The Home Front

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3

Time period: Second World War 1939-1945

Curriculum topics: Political and social reform, The Second World War

Suggested inquiry questions: How do these posters explain how the government encouraged people to support the war effort at home?

Potential activities: Students make different collection of government war posters and group them into themes. Design your own poster or leaflet to encourage people to contribute to the war effort.

Download: Lesson pack

How did people prepare for the war at home?

Britain started to prepare for the Second World War at least a year before it actually started.

In 1938, the government began to build new warships and increase its armaments. However, this war would not just involve soldiers. The government expected the war to disrupt and threaten the lives of civilians left at home. This happened in a variety of different ways, from cutting down railings to be melted down and used in munitions factories, to rationing and evacuation plans.

Between 1938 and 1939, the government thought of all the possible dangers and difficulties the Home Front would face during war, and started to take precautions. People were needed on the home front to help with all sorts of things. They were encouraged to plant vegetables on any spare land they had to supplement the rationing, but people were also recruited into a variety of essential positions such as Air Raid Wardens and the Home Guard. People were also encouraged to think about their safety, and the government spent a great deal of time educating people on what to do in situations such as an air raid, or a gas attack, as well as providing information on how to make rations stretch further and how to keep yourself healthy. Use this lesson to work with original documents on how the British were encouraged to prepare for the Second World War.


1. Look at Source 1. This is one of a series of posters designed to encourage people to grow their own food.

  • Why did the government want the Home Front to ‘Dig for Plenty’?
  • If the Home Front had not organised growing more of its own food, what would have happened?
  • Would a poster showing what would happen if people did not start to ‘dig’ have been more or less effective? Explain your answer
  • How has does this poster use words and pictures to get its message over?
  • Now look at the’ Dig for Victory’ poster at the start of the lesson.
    (a) What are the similarities and differences between both posters?
    (b) Which one has makes its message in the best way? Explain why.

2. Read Source 2. This is a government poster about evacuation.

  • Who is the ghostly figure whispering ‘Take them back!’?
  • Where is he pointing?
  • What does he want the mother to do and why?
  • Why might this mother be tempted to ‘Take them back’?
  • What is the message of this poster?
  • Why were children evacuated during the Second World War?

3. Look at Sources 3 a, b and c. These were leaflets produced during the war.

  • Who produced these leaflets?
  • What dangers are these leaflets about?
  • How many different types of gas masks would the government have to provide?
  • How useful do you think the advice offered in these leaflets is?
  • The government had to be careful not to scare people, but at the same time it wanted people to take notice and be prepared. How do these leaflets:
    • get people to take notice?
    • educate people?
    • reassure people?

4. Look at Source 4. This poster shows a woman slapping Hitler in the face.

  • What type of war work does this poster advertise?
  • What is happening in this poster?
  • Can you explain the double meaning behind the caption?
  • Why was the work of part-time women workers an essential part of defeating Hitler?
  • How might this poster encourage women to contribute to the war effort?

5. Look at Sources 5 a and b. These are wartime warning posters.

  • What dangers do these sources warn the public about?
  • Who was the local air raid warden for Drypool Green?
  • What was the air raid signal for ‘all clear’?
  • In the months leading up to September 1939 many towns practised their air raid signals and taking shelter. Why do you think this was necessary?
  • Read the section in Source 5a called ‘Fire Precautions’. Which parts are the public
    • likely to follow?
    • likely to ignore?
  • Look at Source 5b. Read all the labels. How would each precaution help save lives if there was an air raid?

6. Read Source 6. This is a telephone conversation between Mr Cleave and Captain Denaro – a mine laying specialist – in 1940.

  • Why were mines placed on the beaches?
  • What is Mr. Cleave complaining about?
  • According to Mr. Cleave, was placing mines on the beach an effective way of protecting Britain?
  • Do you think Mr. Cleave was being unreasonable?
  • What does this source tell us about the power the government had over people’s lives during the Second World War?

7. Look at Source 7. This poster shows Hitler balancing on a telephone line.

  • What is the message behind this poster?
  • How are the words and picture used to make its message?
  • Do you think this is an effective poster? Give reasons why/why not.
  • What other steps were taken to protect Britain?



Evacuation plans had been in preparation well before the outbreak of war. Small-scale evacuation of women and children were carried out in September 1938 but the real evacuation began in September 1939. The government had planned to evacuate about three million people but in the end only one million left home. A few hours after the war was declared on 3 September 1939, almost all of them had been evacuated from the danger areas to the reception areas.

Air raids

The biggest danger came from air raids. Air raids meant both danger and disruption. 60,595 civilians died as a result of enemy action in the UK. Homes, workplaces and public buildings were destroyed. Streets were subject to the ‘blackout’ – lighting restrictions – and the ban on street lighting caused a huge rise in car accidents. Volunteers were needed to be trained in civil defence duties. These included fire-fighting, first aid and ambulance driving.

Civilians were instructed in how to protect themselves against poison gas attacks and issued with gas masks, which they were encouraged to carry on all journeys. Fortunately, poison gas was never used as a weapon in Britain. They were also given materials to build air raid shelters in the backyards. Strong buildings were also prepared for use as air raid shelters.


The working lives of most of the adult population changed with the outbreak of war. To fight the war, men aged between 18 and 41 were needed in the navy and army. This would take them away from their jobs in factories and farms. To fill the shortage, women were recruited for jobs previously done by men. Women worked in the factories, constructing weapons and many others joined the Land Army to work on farms.


Much of the food, clothes and fuel which Britain needed came from abroad. The war disrupted and prevented these supplies from arriving. This meant shortages of the essentials to keep life going. In 1940, rationing was introduced in Britain. The ration book became indispensable for every man, woman and child, ensuring a fair distribution of what meagre essentials were available. The government also tried to encourage people to grow food on every available piece of land.


Another danger was from invasion. When in 1940 the Channel Isles fell into German hands and it looked as though the RAF was loosing the Battle of Britain, the government called on volunteers to join the Home Guard – Dad’s Army – to help defend Britain from attack.

Teachers' notes

In this lesson, students look at a series of posters, pictures and leaflets designed to persuade the public to support the war effort on the home front. Teachers may wish for the students to work in pairs or small groups on individual sources and report back to the group.

The first source examined by the students is a ‘Dig for Plenty Poster’ to encourage people to grow their own vegetables to support the war effort. This would help to prevent food shortages as Britain could not import food easily during wartime. The second source is a poster warning against the danger of not evacuating children. The government started a policy of evacuation to send children away from the cities, ports and industrial areas which were bomb targets to safer rural areas. In the third source students study a series of leaflets about gas masks. These include instructions on how to put them on, why and when they must be carried and what to do if you are injured by different types of gas. Source 4 is a poster used to encourage women to work during the war because it will help to defeat Hitler. The fifth source concerns air precautions. There is an information leaflet which explains how to protect yourself during air raids, warning signals for air raids and information about where to get help. There is also a picture of a house and garage labelled with instructions on how to protect your house from bomb blasts. Source 6 is an extract of a telephone conversation between a member of the public, Mr Cleave and a mine laying specialist in 1940. Mines had been laid on the beach to protect the coastline very near his home and he felt that there was danger of his house exploding by accident. The final source is a reminder to the public that careless talk is dangerous. Conversations can be overheard.

The lesson can also be used to support literacy for Key stage 2 on the concept of persuasive writing. Students can explore how the language of these government posters and leaflets is used to persuade. They can look in detail at persuasive devices such as slogans, humour and emotive language. They can consider how persuasive language is used to gain attention, influence and inform and can be adapted for different audiences and purposes.


Illustration : INF 3/96 – Dig on for Victory Poster

Source 1 : INF 3/98 – Dig for Plenty Poster

Source 2 : INF 13/171 – Don’t Do It Mother Poster

Source 3 A, B & C : HO 186/2247 – Gas Raid Quiz and Gas Mask Leaflets

Source 4 : INF 3/400 – Just a Good Afternoons Work poster

Source 5 A : HO 186/2247 – ARP Notice

Source 5 B : ZPER 34 – Air Raid house picture from the Illustrated London News, 1938

Source 6 : WO 199/94 – Conversation between Mr Celave & Capt. Denaro regarding beach mines

Source 7 : INF 3/232 – Be Careful what you say poster

External links

West Indies Calling (1944)
Film about the contribution of West Indians to the war at home and abroad.

Public information films from Second World War

MOI Reports
The website holds the Home Intelligence Reports of the Second World War which include regular surveys of public opinion on events, policies and the state of morale on the home front. Mostly National Archives documents, transcribed and keyword searchable.

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3

Time period: Second World War 1939-1945

Curriculum topics: Political and social reform, The Second World War

Suggested inquiry questions: How do these posters explain how the government encouraged people to support the war effort at home?

Potential activities: Students make different collection of government war posters and group them into themes. Design your own poster or leaflet to encourage people to contribute to the war effort.

Download: Lesson pack

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