The Cabinet Papers banner

Civil defence and the end of the war

Civil defence

Civil defence requirements occupied a great deal of attention in the run up to the Second World War, and attack by hostile bomber aircraft was the prime concern. The already existing Air Raid Precautions Sub-committee (ARP) had been formed in 1924 by the Committee of Imperial Defence. The most obvious results of civil defence measures taken during the war were the evacuation of children to the countryside, the blackout, gas masks for everyone, and air raid wardens for every community. 

Home security

The decision was taken to introduce identity cards through a scheme of national registration on 6 October 1939, but the date was brought forward to 29 September 1939.

The government took sweeping measures to control all aspects of civil life under the Emergency Powers Act of 1939. The act was renewed in May 1940 as a result of the swift military collapse of France. As a result, the threat of invasion compelled the cabinet to issue more controls.

The end of the war and after

Some of the measures taken to control the civil population outlived the war; for example identity cards were not abandoned until 1951, and many food items remained on ration for years (sweets were still rationed in 1953).

The poor economic state of Britain, combined with the philosophy of the incoming Labour government, contributed to the level of control maintained after the end of the war. The massive change in the level of government control over civil life during the Second World War helped prepare people for the impact on individual life of the policies of nationalisation and the development of the welfare state.

Content