Loss and sacrifice on the Home Front, 1914-1918
Today’s blog post, using the Military Service Tribunal papers from MH 47, will look at the emotional impact of the First World War on the Home Front. We will specifically see how the shared experiences of military service, loss and sacrifice affected individual households and the local communities they formed a part of.
97 years ago, on 25 May 1916, compulsory military service into the Army was extended from single men and widowers without children to cover all men – single and married – aged between 18 and 41, and who had been resident in Great Britain since 4 August 1914. This extension of conscription was a result of the continued difficulties of manning the army due to the number of casualties overseas.
The story of John Gordon Shallis is one of the many interesting finds from our MH 47 pre-digitisation work. Mr Shallis appealed for exemption from military service on grounds of domestic hardship, having lost four of his brothers during the war. John’s mother is described as a “cripple” on his appeal form, having broken her leg, and his father was away carrying out Home Defence duties with the Territorial Force. This left John as the only son left for the family.
The first of John’s brothers to lose his life was George Victor Shallis, a member of the Merchant Navy. George was on board the armed merchant ship HMS Viknor when it went down off the coast of Northern Ireland on 31 January 1915. The Admiralty case file in ADM 116 reveals that the Viknor most likely struck a mine having been blown off course by bad weather. George is listed as a Steward, with his wife and their address listed under Next of Kin (see image, below).
Entry for George Shallis found in Admiralty case file for loss of HMS Viknor (ADM 116/1442)
Continue reading »
Plan of the Café de Paris, showing the effects of the bombing (reference: HO 193/68). The plan is shown laid out with weights to keep it flat.
Seventy-two years ago, on Saturday 8 March 1941, the Café de Paris, a London nightclub and restaurant was bombed during the Blitz. A 50 kg high-explosive bomb hit the building, on Coventry Street, at about 21.45. At least 34 people died and dozens more were seriously injured. Continue reading »
Kew and environs, as seen on BombSight.org
The title of today’s blog post comes from the first stanza of the poem Slough, by John Betjeman.
Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!
Continue reading »
- The home front in black and white: a survivor of an air raid receives first aid, Aldwych, central London, 30 June 1944. (From a photograph album with the document reference AIR 20/6185)
Luxury is not a word that naturally springs to mind when we think about the Second World War, but last month I went to a fascinating lecture that connected these two topics. Design historian Neil Taylor’s talk, which formed part of the Archives for London seminar series, offered a thought-provoking insight into the place of luxury goods in the UK’s wartime economy.
I was struck by Neil’s observation that the black and white photographs of the period encourage us to think of the ‘home front’ as drab and grey, when the truth was rather more complicated. For many of the economic and social elite, life remained rather colourful. The onset of war actually opened up new luxury markets. (My favourite example was a crocodile-skin gas mask box!) In later years, rationing and the ‘make-do and mend’ spirit encouraged a brisk trade in high-quality second-hand furniture and clothing. A little luxury certainly helped to boost the morale of those who could afford it.
Although most wartime industry was given over to munitions or essential goods, a small trade in manufacturing and selling luxury items, such as silk scarves, continued throughout the war. Most of these were intended for the export market, particularly to the USA. The government encouraged this small-scale export of luxury items because it made wealthy Americans more likely to think of Britain and use their influence support its cause.