War was always dark and scary… literally
The first real effect of the Second World War for most British civilians was the Blackout.
The Blackout was introduced on 1st September 1939, two days before war was declared. In the early days, even lighting a match in the Blackout could result in a fine. However, later a more realistic approach was adopted, with the use of illuminated signs and ‘glimmer’ or ‘star’ lighting. All lights were to be extinguished during air raids. Rather than make the British population live in darkness, lights could be switched on if the windows and doors were blacked out. This was the case for residential and commercial buildings and factories. Civilians were required to totally black out their windows at sunset, using a variety of materials including heavy black curtains made of a very dense material, cardboard or even use black paint. These methods were used to stop any glimpse of light from escaping. The Blackout was one of the many unpopular aspects of the war. This is because it disrupted civilians’ regular activities and caused widespread grumbling. People complained it lowered their morale even further!
Shops and factories suffered their own problems. Factories often had large areas of glass roofing, where they could not install temporary blackout panels, as it was not physically possible. They resorted to permanent methods such as black paint, thus losing natural light in daylight hours. Furthermore, enabling customers to enter and leave shops was a challenge to avoid a glimpse of light every time the door opened. Shopkeepers had to install double ‘airlock’ doors, so customers could go through one door and wait for it to fully close before going through a second, thus avoiding any risk of light showing outside.
ARP men and women were responsible for making sure people followed the rules. They patrolled the streets after nightfall and if they spotted any lights from properties, they were tasked with telling the householder to adhere to the rules of the Blackout.
The darkness caused widespread inconvenience, particularly for pedestrians at night. By January 1942, one in five people had some form of injury as a direct result of the Blackout. Moreover, road accidents increased dramatically, with 1,130 deaths in September 1939 as opposed to 544 in the same month the previous year. It remained in force for five years until September 1944, when regulations were relaxed to allow a ‘dim-out’.
Inside Hut 8, our Women at War Hut, you will see and feel the realities of the Blackout and how dark it really was during the Second World War.