Post-war Britain and changes to lifestyles
'Victory in Europe' was celebrated on 8th May 1945. Street parties were widespread because it was a day of joy - but the joy could not last: The country was in a dire financial state with a national debt of around 5 times pre-war values. Over a quarter of a million of the military never came home and civilian deaths were more than 60,000. Furthermore, around a third of houses were destroyed as well as numerous factories. Wartime rationing had to continue for many years for reasons explained on the post-war rationing page and there remained shortages of food and raw materials.
In 1945 there was a general election and the labour party headed by Clement Attlee came to power with a landslide victory. A welfare state was established with the National Health Service providing free healthcare for all. Much of major industry including railways and coal mining was nationalised.
Changes in family life
Family life changed dramatically: for children, women and the returning men. Tensions were very high as these changes were not quick or easy - see below.
Lifestyle changes for children
Children had grown up rarely or not at all seeing their fathers and they frequently did not even know them. Suddenly they were expected to get used to this strange man in the house, and they resented the time and attention that their mothers gave to these 'strangers'.
Lifestyle changes for women
During the war much of the workforce in industry had been women. They had been key workers and held positions of responsibility in what had originally been men's jobs. Yet now they were expected to forfeit these jobs to adopt more feminine poses and to be happy looking after homes, cooking, cleaning and caring for their husbands and families. Some women may have welcomed this, but no means all did. A separate page gives more on the propaganda to change women's roles and behaviour to free up their jobs for the returning men.
Some women - following the forced separations from their husbands - had taken up with other men. So there were divorces.
Lifestyle changes for men
Some men - like my father - had had their jobs held open for them throughout the war, but not all were so fortunate. These men had to look for work, and what they found was not always to their liking or did not utilise the new skills that they had learnt. There was effectively full employment as so much needed to be done to recover from the war, but it was not necessarily what the men wanted or at a wage that their skills and experience merited.
Also, throughout the war, men had lived and been treated as equals with others of the same rank, but at home again, they found themselves immersed back in the British class system.
Many men returned home from overseas to find sons and daughters who they had never seen. Some resented the attention that their wives were giving to these children; some strove for a father-child relationship that was difficult to obtain as the children were no longer babies, and some had to cope with divorces as their wives had taken up with other men during their time apart.
There were also emigrations, particularly to Australia as men came back with reports of a new and vibrant country where it was possible to make one's way. The cost of passages were subsidised to just £10, so as to increase the population of Australia. Individuals and families that emigrated under this system became known as 'Ten pound Poms'.