Home and Family Life

During the Second World War, aspects of British family life changed dramatically whilst efforts were made by those on the home front to ‘carry on as normal’ as much as they possibly could. With the outbreak of war, restrictions and new measures such as food rationing books, identity cards, gas masks and shelters were put into place and these would impinge on almost every aspect of family and home life.

With these and other changes on the home front, many amateur film-makers who had previously focused on images of their children and family members on holiday or relaxing at home, now turned their cameras to capturing the new developments that were happening around them. Despite the difficulties of getting hold of film stock and coupled with war-time restrictions on filming certain activities and in certain locations, amateur films continued to be made during the war.

Many amateur home-movies captured images of the transition into new roles by those remaining at home during the war. Family members taking on volunteer positions in the Red Cross, ARP and the Home Guard were often filmed posing for the camera in their uniforms. Amateur film-makers also captured the changing landscape of their local neighbourhoods, showing the new community air raid shelters, the bomb damaged houses in local streets and fighter plane dog-fights in the sky. Films of these subjects represented the very real dangers families faced on the home front.

There are many examples of home movies from around the country showing family members directly observing the changes within the home brought about by the war. Home movies of the Sheppard family of Poole in Dorset and those by the Hickling family of Barnsley in Yorkshire bare striking similarities as they both show aspects of daily life at home including the novelty of children wearing their gas masks and trying out the new air raid shelters for the benefit of the camera. In the South West, the Parriss family filmed their response to the government's 'Dig for Victory' campaign, and, in Surrey, the Gowlland family filmed their new ration books, identity cards and black-out boards. In all of these home movies, family members appear to move seamlessly between these ‘new’ war-time activities and more 'normal' every-day conduct such as children playing with a dolls house and a family going on a picnic.

Despite the dangers and restrictions, people continued to film themselves doing many of the activities they had captured on film before the war. Films such as those by the Willson family from Handsworth and film of a family outing to the beach at St Austell in Cornwall illustrate such ‘normal’ activities as birthdays and Christmas parties, children playing, picnics and holidays to local places. Most of these scenes appear on film as if unaffected by the war.

Family life for those who either had relatives sent abroad to fight or who had sent their children to be evacuated away from danger would have been significantly affected by the absence of their loved-ones. Those in the armed forces can occasionally be glimpsed in home movies showing relatives in uniform whilst on leave. For those at home who had relatives on active service abroad, there was generally little opportunity to maintain contact. However the Calling Blighty films presented one chance for a few selected servicemen to send filmed messages to their families and friends back home.

Films concerning evacuation are discussed more fully in the displaced people and children in war-time themes on this site.