During a recent internet search, I came across a picture from 1939. In the picture was a group of women in a city street in London, filling sandbags. The caption on the photo described the scene as women building sand bags to protect their homes after Britain declared war on Germany. The image of the determined, yet exhausted women took me down another internet search I hadn’t given much thought to, at least not since my last history course in college. When we think of war the common images that come to mind are soldiers or war-torn cities, and sadly of caskets covered with flags. But another interesting component, is what do those who stay behind do to cope with the fear and to support their country’s efforts.
In the book, “Making Europe: The Story of the West, Volume II” the authors describe what life was like in Europe during World War I. In London, everyone from the bottom to the top of society did their part in supporting the war efforts. Everyone re-used and economized, citizens bought war bonds to fund the efforts, care packages were made, and wealthy and middle class women volunteered as nurses. In Germany, women supplemented their income by making sandbags, gas masks, and uniforms in their homes.
During World War II, women in Britain once again were asked to support the war efforts. One such way was via the Air Raid Precautions (ARP), to prevent damage to homes and the people in them, thus keeping the hospitals free to treat soldiers. Women taped windows to prevent glass from injuring anyone in the event of a bombing. They stacked sandbags to protect against flying shrapnel. They sealed their homes so gas could not enter. They dug shelters in their back yards in the event their homes were still destroyed. Food and supplies were also hard to come by, as German ships had destroyed and blocked other ships bringing supplies to Britain. Women were given instructions on how to ration their goods and were even asked to grow specific types of food in their own gardens.
War time can certainly tear a country apart, but on the other hand, it also brings its citizens together in their joint effort. History repeats itself in this message over and over again. No matter the perspective on the merits or purpose of war, I think all can agree that we all can play an important roll, whatever our station in life.