The Blackout in Britain in World War Two
What the Blackout was and why it was necessary
During the blitz of World War Two, no household, no factory and no anything was allowed to show any light at all at night that might provide a landmark for enemy bombers.
It is easy to forget how primitive location devices were in World War Two, and of course in all the years previously. There were maps but it was difficult not to get off course without landmarks to show where one was.
The immediate impact of the Blackout on the public
The first real impact of the war on me was the blackout - the dramatic darkness everywhere. From bright lights and security, all seemed pitch black and menacing.
How the blackout affected lights on vehicles is on another page.
How the Blackout was regulated
Being so young, I remember little of the blackout, although I do vaguely recall black linings or black curtains and someone coming to the front door to say that we were showing a light. I later learnt that he was the air raid warden, the ARP man. He was often caricatured as aggresively yelling, "Put that light out!", but I seem to remember him being far more polite.
How the Blackout was made less onerous - double summertime
Blacking out lights was made less onerous because the government moved the clocks to make the evenings lighter than they would normally have been. In the same way that Britain has 'summertime' in the summer to give an extra hour of daylight in the evenings, there was 'double summertime' in the war. Clocks were moved two hours forward rather than just the one. I remember finding it difficult to get to sleep in the summer because the sun was still streaming though my bedroom window at 10 o'clock at night. I was not alone in this: it was a topic of conversation for mothers of young children who 'couldn't get the children down at night'. The mornings of course were darker.
How people made their blackouts and blackout curtains
In 1939 a leaflet on how to set up blackout and why it was essential was distributed to the public. However, as the next boxes show, people developed their own ideas on how best to do it.
Beaver Board was commonly used for blackout. It was a sort of soft fibrous board which could almost be cut with a penknife. It was used with a bar of wood which was thick enough to hold, and which was screwed through the fibre board, so that it could all be lifted up, and put into place. It wasn't too difficult to fit it into the windows, as it was fairly soft and pliable, and quite lightweight.
My mother made our blackout curtains from black material which was off-ration. Several thicknesses were often required. Most housewives made their curtains on treadle sewing machines because electric ones - if they existed at the time - were not luxuries for ordinary people.
In our house the blackout was either black wooden boards or wooden frames covered with several thickness of blackout material. I can't remember which. When it got dark these were lifted up and hung from hooks above the window. [This method required the window frames to take hooks, but as they were always made of wood, there would have been no problems. Pat Cryer]
In our house we used press studs to keep the blackout in place. One half of the press studs were sewn onto the black fabric and the other half were nailed to the window frame.
Other blackout precautions
Anything white had to be covered at night because it reflected light.
Washing on garden clothes lines
Women had to remember to take in their washing before it got dark because large white items would reflect what little light there was and so indicate to aircraft that they were over a populated area.