Overview

War, State and Society provides access to thousands of documents from the collections of eleven U.K. government departments, each responsible for dealing with and reporting on the domestic situation in Britain during the Second World War and its aftermath. Its files document a wide variety of themes and topics relating to social, economic, political, and cultural affairs, providing a uniquely comprehensive insight into civilian life across the country, and the everyday impacts of total war. Each collection contains the reports of government departments, the records of local wartime organisations, and the voices of ordinary citizens living through the period.

The Collection

Wartime government records

Sourced primarily from The National Archives (U.K.) – with supporting material from the History of Advertising Trust archives, Beccles (U.K.) – this digital resource includes reports, correspondence, and other papers created by the following departments, which taken together were responsible for managing all aspects of the civilian experience, from civil defence to domestic life:

  • The War Cabinet
  • Board of Education
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
  • Ministry of Food
  • Ministry of Health
  • Ministry of Home Security
  • Ministry of Information
  • Ministry of Labour and National Service
  • Ministry of Works and Buildings
  • War Office
  • The U.K. Foreign Office

The files also contain memoranda and documentation received from numerous other bodies of the state. Click here for a full breakdown of the wartime government and its ministers, with links to relevant collections contained within the resource.

Local wartime organisations

Alongside the ministerial collections of the wartime government, War, State and Society also includes a wide range of records created by local wartime organisations, which provide further detailed insight into the everyday experiences of civilians across the U.K.:

  • Surveys on the social impact of bombing.
  • Evacuation progress reports from the Ministry of Health's Regional Evacuation Officers.
  • Progress reports, census data, and and accounts of welfare activities in local bomb shelters.
  • The minutes and tribunals of local Food Control Committees, responsible for enforcing rationing and prosecuting offenders.
  • Administrative and welfare records of the Women's Land Army, an auxiliary agricultural workforce.
  • Organisational records and self-penned histories of local units of the Home Guard, the volunteer defence corps established in anticipation of an invasion.

These local records are fully cross-searchable with the central government collections listed above, whilst highlights of the narrative accounts of everyday civilian life that they contain can be browsed using our Voices Map.

Government propaganda

The collection is supplemented by a wide-ranging collection of state propaganda, including:

  • Production records of the Ministry of Information's wartime films.
  • Transcripts of the Ministry of Food's Kitchen Front broadcasts.
  • Thousands of advertisements for government schemes and initiatives, sourced from History of Advertising Trust archives, Beccles (U.K.). These images can also be viewed through the Advertising Gallery.

Key themes and topics

This resource allows for a comparative study of wartime life across every region of the U.K. and beyond. The Second World War was a pivotal moment of development for the relationship between the government and its people, as the everyday concerns of citizens were reported on, analysed, and acted upon to an unprecedented degree. As such, the reports and surveys of the British government from this time provide a valuable insight into a crucial period of social history, and will therefore be of interest to a wide range of themes and studies beyond the immediate concerns of the conflict itself, including:

  • Twentieth-century social history
  • War and society
  • Defence studies
  • Intelligence studies
  • Public opinion
  • Wartime politics
  • Media and advertising
  • Food and industry
  • Childhood and youth
  • Gender studies
  • Crime and policing
  • Race relations
  • Economics
  • Narratives, myths, and cultural identity

Files have been indexed according to a detailed set of thematic metadata and indexing terms, which allow users to trace a variety of topics across a range of departmental collections, and to compare government policy and its presentation in propaganda to the lived experience of its implementation.

War, State and Society facilitates research and teaching on a vast array of subjects, a small selection of which include:

  • Daily intelligence reports on enemy action and its impact across the country.
  • Domestic security, defence measures, and military activity on British soil.
  • Civil intelligence reports on the social tensions, political disruption, and civil disobedience brought about by the pressures of total war.
  • The management of the wartime economy, production, and infrastructure.
  • Reports on the supply and production of food and other consumer items.
  • Documents on the scheduling and implementation of rationing.
  • Welfare reports on living conditions, social tensions, and entertainment activities in public shelters.
  • Photographic and narrative surveys of bomb damage.
  • Surveys of the demographic and industrial changes brought about by the conflict at a national and local level.
  • Administrative records of the government evacuation scheme, progress reports on its implementation, and narrative accounts by children of their experiences.
  • Man-power Committee meetings on the wartime workforce, exemptions from military service, and the treatment of conscientious objectors.
  • Government control of news and information channels.
  • Reports on rumours and gossip in circulation, and records of public opinion intercepted through letters and telephone calls.
  • The production of wartime propaganda.
  • Intelligence reports on fascism, communism, pacifism, and the public response to the release of Oswald Mosley in 1943.
  • Reports on racial tensions and anti-Semitism in the U.K.
  • Policy documents on the status of foreign nationals in the U.K., and reports on their experience.
  • Coordination of domestic programmes with the rest of the world, and attempts to survey the wartime experience of other countries.
  • Public reactions to the V-1 and V-2 weapons.
  • Preparations for the post-war world, including the schemes and initiatives that would come to represent the emergence of the welfare state.

For more information on the themes and documents in this resource, please see the Material Classification page. For more information on the collections included in this resource, please see the Methodology and Series Descriptions pages. For examples of research based on the files in War, State and Society, please see the Subject Essays page.

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