Outbreak 1939

By Editor, 26 August 2009 - 3:33pm

A new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London is set to address how British people coped with the outbreak of the Second World War.

Outbreak 1939 details the events surrounding the declaration of war with Nazi Germany through the eyes of ordinary  - and not so ordinary - people. Marking the seventieth anniversary of the announcement of the conflict, this free event explores how the outbreak of war changed the lives of millions of ordinary people, charting evacuations, hasty marriages, and the country’s ill-fated optimism that the war wouldn’t be costly.

Historical material, both personal and political, offers a detailed account of the first months of the war, as Neville Chamberlain’s personal diary is displayed alongside letters, photographs and memorabilia donated by families across the country. Betty McDonnell, who was evacuated from London to Sussex at the age of eight, has given the exhibition the teddy she took with her and the handwritten note she was instructed to copy from a blackboard: "If wireless says children to be evacuated tomorrow you must come to school with luggage at 7.30am."

Everybody is familiar with 1940 and our finest hour, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz," said the museum's senior historian, Terry Charman, "But many people are unfamiliar with the first few months of the war and the unwarranted optimism that this war could be won on the cheap."

Visit www.iwm.org.uk.

For more on the lives of children evacuated during the first months of World War Two, see the feature in our September issue, available through our back issues service. Click here for more news.

Kathryn Gresswell

Photo © Imperial War Museum

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