History of War
- Created: 27 October 2013
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World War 2
In the 20th century there were two World Wars. Many countries were affected by the wars. The first war lasted from 1914 to 1918. Though it was fought mostly in Europe, people called it the First World War (World War 1) or the Great War
The Second World War (World War 2) lasted from 1939 to 1945. It was fought in Europe, in Russia, North Africa and in Asia. 60 million people died in World War 2. About 40 million were civilians and many Children as well as adults were affected by the war.
World War 2 was fought between two groups of Countries. On one side were the Axis Powers, including Germany, Italy and Japan. On the other side were the Allies. They included Britain, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, the Soviet Union, China and the United States of America.
Germany was ruled by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Hitler wanted Germany to control Europe. Japan wanted to control Asia and the Pacific and in 1937 Japan attacked China. In 1939 Germany invaded Poland and because Great Britain had vowed to protect Poland we had to come to aid of Poland and declare war on Germany. This is how World War 2 began.
Some countries did not join the war, but stayed neutral (on neither side). Spain, Sweden and Switzerland were neutral countries. So was Ireland, though many Irish people helped the Allies.
Adolph Hitler, leader of the NAZI Party of Germany
People expected cities to be bombed, as enemy planes tried to destroy factories. But bombs would hit homes and schools too, so children would be in danger. The government tried at the start of the war to 'empty the cities' of children and mothers, this was 'evacuation', to protect them from air raids. The plan was put into action in September 1939 and about 800,000 children left their homes. Children were sent from cities to places where there was less risk of air raids. Many London children went to Devon, Cornwall and Wales and other children moved to villages in the North, East Anglia and Scotland.
Evacuees went to live with host families and their new homes were called 'billets'. 'Billeting Officers' arranged for people to look after the children but things did not always go to plan and some children ended up in the wrong places. Sometimes evacuees just stood in a line, and local people picked which children to take. A smaller number of children (perhaps 10,000) went to other countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States. An evacuation journey often began with a walk to school, and then it was off in buses to the station, where special trains were waiting. It was quite exciting, but most children felt sad as they waved goodbye to their mothers as the steam train puffed away.
Children boarding trains to be evacuated away from Towns and City's
Every evacuee had a gas mask, food for the journey (such as sandwiches, apples, and chocolate) and a small bag for washing things and clothes. Pinned to the children's coats were labels. On the label were each child's name, home address, school and where he or she was going. Often the journey took several hours. Though evacuees missed their homes, many enjoyed the country. Country life was full of surprises and some City children had never seen a cow, and were startled to see where milk came from. Seeing carrots growing in muddy fields, one child said in disgust 'ours come in tins'. Locals and evacuees went to school and played together. Most became friends, though local children sometimes said it was unfair when the 'townies' were given sweets and parties!
Children still went to school though some schools moved from towns to the country. As well as ordinary lessons Children learned air raid drills, leaving classrooms when the sirens sounded to go to air raid shelters. To raise money for the 'war effort', schools started 'Spitfire Funds' and National Savings Groups and more than 6,000 school savings groups started in 1940. Children saved money each week. Many schools gave children free milk, and there were school dinners too, for a small charge.
Because many toy factories were now making guns or plane parts or other war equipment, there was a shortage of new toys. Children swapped old toys at 'toy-exchanges'. Many wartime toys were made of paper or card, because rubber, plastics, wood and metal were needed for the war.
Lots of toys had a war theme. There were toy planes, toy tanks and toy battleships to float in the bath, there were books such as the 'ABC of Aeroplane Spotting', card games with pictures of soldiers and sailors, and a darts game with a picture of Hitler as the bull’s eye to throw at! At home, children listened to the radio. For many, their favourite programme was the teatime 'Children's Hour'. Children listened to music and comedy shows too, though perhaps not to the 'Radio Doctor' telling people how to stay healthy.
People played records on a gramophone. Records in those days were black shiny discs, easily broken. At the cinema ('the pictures') you usually saw two films, plus a cartoon and a news film. There were Saturday morning film clubs for children.
Few British children had ever travelled outside Britain. If they had a holiday, most went to the seaside or the country. In a typical family, dad worked while mum looked after the home. Most young people left school at 14, and started work.
Not many people had cars. Most people travelled by bus, train or bike, or walked. Television started in 1936, but very few people had a TV set. Instead families listened to the radio or 'wireless'.
By the summer of 1940 the Germans had conquered Holland, Belgium, France, Denmark and Norway. Enemy planes dropped bombs on cities in Britain. Allied ships were sunk by submarines.
In July 1940, German planes started bombing British coastal towns, defences and ships in the English Channel in order to gain control of the skies in the South of England. By mid-September 1940, after many battles and the bravery of Allied Pilots, Germany postponed their planned land invasion of Britain as the RAF effectively fought off the German Luftwaffe. This period is known as The Battle of Britain.
Commonwealth nations, such as Canada and Australia, helped Britain. In 1941 the Soviet Union (Russia) was attacked by Germany. In 1941 America also joined the war, after Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.
By 1943 the Allies were winning. One reason was that Allied factories were building thousands of tanks, ships and planes. In 1944, a huge Allied army crossed from Britain to liberate (free) France. Then Allied armies invaded Germany. By May 1945 the war in Europe was over.
Celebrations in Hull
The Pacific war went on until August 1945. There was fierce fighting on Pacific islands and big naval battles at sea. Finally, the Allies dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The damage was so terrible that Japan surrendered and World War 2 had ended.
In 1945 Allied troops freed prisoners from Nazi concentration camps. In these camps, millions of Jews and other prisoners had been killed or had died from hunger, disease and cruelty.
This terrible war crime became known as the Holocaust. It's thought 6 million Jews were killed. Among the victims were many children. One young girl left a diary of her life in hiding, before she was captured. Her name was Anne Frank. She died, aged 15, in 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen prison camp.