The Test of War: Inside Britain, 1939-45

By Robert Mackay | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight

Adapting, enduring, escaping

In its most dreadful moments, as when the Luftwaffe was battering Britain's cities, the war was a severe test of civilian nerve and sinew. But it was also a war that went on and on, putting the people to a different sort of test, where what was wanted was endurance and stamina. Without the high drama of the Blitz this test was less obvious, and all the more insidious for that. Its character lay in a series of burdens laid on the greater part of the population: separation, deprivation, restriction. Lives were disarranged, narrowed and impoverished. Passing this test required resilience, adaptability and, not least, a mental ability to “take time off” from the war.

The first of the big separations of the war was that between children and parents. Since evacuation was entirely voluntary, it was always open to parents living in designated evacuation areas to refuse the offer of a safe haven in the reception areas for their children. It was never an easy decision. Against the distress of separation had to be put the extra risk of the violent death of their children that staying on was presumed to incur, and about which the government and (although with variable energy) local authorities were warning. A poster showing a fearful brother and sister of school age carried the words: “Mothers. Send them out of London. Give them a chance of greater safety and health”. The implication was that only selfish or neglectful parents denied their children that chance. For the children, separation, if it came, was decided upon by others and was one of the mysterious impositions of war. Even for those pre-school children who were evacuated with their mothers, there was the separation from fathers and older siblings to be borne. At first, for

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The Test of War: Inside Britain, 1939-45
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter One - Going to War 1
  • Chapter Two - Britain on the Eve of War 15
  • Notes 47
  • Chapter Three - Politics 49
  • Notes 66
  • Chapter Four - The Economy at War 68
  • Notes 94
  • Chapter Five - Aliens, Dissenters and Outlaws 96
  • Notes 112
  • Chapter Six - Defending the Land and the People 113
  • Notes 136
  • Chapter Seven - Morale 137
  • Notes 162
  • Chapter Eight - Adapting, Enduring, Escaping 164
  • Chapter Nine - Time for Change: the General Election 192
  • Chapter Ten - Taking Stock: Britain in 1945 204
  • Bibliography 236
  • Index 241
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