A Day in the Life of a Wartime Housewife in London in 1941

World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world’s countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis powers. In a total war directly involving more than 100 million personnel from more than 30 countries, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. Aircraft played a major role in the conflict, enabling the strategic bombing of population centres and the only two uses of nuclear weapons in war. World War II was by far the deadliest conflict in human history; it resulted in 70 to 85 million fatalities, a majority being civilians. Tens of millions of people died due to genocides (including the Holocaust), starvation, massacres, and disease. In the wake of the Axis defeat, Germany and Japan were occupied, and war crimes tribunals were conducted against German and Japanese leaders.

World War II is generally considered to have begun on 1 September 1939, when Nazi Germany, under Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland. The United Kingdom and France subsequently declared war on Germany on 3 September. Under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union had partitioned Poland and marked out their “spheres of influence” across Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany conquered or controlled much of continental Europe, and formed the Axis alliance with Italy and Japan (along with other countries later on). Following the onset of campaigns in North Africa and East Africa, and the fall of France in mid-1940, the war continued primarily between the European Axis powers and the British Empire, with war in the Balkans, the aerial Battle of Britain, the Blitz of the UK, and the Battle of the Atlantic. On 22 June 1941, Germany led the European Axis powers in an invasion of the Soviet Union, opening the Eastern Front, the largest land theatre of war in history.

Japan, which aimed to dominate Asia and the Pacific, was at war with the Republic of China by 1937. In December 1941, Japan attacked American and British territories with near-simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific, including an attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor which resulted in the United States declaring war against Japan. Therefore the European Axis powers declared war on the United States in solidarity. Japan soon captured much of the western Pacific, but its advances were halted in 1942 after losing the critical Battle of Midway; later, Germany and Italy were defeated in North Africa and at Stalingrad in the Soviet Union. Key setbacks in 1943—including a series of German defeats on the Eastern Front, the Allied invasions of Sicily and the Italian mainland, and Allied offensives in the Pacific—cost the Axis powers their initiative and forced it into strategic retreat on all fronts. In 1944, the Western Allies invaded German-occupied France, while the Soviet Union regained its territorial losses and turned towards Germany and its allies. During 1944 and 1945, Japan suffered reversals in mainland Asia, while the Allies crippled the Japanese Navy and captured key western Pacific islands.

The war in Europe concluded with the liberation of German-occupied territories, and the invasion of Germany by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, culminating in the fall of Berlin to Soviet troops, Hitler’s suicide and the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. Following the Potsdam Declaration by the Allies on 26 July 1945 and the refusal of Japan to surrender on its terms, the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima, on 6 August, and Nagasaki, on 9 August. Faced with an imminent invasion of the Japanese archipelago, the possibility of additional atomic bombings, and the Soviet entry into the war against Japan and its invasion of Manchuria, Japan announced its intention to surrender on 15 August, then signed the surrender document on 2 September 1945, cementing total victory in Asia for the Allies.

World War II changed the political alignment and social structure of the globe. The United Nations (UN) was established to foster international co-operation and prevent future conflicts, great powers—China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—became the permanent members of its Security Council. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the nearly half-century-long Cold War. In the wake of European devastation, the influence of its great powers waned, triggering the decolonisation of Africa and Asia. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery and expansion. Political and economic integration, especially in Europe, began as an effort to forestall future hostilities, end pre-war enmities and forge a sense of common identity. (Wikipedia)

Here’s a photo series from the Imperial War Museum showing a daily life of a wartime housewife – Mrs Olive Day – in London. The photographs show some of the grim realities of living in wartime Britain in 1941.

Mrs Day wakes up at 7am at her home in Drayton Gardens, South Kensington. On the bedside cabinet, her gas mask, torch and a book are ready, in case a quick dash to the air raid shelter is required in the night.
Mrs Day opens the curtains of her bedroom in the basement of her South Kensington home. Unfortunately, as the glass has recently been knocked out of the windows by a nearby air raid, Mrs Day cannot see outside, as oiled linen has been stretched across the windw frame in place of the missing glass. Her cat ‘Little One’ watches her from the bed.
Mrs Day opens her window to let some air, and light, into her South Kensington home. The window panes have been replaced by oiled linen stretched over the frame, as the glass was knocked out by a nearby bomb a short while ago.
Mrs Day collects the milk and newspapers from the top of the steps leading down to the basement of her South Kensington home. The buckets that can be seen on the street at the top of the steps contain sand and water and are provided in case of fire bombs.
Mrs Day enjoys tea, toast and the morning papers at the breakfast table in the centre of her South Kensington sitting room. Behind her, evidence of air raids can be seen in that two panes of glass are missing from the window and have been replaced with boards and the other panes have criss-crosses of tape on them to prevent the glass from shattering, should the area suffer another air raid.
Mrs Day shakes her duster out of one of the back windows of her South Kensington home. Every visible window of her house, and of the houses alongside, bears witness to the air raids that have occured in the last few weeks. There is not one window that remains unaffected in someway and all are either fully or partly boarded, have had the broken glass replaced by oiled linen, or have existing glass criss-crossed with tape.
Mrs Day spends half an hour or so on the housework before she leaves for work. Here we see her polishing the bannisters. Above her head, we can see a large patch of missing plaster on the ceiling, caused by a nearby air raid.
Mrs Day rolls away a rug that was on the staircase of her South Kensington home. All carpets have been removed and asbestos laid in their place, in an attempt to combat fire bombs. Behind her, part of the window has been boarded up, with the rest of the panes have criss-crosses of tape across the glass.
This photograph shows how large sheets of asbestos have been laid on the landing at the top of Mrs Day’s home to try to prevent fires from incendiary bombs from spreading to other parts of the house.
Mrs Day points to a hole in the ceiling where a fire bomb recently came through into her South Kensington home. Scorch marks can be seen on the ceiling next to the hole.
Mrs Day stands alongside a hole in the floor which was made by a fire bomb before the fire was brought under control. This area of the house does not have asbestos sheeting on the floor.
The top floor of Mrs Day’s South Kensington home is no longer in use. Here we see an empty room with a bowl on the floor to catch any drips of rain water that may come in through the bomb-damaged ceiling.
Mrs Day clears the grate in the sitting room of her South Kensington home. She is careful to sort the cinders from the ash, so that the cinders can be re-used in the grate and so that the ash can be added to the garden as a fertiliser.
Mrs Day makes her bed in the basement of her South Kensington home before leaving for work. The top floor of her house is no longer in use.
Mrs Day makes up a bunk in the air raid shelter in the cellar of her South Kensington home. The bunks are kept ready in case any night raids force her to spend the night in the shelter. The bunk will hopefully mean that she spends the night in some comfort!
Mrs Day separates cardboard and tin from her household rubbish, ready for salvage, outside the basement of her home in South Kensington, London.
After lunch, Mrs Day sets out to do her weekly shop on the King’s Road in Chelsea. She walks past several women with prams and a member of the RAF as they queue to the left of a large furniture store. The shop has furniture displayed on the street and the sign on its frontage says ‘Antique, Second-Hand and Modern Furniture’. Just above the heads of this group of people is a small sign directing people to a First Aid Post. In the background, other people go about their daily business and buses and cars are just visible in the distance. This photograph was almost certainly taken from a point on the King’s Road parallel to Walpole Road and is looking towards Sloane Square: the clocktower and spire just visible in the distance is on a building next door to Peter Jones department store.
Mrs Day stops to look in the window of a shop to see what is available to her this week. The photograph is taken from inside the shop, and Mrs Day can be seen next to the shopkeeper. A group of other shoppers can also be seen. This photograph was probably taken on the King’s Road in Chelsea.
A shopkeeper stamps Mrs Day’s ration book during her shopping trip on the Kings Road in Chelsea. In the foreground can be seen the tea, sugar, ‘national butter’, margarine, cooking fats and bacon she is allowed for one week.
Mrs Day, helped by the female conductor, jumps on the bus that will take her to work. In the background, it is clear that quite a bit of air raid damage has been sustained. This photograph was probably taken on Fulham Road. The tower visible in the background is part of St Stephen’s Hospital (now the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital), which was built in 1878 as the Fulham Workhouse and St George’s Infirmary.
Mrs Day is helped by a female conductor onto the bus that will take her to work. This photograph was probably taken on Fulham Road.
Mrs Day and colleagues work at one of many filing cabinets in the office. According to the original Ministry of Information caption, Mrs Day works as a ‘girl clerk in a war-time organisation’ and that filing takes up most of her time. The caption goes on to say that she works Monday to Friday between 10am and 6pm, but that as this photograph was taken on a Saturday, she would be finished by 2pm. It also states that ‘if there is a rush of work, she will work Sunday as well’.
Mrs Day puts her dinner into the oven after a busy day. The Ministry of Food encouraged people to cook their entire meal in the oven as a way to save fuel.
Mrs Day puts her dinner into the oven after a busy day. The Ministry of Food encouraged people to cook their entire meal in the oven as a way to save fuel.
Mrs Day sets the table in preparation for the evening meal in the sitting room of her South Kensington home. She is expecting her naval husband Lt Kenneth Day to arrive home on leave, so the table is set for two and a vase of flowers has been added.
While her evening meal is cooking, Mrs Day settles down on her bed with the evening paper and a spot of sewing. She is working on a balaclava and is accompanied by her cat ‘Little One’.
Mrs Day runs to greet her husband Lieutenant Kenneth Day at the door of her South Kensington home as he arrives home on leave.

(via Wikimedia Commons)

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