Posted: 30th June 2021
In the wake of the declaration of World War Two, the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939 conscripted all physically fit men between the ages of 18 and 41 to the Armed Forces. This included local born men, such as Fred Cranidge, whose Enlistment Notice is shown below. Those who were deemed medically unfit, either through a medical screening or doctor’s examination, and those who worked in key industries, such as baking or farming were exempt from conscription. Over the course of the War, the armed services increased from 2 million in 1939 to 5 million at the end of the War, accounting for just under a quarter of adult men in the United Kingdom under the age of 50. The age distribution of the British services leaned towards younger men, which is evident in Fred Cranidge who would have been 20 when he was enlisted in June 1940.
During the Second World War, servicemen’s wives were seen as both dependent on the state for financial support and potential labourers to replace their husbands in certain industries. It was understood that the state could provide financial but not psychological support for the women that were left without their husbands for years at a time. The patriarchal society worried that women would have too much power within the family unit and in wider society whilst their husbands were away so often they were not given enough money to feed themselves and their families on the government’s benefits alone. The wives of servicemen were allotted around a third of their husband’s wages and those men who were not high ranking in the armed services received extremely low pay for their work. A wife with no dependents would receive about 10 shillings (or 50p) a week, less than a sixth of the average wage of a female factory worker. Women without children, such as Fred Cranidge’s wife Barbara, were forced to find work to supplement the meagre allowances they received from the government. Less than half of wives without children under the age of 14 did paid war work.
Women in Work:
The steel industry became extremely important throughout the war so women were employed at the Scunthorpe Steelworks to keep up with the increasing demand for steel. Originally women were only trusted with less technical jobs like relaying messages across the site and cleaning. Eventually they gained enough trust to work as crane drivers and plate moulders. Gwen Macgillicuddy worked in the steelworks canteen in Appleby before the outbreak of war and was then employed at the plate mills for the duration of the war. Macgillicuddy had to sort through the plates until she found the specification that was needed, which was hard work as the plates were large and heavy. In an interview she stated ‘when a man was called up they replaced him with a woman provided she could do the job’. Some women were able to stay in the same positions after the war despite the men returning but others like Mavis Horton left because they were starting families with their returning husbands.
During the war, couples and families would have spent special occasions apart from their loved one, which would lower the morale of those at home and abroad. Therefore, many letters to and from servicemen were kept optimistic in order to maintain morale and prevent waiting wives and families from worrying too much. It was believed that wives should not burden their husbands with anxieties and fears for their safety and so they filled their letters with positive anecdotes and the good times they were enjoying back home. In a letter to his wife Barbara dated 12th November 1943, Fred Cranidge wrote ‘I am pleased to hear that you are in the best of health and don’t worry over me as I am OK’, reinforcing the idea that couples should not burden each other with their own misgivings during those uncertain times of war.
Due to food shortages and supply lines being cut off, food rationing came into effect in January 1940, starting with sugar, meats and fats. These were rationed using an allowance of coupons, with housewives having to register with a specific retailer. Other items, such as tinned food, dried fruit and cereal, were rationed on a points system, with the amount of points allocated depending on supply and demand. Priority was given to children and expectant mothers when it came to items like milk and eggs. In June 1941, clothing was also rationed so it would have been quite difficult to gather the necessary supplies to make a wedding dress and feed the guests during a wartime wedding, like the Cranidges had in November 1941.
Imperial War Museum. What you need to know about rationing in the Second World War. Retrieved from https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-you-need-to-know-about-rationing-in-the-second-world-war
Mackay, R. (2002). Half the battle: civilian morality in Britain during the Second World War. Manchester University Press.
Sokoloff, S. (1999). “How Are They at Home?” Community, State and Servicemen’s Wives in England, 1939-45. Women’s History Review, 8(1), pp. 27-52.
Researched and written by Chloe Deighton, History student at Bishop Grosseteste University, while completing a placement.