World War II wasn’t just fought between soldiers on the battlefield: it involved millions of ordinary civilians, too. Men, women, and children had to adjust to wartime conditions and their daily lives changed dramatically. Food was rationed, children were evacuated, and cities were bombed.
War is coming (June 1939)
With war looming, air raid shelters are built, blackout curtains are put up, and hospitals get ready to treat the injured. The Women’s Land Army (WLA), which played a crucial role during World War I, is re-established to provide extra labor for farms.
Rationing introduced (August 1939)
Supply shortages mean that all around the world people must adjust to "doing without." Germany introduces food rationing, but Hitler, fearing a drop in public morale, keeps the restrictions to a minimum. In Britain, bacon, butter, and sugar are rationed in January 1940.
Evacuation (September 1, 1939)
Anticipating Nazi bombing raids, the British government moves almost three million people, mostly children, to rural areas as well as overseas, as part of Operation Pied Piper. In France, the entire population of Strasbourg is evacuated to avoid German bombs.
Gas Masks (September, 1939)
Many people remember the horror of gas attacks during World War I and the bombing of cities by aircraft during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Millions of gas masks are given to British families for protection.
Battle of the Atlantic (June 1940)
German U-boats sink three million tons of vital supplies carried by Allied merchant ships traveling from North America to Britain. The country normally imports much of its food, but with ships struggling to make the journey across the Atlantic, the British population is in danger of starvation.
Launching resistance (June 18, 1940)
After the Nazi occupation of France, Charles de Gaulle, a junior general, flies to London and makes an appeal on the radio for France to resist the Nazi invaders. It is the beginning of "Free France," the exiled government of France.
Shelter from the bombs (July 3, 1940)
UK civilians are thrust into the front line when Germany begins bombing its urban areas. Cardiff is the first city to experience bombing. In London, the first of many air attacks, known as the "Blitz," takes place on September 7. The raids force people to seek cover in air raid shelters and underground rail stations.
The Blitz: During the Blitz (September 1940 - May 1941), Germany launches 71 nighttime bombing raids on London. Air raid wardens and civilians search for survivors in the wreckage of destroyed buildings.
Polish pilots (September 15, 1940)
Polish pilots escape to Britain to fight with the Royal Air Force (RAF). During the Battle of Britain, the Polish pilots fight heroically.
Soviet Propaganda (June 1941)
When Germany enters the Soviet Union, the Soviets use propaganda to rally the population against the Nazi invaders. Soviet posters urge young men to join the military, encourage workers to produce more for the front, and inspire civilians to carry out acts of sabotage to halt the invasion.
Skirted Soldiers (December 7, 1941)
When America enters the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, US women are recruited into the military. The step is controversial; many at the time believe this type of work is only suitable for men.
The Final Solution (January 20, 1942)
The Nazi party wants to destroy the Jewish population of Europe. At a conference in Wannsee, near Berlin, they formalize a plan to transport Jewish people from all over Europe to death camps in Poland, where they will be killed or forced to carry out hard labor.
Dangerous work (1942)
At the height of the war, each country depends on keeping its war machine going with ammunition, tanks, guns, and explosives. In munitions factories, women take over the roles of men who have left for the front line. They work as mechanics, welders, engineers, drivers, and machine operators.
German war industry (February 1943)
Hitler is forced to introduce "total war measures". Both the economy and the whole of society are mobilized for war production. Germany brings in workers from Nazi-occupied countries to be used as slave labor.
French Resistance (1943-1944)
The French movement to undermine their Nazi occupiers reaches its height. Ordinary French people join resistance groups across the country. Resistance fighters spread anti-Nazi propaganda, support stranded Allied pilots, and use sabotage and guerrilla warfare tactics to fight back against Nazi occupation.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6-9, 1945)
The US drops the world’s first atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 120,000 people are killed instantly. The unprecedented attacks force Japan to surrender, but the bombings have devastating humanitarian consequences.