Everything was Rosy
you do your studies of Britain during WWII, are you interested in a few
stories that do NOT fit the normal bill of 'everyone pulling together' and
the 'wartime spirit'?
An historian called John Simkin has made a list of examples where
everything in the garden wasn't so rosy. The question
is - why did the government propaganda machine continue to feed people the
line that everyone was united and determined to fight the invader?
A Bad Behaviour on the Home Front
have just [read] David
Thomasís new book An Underworld at War (John Murray). Most of the
research comes from studying local newspapers during the war and looking
at official statistics. The book is fascinating and would make a good
holiday read. Here are just a few of the stories that came out of the
(1) Jack Brack was rejected as unfit for service because of an enlarged
heart. A few months later it was arrested and charged with impersonating
eight different men at military medical boards. It was discovered in court
that one man, a master tailor, had paid Brack £200 (£8,000 in today's
money) for this work.
(2) Some doctors were willing to issue false medical certificates to
friends and relatives. An investigation carried out by the General Medical
Council resulted in several doctors being struck off for "infamous
conduct". Other did it for profit. One doctor from London was found
guilty of charging a man £367.10s. (£14,700) for his certificate.
(3) At one stage in the war there were over 24,500 men who were wanted for
desertion. At the end of 1941 the government ordered a
"round-up" of deserters. When police raided a Plymouth funfair
they discovered that almost two-thirds of adult males checked did not have
(4) The problem of desertion became worse when soldiers knew they were
about to be sent abroad. Official figures show that large numbers of men
due to take part in the D-Day invasion deserted. Between 6th June 1944 and
31st March 1945 36,366 of these soldiers were arrested by the Military
Police, of these, 10,363 were charged with desertion.
(5) One of the most shocking crimes committed during wartime was the
looting of bombed houses. In the first eight weeks of the London Blitz a
total of 390 cases of looting was reported to the police. On 9th November,
1940, the first people tried for looting took place at the Old Bailey. Of
these twenty cases, ten involved members of the Auxiliary Fire Service.
(6) In Leeds a judge announced that "more than two whole days have
been occupied in dealing with cases of looting which have occurred in one
city (Sheffield)... In many cases these looters have operated on a
wholesale scale. There were actually two-men who had abandoned well-paid
positions, one of them earning £7 to £9 a week, and work of public
importance, and who abandoned it to take up the obviously more
remunerative occupation of looting."
(7) Chief Inspector Percy Datlen, reported what happened in Dover after
one heavy raid: "In cases where there are several houses bombed out
in one street, the looters have systematically gone through the lot.
Carpets have been stripped from the floors, stair carpets have been
removed: they have even taken away heavy mangles, bedsteads and complete
suites of furniture."
(8) Widespread fraud was another consequence of the Blitz. The government
agreed to pay compensation for people who had been bombed out. Those who
owned their houses and lost them during an air raid had to wait until
after the war to receive their full compensation, but they could claim an
advance of £500 (£20,000) with £50 (£2,000) for furniture and £20 (£800)
for clothes. So many people were losing their homes during 1940 that
officials of the local National Assistance Office did not have enough time
to check people's claims. This was made even more difficult when the
people claimed their identity card and ration book had also been destroyed
during the air raid. By 1941 the government realised that they were paying
out more than they should and extra staff were brought in to make more
detailed checks on the claims being made. One of the first to appear in
court was Walter Handy, who was sent to prison for three years for falsely
claiming he had been "bombed out" nineteen times in five months.
(9) Juvenile Delinquents were blamed for the increasing crime-rate. By
February 1941 the government announced that all the country's remand homes
were full. Soon afterwards two boys of 14 and 15 escaped from Wallington
remand home and broke into the Home Guard store at Upper Norwood. Luckily
they were arrested before they could do too much damage with their tommy-gun
and 400 rounds of ammunition.
(10) In August 1942 Parliament passed the United States of America
(Visiting Forces) Act. This enabled American servicemen to be arrested by
their own police, interrogated by their own Criminal Investigation
Division, tried in their own courts and imprisoned and sometimes executed,
in their own prisons (United States Army Disciplinary Training Centres).
This caused some problems concerning the differences between the two
country's legal system. For example, eight American servicemen were hanged
in Britain after being found guilty of rape during the war. Opponents of
capital punishment pointed out that like in the United States, the
majority of the men executed for this offence were black.
(11) In 1944, Leroy Henry, a black soldier from St. Louis, who was
sentenced to death for raping a white woman in the village of Combe Down.
Local people were aware that Leroy Henry had been having a relationship
with the woman and tended to believe his story that she accused him of
rape after he refused to pay her money. Others were concerned about the
way he had been beaten by the Military Police during their investigation.
Over 33,000 local people signed a petition calling for Leroy Henry to be
reprieved. It was sent to General Dwight Eisenhower and he eventually
agreed to grant the soldier his freedom.
(12) The government passed legislation that attempted to control people's
behaviour in air raid shelters. If someone was found to "wilfully
disturb other persons in the proper use of an air raid shelter" he
could be sent to prison. In December 1941, fifty-three-year-old George
Hall was sent to prison under this legislation. In fact, he was guilty of
snoring in a shelter. He had been warned by the shelter marshal but
continued to snore and was eventually arrested by the police for the
offence. When the judge sentenced him to 14 days in prison he replied
"I can't help what I do when I'm asleep".