World War 2
The Phoney War
On 3rd September 1939 Britain and France declared war on Germany, after the Germans had invaded Poland. But in the summer of 1939, the British Government to safer areas. Extensive preparations were made and the country was divided into three areas. London and the cities (the places at greatest risk from bombing) were the evacuation areas. A second category called neutral areas, which people were not allowed to move into, or depart from. Thirdly, there were the reception areas, where evacuees would be located.
Britain was preparing for heavy bombing, which many thought would come as soon as the war commenced. No longer were planes used mainly for reconnaissance or for dropping bombs by hand. By the late 1930s the leading nations had developed armed air forces, the German airforce of Luftwaffe was large and equipped with some of the most up-to-date aircraft in the world.
Thus Britain prepared, trenches were dug in major cities, gas masks distributed, Anderson shelters erected, plans made for rationing and voluntary service organised. Both the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) and ARP (Air Raid Precautions) were formed prior to war, which the Government rightly believed would involve not only the Armed Forces, but also the civilian population.
With the declaration of war, Britain prepared for the inevitable bombing of the cities. The Government estimated that some 600,000 civilians would be killed and a quarter of a million would be wounded in the fist two months. Thus the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service) was formed to provide support in the event of war. They were to make and distribute clothes and blankets to refugees and provide linen and bandages for hospitals. It was expected that the war would last about three years.
In early September these plans were put into action and within three days of the declaration of war 1.5 million people had left the big cities. Whole schools were despatched with their teachers, and new word came into common use - evacuee. Gas masks were issued to everybody and ARP wardens were made responsible for ensuring that people used them properly and carried them at all times. Strangely enough the wearing of them was not compulsory.
In spite of all the preparations very little happened. People began to drift back to their homes, and there was a public reaction against the defence forces, who appeared to be imposing unnecessary regulations when there was no danger. Britain at this time lacked real leadership and plus a lack of military action led to this early period of the war being given the nickname of 'The Phoney War'.
However, it was not only on the Home Front that little seemed to be happening. In September 1939 the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) had despatched across the expected German attack. This did not happen and troops spent most of their time on sentry duty. 1940 saw the coldest January and February for 45 years, and the Thames froze over a distance of eight miles. This only added to the misery of people now subject to regulations and restrictions.
Only at sea was there a real war. The German battleship Graf Spee was sunk and in April 1940 the Allies mined Norwegian waters. This led Hitler to invade Denmark, 'The Phoney War' was over.