseted and even button-booted as any romantic, fairytale queen” persisted.

Vogue was determined that the war would not affect attitudes to outward appearances, and on 20 September 1939 announced, “It would be an added calamity if war turned us into a nation of frights and slovens.” Meanwhile, Home and Country, the monthly magazine of the Women’s Institute, offered practical advice. The editor had commissioned an article on darning and patches to appear in the September issue and the following month she published knitting patterns for a matching set of vest and knickers.

The cover of Stitchcraft, March 1941.
The cover of Stitchcraft, March 1941. Photo: IWM

Vogue remained resolutely upbeat. In November an article appeared entitled “Fashion Meets the Challenge of War”, which began: “London, all set in September for a fresh fashion season of wasp waists and fragility, now, with the brilliance of an acrobatic somersault, turns a new fashion face towards a new future. There’s immense chic in restrained evening elegance. There’s immense charm in the robustness and shrewd common sense of day clothes.”

However, the fashion editor would have no slacking in the evenings. She gave the thumbs down to women who carried on wearing their functional clothes to nightclubs, to restaurants or even at home, those women “who pad around in hairy sweaters and flannel bags, on duty and off; letting themselves go – and other people down – slackers in slacks”.

Vogue, May 1939
Vogue, May 1939. Photo: IWM

“Slacks” had entered the clothing market in the 1930s but were still not widely worn by women. Although Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were often seen in photographs wearing trousers, they did not take off as a fashion garment in Britain until the war. Vogue first featured women in slacks in 1939 and in April reproduced a photograph of a model in an exquisite Eastern headdress wearing fawn trousers and red slippers (see photograph, above). The editor encouraged her readers to let their imaginations “run riot” when deciding what to wear with their trousers.

“And if people accuse you of aping men, take no notice. Our new slacks are irreproachably masculine in their tailoring, but women have made them entirely their own by the colours in which they order them, and the accessories they add.” She suggested that the fashionable, modern woman should wear slacks “practically the whole time” – unless she was the guest of “an Edwardian relic with reactionary views”.

Fashioned in New York, the latest American 'siren suit,' 1941.
Fashioned in New York, the latest American ‘siren suit,’ 1941. Photo: IWM

The fashion historian Geraldine Howell explains how Vogue advised women to “own several pairs for the country wardrobe as well as a heavy silk or velvet suit for evening wear. The primary rules regarding trousers were that wearers were to be under 50, weigh less than 10 stone and never wear them on a grouse moor, which would be, for unexplained reasons, embarrassing.” Perhaps the embarrassment might have come if ladies had to answer a call of nature out on the moor with no trees to protect their modesty.

READ: Beetroot and boot polish – beauty during WWII

During the Second World War about a third of the population of Britain were entitled to wear uniform. Although no women fought on the front line, they worked alongside servicemen in stations and offices around Britain, as well as further afield. The remainder were in organisations such as the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS), the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), or youth training corps, as well as many others who supported the war effort on the home front. Used in advertisements, not just for the war effort but domestic products such as clothing, make-up and even floor polish, the uniformed woman was one of the most powerful images from the war.

Ruby Loftus, Screwing a Breech-ring by Dame Laura Knight, 1943
Ruby Loftus, Screwing a Breech-ring by Dame Laura Knight, 1943. Photo: IWM

In 1939 Zelma Katin was a 40-year-old married housewife who had been unsuccessfully seeking work for all of her married life. Marriage changed a woman’s status in the pre-war era, especially for those from the middle class, and it was only with the outbreak of the war and the need for full employment that married women were called out of the home.

Soon after she started work as a tram conductor she was struck by the two different women she had become: on the one hand, “a married suburban woman who once studied botany in a university college, speaks with southern intonation, confines herself to her house, and belongs to the petit bourgeoisie”; and on the other, “an aggressive woman in uniform who sharply orders people about, has swear words and lewd jokes thrown at her, works amid rush and noise, bumbles and stumbles about in the blackout, and has filthy hands and a grimy neck”.

Given the choice of working either in a factory or in transport, she decided on the latter because she loved the “fresh air that blows from the Yorkshire moors across a tram-car platform in my city”. Having passed the interview, she remembered going home and paying special attention to the uniformed girl who took her fare. “I liked the cut of her dark-blue jacket with its nickel buttons, and I wondered how soon I would be able to punch tickets with her sang-froid.”

Patterned dungarees from "Clothes for a Coupon Summer" in Picture Post, 1941. PHOTO: Getty
Patterned dungarees from “Clothes for a Coupon Summer” in Picture Post, 1941. Photo: Getty

The following morning she and the other would-be conductors were hurried to the clothing store “where a tailoress measured us deftly for our uniforms – jacket and skirt, trousers and overcoat. This, so far, was the most exciting part of our initiation and we all felt we were getting somewhere at last. It’s extraordinary what a profound part in your and my psychology a uniform plays.” Zelma wore trousers with her uniform in winter for warmth and skirts in summer as they let a draught through. She noticed that some of the male conductors would stand at the bottom of the stairs so that they could see girls’ stockings or knickers when the girl was going up or down. “The adoption of slacks by so many women must have robbed many a stairway vigilant of an anticipated thrill.”

Once conscription was introduced in December 1941 women could choose whether to join one of the forces or serve as a “land girl”. As the Women’s Land Army was not a military force, not all women wore the uniform of green jersey, brown breeches, brown felt hat and khaki overcoat, but most who did so wore it with pride.

Beatrice Carr worked at Littlewoods Mail Order as an accounts clerk. Working in Liverpool, she saw the devastation caused in May 1941 when the city was bombed by the Luftwaffe with the loss of almost 4,000 lives. She left her job at Littlewoods when conscription came into force, joined the Land Army and was posted to the Montgomeryshire Agricultural Committee in Wales. Her delight at the wardrobe she was issued with is evident in her memoirs.

“We had to buy our own underwear,” she pointed out, but “the uniform seemed adequate to me. It was replaced when worn out. The shoes lasted well. We were asked by the ladies of the town whether we would sell them shoes because of the coupons.” The only item of clothing that brought despair was the headgear. “The hat did nothing for our morale. We steamed, ironed, bent, stitched, pulled and cursed to try to make it into some sort of mode. To no avail, it remained what it was. It never wore out.”

Picture Post cover, December 1939. PHOTO: Getty
Picture Post cover, December 1939. Photo: Getty

Unsurprisingly, as more and more men and women went into uniform, fashion changed and melded, better to fit with the mood of the country. So pervasive was uniform by the spring of 1940 that Vogue was running advertisements for costumes for the Home Front but “with a military touch”. In November 1941 Picture Post returned to the question of whether women should wear trousers. “The question is not so much ‘should women wear trousers’, the answer obviously being yes, but ‘when, where and how’. You can’t fight an incendiary in confidence in clothes that flutter, or even sleep decently in a shelter in a skirt.”

Soon, even a dash to the air-raid shelter was not immune to encroaching fashions. The siren suit, favoured by Churchill, was a one-piece jumpsuit that was designed to be worn in a shelter and to be as practical as possible. Siren suits designed for women were sometimes made in patterned fabrics, but even if they were in dark-blue or green they would have puff shoulders, baggy legs with elasticated bottoms and cuffs to keep the wearer warm or prevent draughts, and a hood. Even a siren suit could look fashionable, Vogue maintained. “Siren suits, one-piece and cosily cowled, respond to a profound need of mind and body, to be warmly, safely enclosed against fear and danger no less than against night frosts.”

ARP ambulance drivers knit socks for soldiers. PHOTO: Getty
ARP ambulance drivers knit socks for soldiers. Photo: Getty

Clara Milburn had one made by her dressmaker and she wore it for the first time in September 1940. “I am garbed in it, wishing I weighed a stone or two less, but feeling very cosy”; while Nella Last described hers as “the maddest, most amusing thing a sedate matron of 51 ever possessed!”

In Oxford the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) wardens were issued with full uniform by 1940, having previously only had a tin hat, and they were offered the choice of a skirt or trousers. Ann Spokes Symonds, an Oxford local historian and wartime evacuee in the USA, wrote about the air raid wardens picked from among the women. “Some North Oxford ladies had never worn trousers before and there was a great discussion among them as to what they would choose. Some were still undecided when they reported to the police station where they were issued with the uniform, and some even asked the sergeant what he advised. As one practice exercise involved crawling on hands and knees under a smoke screen, trousers were obviously more practical. They could also be put on hurriedly over pyjamas.”

A "land girl" poses with newborn lambs. PHOTO: Alamy
A “land girl” poses with newborn lambs. Photo: Alamy

Betty Withcombe, one of the younger wardens who was attached to what she called their “genteel” ARP post, said that despite the fact that two of her acquaintances were practically “born on bicycles, Violet, used to riding in a long skirt, could not stay on her bicycle in trousers and fell off”.

Despite these initial hiccups, trousers became increasingly popular during the war, even among older members of society. Practicality took the place of sentimentality for pre-war dress, and as the war progressed so fashion and design embraced a simplified look for wartime wear.

Phyllis Warner wrote, “I had lunch today with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a year. She was telling me about the reaction of her grandmother, who is over 80, to her first air-raid. It was a pretty hot one, and the family, huddled together in their shelter, were distinctly anxious about the old lady. As soon as it was over, someone rushed for the brandy, but Granny waved it away and, turning to one of her daughters, said with an air of great determination, ‘Dorothy, I must tell you that I am not going through this again without trousers.’”

This is an extract from “Fashion on the Ration: Style in the Second World War”, by Julie Summers is available for £15.29 plus £1.95 p&p from


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