As part of the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs 1939-45, we delve further into life on the Home Front for the people of Islington and Finsbury during the Second World War.
Whilst the people of Britain had to adapt to new ways of living in the Second World War, there were many aspects of their lives that ‘carried on’. The now well-known term ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was one of three key phrases created by the Ministry of Information, Britain’s wartime propaganda department, in the Summer of 1939. Whilst the phrase was not seen by the public at the time, the stoical manner in which British people dealt with the Second World War is now often described as keeping calm and carrying on.
Many practical elements of life in Islington and Finsbury endured, but in a modified way. Weddings were adapted for the time, with the ceremonies taking place in a sandbagged Islington Register Office; vaccinations for babies took place in vans, such as the Islington mobile diphtheria immunisation clinic; communities came together to support those who required assistance and formalised support, such as the Ministry of Food’s Welfare Food Service provided free or subsidised cod liver oil and canned orange juice for children under five and pregnant women.
Childhood treats, such as sweets and chocolates, were still available, although rationed from 26 July 1942 all the way through until 5 February 1953. Rationing amounts fluctuated throughout the war from 16oz a month down to 8oz. Cadbury launched more economically sustainable ‘Blended’ and ‘Ration’ bars, made with skimmed-powdered milk, which were described as being “as appetising as eating cardboard.”
In spite of the many hardships faced by those on Islington’s Home Front, people did their best to persevere and ‘carry on’ with life.
Islington’s Home Front
Sandbag wedding, Islington Registry Office, 1939
In the first ‘sandbag wedding’ of 1939, 20-year-old Corporal Charles White of the 1st City of London Regiment leaves Islington Register Office with his bride, 18-year-old Harriet Nock. The happy couple obtained special permission to get married and enjoy a summer wedding. Notice how the entrance to the building is covered in protective sandbags, by then a familiar sight.
Charles and Harriet lived in Gainford Street, Barnsbury, and happily both survived the war. They later moved to nearby Richmond Avenue.
London Fever Hospital, Islington, 1 January 1940
The caption on the reverse of the original photograph reads, “Off-duty fun. Picture shows nurses of the London Fever Hospital, Liverpool Road, and St Bart’s students enjoying themselves during their off-duty period.” They were enjoying ‘frozen frolics’ on the hospital’s tennis court on New Year’s Day 1940.
The London Fever Hospital also became a general hospital during the War, with beds allocated for patients from bomb-damaged hospitals.
Finsbury Town Hall, Garnault Place, after 15 August 1940
This remarkable photograph shows a German Messerschmitt BF110 that was shot down over Kent, following a raid on Croydon on 15 August 1940. It was displayed outside Finsbury Town Hall as part of a ‘Victory Tour’ during the Battle of Britain.
The aircraft was probably the most photographed aircraft of the Luftwaffe and the image here shows Finsbury residents getting a close-up view of an enemy plane. The Messerschmitt was then shipped to the USA for evaluation in Spring 1941.
Firewood piles, Islington, 1940/41
Islington residents gather free firewood from the pile of debris collected from destroyed buildings. While brick, stone and some other materials were salvaged for reuse following bomb damage to buildings, timber was available to collect as an alternative fuel to coal.
The Fuel and Lighting (Coal) Order 1941 came into force in January 1942. Central heating was prohibited in the summer months. Domestic coal was rationed by the government to 762 kg for those in London and South East, less than those in the north, due to the milder climate in southern England.
Finsbury Food Office Mobile Unit, 1942
Food rationing in Britain was introduced in January 1940 for all adults regardless of age, wealth and status. Children and babies received extra rations of meat and milk.
In 1942 the Ministry of Food launched the Welfare Food Service. This provided free or subsidised cod liver oil and canned orange juice for children under five and pregnant women. The Ministry encouraged Jamaica and British Honduras to produce the oranges used. This cheerful photograph shows the women and younger children of Finsbury outside the borough’s Food Office Mobile Unit, where the oil and juice were dispensed.
Holloway Prison, Islington, 30 August 1943
The caption on the reverse of the photograph reads, “The Prison Nursing Service. Picture shows Sister Alice Shearer, the creche sister, with some of the babies born in the prison.”
HM Prison Holloway employed state-registered nurses who were qualified midwives. Mothers with babies born while detained in Holloway could care for them in their spare time, and children were looked after in the nursery while the women worked.
Islington mobile diphtheria immunisation clinic, 1945
Diphtheria is a highly dangerous and contagious bacterial disease primarily affecting children. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat, leading to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and potential death. The Second World War prompted a number of developments in vaccinations for the protection of soldiers and civilians, including one for diphtheria.
The free diphtheria vaccination was introduced in 1940, reducing the number of cases from over 46,000 in 1940 to 962 in 1950, and the number of deaths from 2,480 to 49.
Next week will be our final installment of images from the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs 1939-45. Next week we’ll be looking at VE-Day celebrations in Islington and Finsbury during the Second World War.