War, State and Society provides access to thousands of documents from the collections of U.K. government departments responsible for monitoring, reporting on, and directing social conditions during the Second World War. It is sourced primarily from The National Archives, U.K. – with supplementary material from the History of Advertising Trust archives, Beccles (U.K.) – and covers a wide range of themes, topics, and disciplinary interests relating to wartime life, from the preparations for conflict in 1938 to the end of rationing in 1954.

The resource consists of 971 digitized files, containing a total of 6,703 uniquely indexed documents, sourced from the collections of eleven U.K. government departments and spanning twenty distinct National Archives series and the Wartime Guard Books of the History of Advertising Trust. The structure of the resource is intended to facilitate comparative study of a broad range of themes and topics, from the highest level of government to local communities across the U.K. and beyond. For this, a selection of the most relevant and valuable materials for Higher Education research and teaching has been guided by close consultation with academic consultants, archival partners, and an international Editorial Board.

The selection of material was designed so that records from different levels of government – top-level, ministerial, and local – would interact with and complement one another. The series selected for inclusion can be divided into the following categories:

Wartime Cabinet records  A comprehensive collection of minutes from the principal home affairs and food policy committees of the wartime Cabinet, containing memoranda and reports submitted by every major body of the state. These records provide a broad overview of high-level government policy and priorities throughout the war, and serve as an index to the themes and topics examined in greater detail throughout the rest of the resource.
Records of government ministries, departments, and committees  Intelligence reports, surveys, and correspondence of the major government departments responsible for monitoring the various aspects of social life and developments during the war.
Records of local wartime organisations and surveys  Sample files from local wartime bodies, selected from across the different Civil Defence Regions of the U.K., intended to provide a more ground-level insight into the everyday experiences of civilians during the war.
Propaganda collections  Film, broadcast, and advertising records, intended to facilitate critical analysis of contrasts between the presentation of government policy and its lived experience.

Cabinet, ministerial, and propaganda collections

The following National Archives collections were digitized in their entirety:

In the case of some of the ministerial and propaganda collections, it was necessary to select a subset of files from within a larger series. In each case, there was a clearly discernible subseries relating to the relevant body or organisation, which has been digitized as a complete and comprehensive file run:

Regional Collections

In addition to ministerial collections of the central British government, The National Archives contain the accumulated collections of files submitted by local wartime officers and organisations from across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, of which the following were selected for this resource:

  • The progress reports of the Ministry of Health's Regional Evacuation Officers (HLG 7/73-83)
  • Air raid damage reports and surveys from the Ministry of Home Security's Intelligence, Research, and Experiments Departments (HO 192; HO 199)
  • Shelter provision reports from the Ministry of Home Security's 'O' Division (HO 205)
  • Shelter welfare and condition reports from the Ministry of Home Security's Civil Defence Regional Headquarters (HO 207)
  • Women's Land Army county and welfare committees (MAF 59)
  • Minutes of local Food Control Committees (MAF 67)
  • Histories and organisational records of local Home Guard units (WO 199)

These collections provide a more detailed, ground-level insight into civilian experiences across a variety of different regions, and provide a vital point of contrast and comparison for the themes and topics discussed in the records of central government policy. However, due to the prohibitively large number of files across these series, we were advised by our academic and archival partners to select a sample of files from across each of the Civil Defence Regions of the U.K., in order to allow a comparative study of themes and experiences across the country. These regional selections were guided by academic consultation and an exhaustive review of the collections themselves.

These regional selections can be accessed on the Explore Content page by using the relevant "Series" filter. In addition, sample quotes and passages from each can be browsed through our Voices Map, which provides links to the complete document or file run.

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