The Blitz: Boys


Figure 1.--London was again full of children by the tine the Blitz began (September 1940). Bombsites were extremely attractive playgrounds for energetic, curious boys. (The girls were more cautious.) They were also very dangerous places. Weakened walls could cave in. There was unexploded bombs and ordinance everywhere. Boys of course loved to hunt war itens like shrapnell, shells, and other war memorabilia.

London when the Blitz began was full of kids. While most of the children had been evacuated when the war began (September 1939). When the German bombers did not come after the declaration of War and the Phony war developed, the evacuated children began returning to London and other large cities. Most of the kids had been brought home by Christmas (December 1939). Thus when the Blitz began (September 1940), London was again full of kids. The attacks on London began very suddenly. Even after the Battle of Britain began, the Luftwaffe avoided London. The sudden shift of tactics caught both the RAF and London civiliansd by surprisde. For the boys there was a mixture of fear and excitement. A British reader tells us, "You can see in the last poster that many boys wanted to stay in the cities and help the war effort, but according to my relatives, they were often a "bloody nuisance". Parents after the Blitz began wanted them back safe and sound in the countryside!" Bombsites were extremely attractive playgrounds for energetic, curious boys. (The girls were more cautious--i.e, sensible.) They were also very dangerous places. Weakened walls could cave in. There was unexploded bombs and ordinance everywhere. Boys of course loved to hunt war itens like shrapnell, shells, and other war memorabilia. There was also all kinds of valuables in the ruins. Keeping the children out of harms way was a major concern. Our readers says, "It seems odd that I often played on a real bombsite as a boy - left over from the war twenty years before and the worst I got was grazed knees and a nail through my foot once.Mum could soon patch that up (and issue dire warnings about not playing in "dangerous" places) but how different it must have been when the bombs were actually falling and the worrries of Mums back then." A reader writes, "It is very interesting to read about the children in London during the Blitz. It brings to mind some scenes from the film, "Hope and Glory", reminding me how much the boys in that film played in the bombed out houses and looked for war souvenirs."

London: Children Present

If the Blitz had come in September 1939 the Germans would have found a London virtually devoid of childten. London when the Blitz began, however, was full of kids. Most of the children had been evacuated when the war began (September 1939). When the German bombers did not come after the declaration of War and the Phony war developed, the evacuated children began returning to London and other large cities. The children begged their parents to come home and their pleas were difficult to resist when there seemed to be no danger, especially as Christmas approaxched. Most of the kids had been brought home by Christmas (December 1939). Thus when the Blitz began (September 1940), London was again full of kids. The attacks on London began very suddenly. Even after the Battle of Britain began, the Luftwaffe avoided London. The sudden shift of tactics caught both the RAF and London civilians by surprise. Evacuating the children a second time proved more difficult, in part because the kids were much wiser. The original evacuation had been viewed by the children as a kark--a great adventure. They now knew that it meant separation from their parents. Many had a hard time getting home and wanted no part of a second evacuation. Parents of course found it difficult to resist the pleas of a teary-eyed child. Some parents held fast, but many did not. As a result, children were very much at of the Blitz, just what the British Governmentt had tried to prevent.

Evacuation Choice

For the boys there was a mixture of fear and excitement. A British reader tells us, "You can see in the last poster that many boys wanted to stay in the cities and help the war effort, but according to my relatives, they were often a "bloody nuisance". Parents after the Blitz began wanted them back safe and sound in the countryside!" Evacuations had to be organized all over again. But this time the kids knew what evacuation meant. And many did not want to go. Some parents insisted. Others could not deal with the tears and pleas. The Governmrent did not insist on evsacuation. It was left to the parents.

Bombsites

Bombsites were extremely attractive playgrounds for energetic, curious boys. (The girls were more cautious--i.e, sensible.) They were also very dangerous places. Weakened walls could cave in. There was unexploded bombs and ordinance everywhere. Boys of course loved to hunt war itens like shrapnell, shells, and other war memorabilia. There was also all kinds of valuables in the ruins. Keeping the children out of harms way was a major concern. Our readers says, "It seems odd that I often played on a real bombsite as a boy - left over from the war 20 years before and the worst I got was grazed knees and a nail through my foot once.Mum could soon patch that up (and issue dire warnings about not playing in "dangerous" places) but how different it must have been when the bombs were actually falling and the worrries of Mums back then." A reader writes, "It is very interesting to read about the children in London during the Blitz. It brings to mind some scenes from the film, "Hope and Glory", reminding me how much the boys in that film played in the bombed out houses and looked for war souvenirs."

Collecting War Souvenirs

British boys in World war I got war souvenirs theur fathers and brithers brought home from the front. This was mot necessary in World war II. Adults and children all over Britain watched the dramatic combat in the skies. The clear skies of July, Auugust, and early September meant that air combats were visdible to all. And as a result of the fighting and antit-aircraft fire, all manner of things rauned down on Britain. A brand new hobby developed among boys. This was collecting war souveniers. This of course was not only boys in London and the cities, but boys all over Britain. Boys hinted for shrapnell which was all over the place as a result of the abti-aircraft guns. The anti-aircraft shells exploded and sent shards of metal tearing out in all directions designed to damage the planes. A precise hit was relatively rare, but the shrapnell greatly extended the area at which damage might be done. Boys collected the jagged pieces of metal. Size and shape all were judged by the boys in assing the value of a specific piece. There were also German bomb fragments. Even more prized than the shrapel was junks of German planes. And the most prized of all were shells. Boys got hold of both spent and live shells. Boys in major battel areas compiled impressive collections. Boys traded among each othervto improve their collections.

Schools

While many children were evacuated, many this time stayed with their parents. Thus schools operated in London all through the Blitz. There were more shool children in London diring the Blitz than in the months immediately after the first months of the War when the school-age children had been evacuated. Gitting to shelters or make-shift arrangements in the schools became a carefully coergraphed routine for the staff and children. The children were well-drilled to act quickly and resonsably. During the opening day-light stage of the Blitz, the children were at school whn the bombers arrived. After the Luftwaffe was forced to shift to night-time bombing they were at home. Many children would show up in the morning to find a bombed-out school. Many children were smart enough to realize what would had happened had they been at school.

Useful Activities

There were children in London all during the Blitz. Some boys found ways of making themselves useful. This varied as to age. Younger boys helped collect scrap and other material. Some children worked in allotments growing vegetables. Other children helped keep rabbits and chickens. Older boys might help with civil defense. Scouts engaged in a variety of organized activities. This press photo ran in American newspapers on April 11, 1941 with the heading "Spitfire Boys". The caption read " Youngsters of Brixton doing their part in England's war effort by collecting firewood in their spare time and selling it. Lord Beaverbrook sent them a letter of thanks and nine guineas which they contributed toward the purchase of a Spitfire plane." Brixton was an area of south London considting primarily of residential housing. It was not hit as hard as the East End, but it was also monbed during the Blitz.







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Created: 9:39 PM 11/23/2006
Last updated: 4:59 PM 8/5/2011