Community Life

The overall impression given by the majority of films made on the home front in Britain is that the war brought about a period of social unity and consensus which arose from shared danger and deprivations. Although communities were brought together by the war, the country also saw a rise in crime, black-market trading, industrial strife and poverty. Government propaganda at the time often presented an exaggerated view of social cohesion and sense of community, promoting the idea of the ‘People’s War’, with the aim of boosting morale. Amateur films at the same time tended to mirror these themes when focusing on community based activities, often capturing scenes of events sanctioned or encouraged by local and national government.

Nonetheless, community activities did form an important aspect of home front civilian life; most were determined to enjoy themselves and remain cheerful as they had done before the war, such as at Gunnislake Carnival in the summer of 1939. After war was declared, activities were spurred on by a shared sense and need to contribute to the ‘War Effort’. Films in this theme address such subjects as raising money for the Red Cross (seen in Hinckley 4 (1939-1940)), government-endorsed events such as ‘Wings for Victory’ and ‘Warship Week’ (seen in Leatherhead Newsreel (1940-1945)), and Salute the Soldier Week (1944) as filmed in Chapeltown, Yorkshire). These communal activities undoubtedly boosted morale, particularly during the difficult early stages of the War and alongside fundraising, many local authorities and community groups organised programmes of events and amusements for people to enjoy. This was especially necessary when war-time restrictions prevented people from taking holidays or traveling further afield. The period around D-Day in 1944 was notable for the mass movement of troops around Britain, when civilians not engaged in essential war work were encouraged not to travel. A government poster campaign asked ‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary?’ and as part of the public response, the film Holidays at Home (1944) shows some of the communal activities which took place in Saltwell Park, Gateshead that were aimed at creating a holiday atmosphere.

Whilst activities changed, the profile of communities themselves also began to shift during the war years. With so many men away from home, women played a very active part in society on the home front. They can be seen in these films organising community events, manning stalls and taking part in parades, often as members of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS), or the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). For children, many of whom were evacuated to the countryside, the authorities encouraged youth activities and organisations like the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, as seen in Castleton 1940. By D-Day, there were also over a million US troops in the country who were generally welcomed into the community by local people and entered enthusiastically into community life, as shown in Peace tree Presentation (1944) and Holidays at Home (1944).

Work-place communities were also encouraged as a significant means for lifting spirits during the war. In the factories and shipyards, industrial relations were often strained as people worked hard, often for long hours, for the ‘war effort’. Most, therefore, welcomed the occasional chance to relax and create some entertainment for themselves and for fellow workers. ‘Works Wonders’ concerts held across Britain, as illustrated in Adderwell Works, Frome (1944), allowed this communal spirit to surface aided by the excitement of being broadcast on BBC radio. Aside from concerts, factories would also provide diversions in the form of sporting events and communal activities, such as those as seen at the Newton Chambers Steel Factory in Salute the Soldier Week (1944). Places of work were often visited by Government Ministers and even Royalty to boost morale and, more importantly, keep up production targets.

Alongside these locally based activities, the Ministry of Information throughout the war used film as a medium for highlighting and boosting the sense of 'community' that the government saw as key to maintaining the confidence of the British people. Government films such as Our Country (1944) serve to both illustrate aspects of life on the home front, and to put foward an idealised image of community spirit and resilience in Britain during the war.