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Life experiences in wartime

Entries are listed alphabetically. The first line (in bold) is the term used to describe the subject, which is also a hyperlink to every item in the IBCC Digital Archive described with that tag. The second line (in italics) contains alternative forms, such as spelling variants, abbreviations or colloquialisms. Each entry is supplemented with a definition, background information, applicability, and links to related concepts.

Indentations are used to denote a parent/child structure, in which the main entry is a broad category followed by sub-categories. This allows for users to either narrow or expand the focus of their searches.

Personnel of diverse ethical background served in the Allied forces; equally, white people were often stationed outside Europe. The following tags are used:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
African heritage
Asian heritage
First nation

A) Civilian and military alike.


An animal kept primarily for company and entertainment, rather than a working animal or livestock; includes mascot. It was not uncommon for Bomber Command aircrew to have pet dogs, some of which became informal mascots for their squadrons. A few examples: Guy Gibson had his dog, now buried at RAF Scampton. Antis, an Alsatian, flew on about 30 sorties with his Czech air gunner owner in 311 Squadron and was awarded the Dickin Medal. Ciapek, an Airedale Terrier, was the mascot for 305 Squadron, flew on nine sorties and survived a ditching and dog Kiwi flew in the Lancasters of 300 Squadron at RAF Faldingwoth. All against regulations but unofficially allowed to maintain morale. Most Bomber and Coastal Command aircraft carried pigeons which could be released in case of ditching. They were often looked after by the wireless operator and it has been estimated that one in seven ditched aircrew were located by pigeons.

arts and crafts

The skills of making objects, such as decorations, furniture, and pottery by hand, with special reference to the pastimes of prisoners of war.


Event, performance, or activity primarily designed to entertain others. Used in reference to storytelling, music, drama, social dance, playing cards or any sort of board games, panto, film, comedy, fireworks etc. See also sport. BBC Radio provided news and entertainment primarily through its Home Service and The Forces Programme. The Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) provided forces entertainments during the war. ENSA was part of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI). On Bomber Command stations common entertainment events were films and local dances.


Confidence or trust in a particular system of religious belief. Used in reference to religious objects such as Bible, holy card, rosary, prayer, crucifix etc.


To be afraid of someone or something likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful, especially in war-related situations.


The response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. See also heirloom.


An object purposely treasured for its value as keepsake, often passed by older members of a family to younger members over many years, especially when something has been intentionally re-purposed, transformed and manipulated. Used in reference to a case or mounted on stand, a lock of hair, a cigarette box etc.  See also memorial, grief.

 love and romance

The emotional feeling of love for, or a strong attraction towards another person, and the action expressing these emotions. Used in reference to wedding photographs, images people displaying affections, love letters etc., portrait signed ‘with love’ etc. On Bomber Command stations men and women served alongside each other in close proximity and many stations were also located close to towns and villages. Both factors presented many opportunities for wartime romances and relationships. However wives and families were seen as a distraction to senior commanders and Arthur Harris banned all wives living within a 40 mile radius from their husband’s station.


Any kind of unmovable artefact which serves as a focus for a memory, an event or mark a spot. See also heirloom and griefBomber Command memorials can be found in many forms. Large sites include the memorials at Green Park in London and the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln. Many previous Bomber Command stations have memorials. Memorials to individual aircrew are often found in churches, schools, village halls, crash sites and plaques. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains many war cemeteries, including the Runnymede memorial in Surrey for RAF personnel lost with no known grave. The National Memorial Arboretum is a centre of Remembrance.


Competition among branches of military service or individuals.


Actions related to clean drinking water and adequate treatment and disposal of sewage. Used in reference to to toilet, bath, showers, Elsan toilets etc. Heavy bombers in Bomber Command all had an Elsan chemical toilet. They were rarely used as aircrew were reluctant to leave their positions even for a few moments in case they were attacked. In addition the manoeuvring of the aircraft, extreme cold and the thick layers of flying clothing made using them impractical. Some aircrew took bottles for use if they were caught short.


Any form of competitive physical activity intended to provide enjoyment to participants and/or entertainment for spectators. See also physical training for activities primarily intended to improve service fitness. Informal activities on squadrons and stations included football, cricket, rugby and cross-country running. Sport and physical training was a very important activity in prisoner of war camps for keeping fit and maintaining morale.

Used for: lucky charm; talisman; jinx; premonition; chop girl; amulet; ritual; luck; fate; magic; supernatural; miracle

Any item, ritual or behaviour believed to bring luck and afford protection, including the objects related to that belief. Used in reference to four-leaf clover, rabbit's foot, horseshoe, charm bracelet and any kind of lucky charm. Aircrew could be superstitious, some carried lucky charms or performed rituals, or thought some actions or objects were unlucky. Some ground personnel believed they could predict that individual aircrew members would not return from an operation.

B) Military personnel in all armed forces

Absent Without Leave
Used for: AWOL

Absent without authority from one's place of duty in the armed forces. Being Absent Without Leave (AWOL) is an offence under military law. It occurs when service personnel are intentionally or negligently absent from their unit, or other place of duty, without authorisation by a superior officer. Examples of ‘going AWOL’ include improperly leaving a unit or being late back from authorised leave. If the individual goes AWOL but has no intention of returning to duty then it becomes the more serious offence of Desertion.

coping mechanism

Any action that enhances psychological comfort, especially in response to war-related stress. Coping mechanisms often described in connection with Bomber Command aircrew includes use of gallows humour, drinking, boisterous off-duty evenings in the mess or local pub or alternatively individuals becoming quiet and withdrawn. Others became fatalistic or simply accepted that it was a job to be done. In prisoner of war camps coping mechanisms for dealing with captivity included getting involved with activities related to entertainment, arts and crafts, sports or simply writing letters home.

Used for: demob, back to civvy street

The process of being discharged and returning to civilian life. By the end of the war Britain had 5 million people in uniform, many were abroad. Ernest Bevin devised a simple and transparent system for demobilisation in which 90% were allocated to groups according to their age and length of service. The other 10% had their demobilisation accelerated due to their vital civilian jobs. Everyone in the same group was to be discharged at the same time. However this required repatriation from overseas before demobilisation of all people in the same group so progress was initially slow. By the end of 1945 only 200,000 had been demobilised which caused frustration and resentment. However by the end of 1946 80% had been demobilised, although the scheme ran until 1949.

final resting place

The place where someone is buried, also used for the search for the whereabouts of mortal remains. Used in reference to headstone, war cemetery, and for correspondence with the Imperial War Graves Commission, now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. During the war Bomber Command casualty lists were compiled by the Germans and passed through to the British Air Ministry via the International Red Cross. In December 1944 the RAF Missing Research and Enquiry Service was formed to investigated the circumstances of loss and whereabouts of the bodies of missing aircrew.

in the event of my death letter

A written statement intended to be read in the case of the author's demise. Aircrew sometimes left letters to be sent to friends or family if they were missing or killed.

military discipline
Used for: DNCO, Duty Not Carried Out; DNCO, Did Not Complete Operation, discharge, military punishment, jankers, court martial, glass house, imprisonment, demotion, draft dodger

The incomplete or incorrect performance of duty, especially in wartime. Some offences can be dealt with by local commanders but more serious offences require a court martial. Depending on the seriousness of the offence sanctions or punishments range from loss of leave, extra duties, a fine, demotion through to dismissal or imprisonment.

military ethos

Feeling and duties toward other member of armed forces and the military in general. Used in reference to comradeship, honour, respect of peers, leadership, respect or disdain towards the enemy. For reasons for joining, see also recruitment.

military living conditions

References to accommodation, billeting, especially when in the context of lack of comfort. Used in reference to living quarters, people brushing footwear, polishing buttons, ironing or mending clothing, plus any reference to off duty time which cannot be captured under sport, entertainment, and arts and craftsMilitary living conditions for Bomber Command personnel ranged from the relative comfort in requisitioned hotels and pre-war RAF stations to the discomfort of the more basic stations built rapidly during the war with cold and damp Nissen Hut accommodation. One indication of the living conditions at RAF Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire which opened in 1943 is that it quickly acquired the nickname ‘Mudford Magna’.

military service conditions

Any form of subjective experience, feeling and sensation experienced in combat or training: tiredness, cold, noise, lack of sleep, stress, nausea, fatigue, elation during the first flight, etc.

Used for: RAF Volunteer Reserve, RAFVR

The activity of selecting people for military training and employment. At the start of the war many men attended recruitment centres in Britain volunteering for military service. Britain also imposed conscription on all males aged between 18 and 41. Men who were medically unfit or in key jobs were exempted. From December 1941 conscription was extended to all unmarried women and childless widows between the ages of 20 to 30 and men were expected to do some form of National service up to the age of 60. Despite conscription some branches of the military remained entirely voluntary. The RAF Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) became the main aircrew entry process gradually replacing the original  pre-war regular RAF aircrew. By the latter parts of the war more than 95% of Bomber Command aircrew had entered via the RAF Volunteer Reserve.

C) Civilian populations

childhood in wartime

Wartime exposed children on the home front in all combatant countries to an extraordinary range of experiences. Fathers, older siblings and other relatives could be called up to the services and some never returned. Children either witnessed or were caught up directly in bombing raids, firestorms and saw dead and disfigured bodies. Some lost relatives, friends, neighbours and homes and saw enemy aircraft bombing or strafing. Aircraft crashes were witnessed. Schooling was disrupted by evacuations or frequent trips to bomb shelters and food was rationed. In Occupied Europe children experienced their countries being subjugated by enemy troops and some families became displaced refugees or suffered starvation. Some children saw killings and post-war shaming of collaborators. Children experienced the relief of liberation. For some children in Britain the war was also an adventure with fund raising for prisoners of war, blackouts, watching aircraft on nearby airfields or dogfights in the sky, collecting shrapnel or wreckage pieces, exploring bomb sites and befriending military personnel stationed nearby.

Civil defence
Used for: civil protection, emergency preparedness, air-raid preparedness, civil protection

Organisation and training of civilians to be prepared for attacks in wartime, including the immediate response to aerial bombing. See also home front. In Britain (ARP), Italy (UNPA) and Germany (RLB & SHD) civil defence command structures varied from military control to civilian control and different organisational approaches were taken ranging from volunteers, conscription and compulsory membership. However the duties and responsibilities were common to all countries and included wardens educating and guiding the civil population, managing warnings and shelters, fire-fighting, first-aid, search and rescue as well as co-ordination and communication roles.

Air Raid Precautions

Air Raid Precautions (ARP) was a British civilian service organised by national government but implemented by local authorities to help protect the civilian population during bombing raids. Volunteer wardens were recruited many of whom also had full time jobs. ARP Wardens monitored the blackout, managed the sirens, directed people towards air-raid shelters, reported fire and bomb damage and helped assess the need for local rescue services. Women were involved in ARP duties through the Women’s Voluntary Service as was the Auxiliary Fire Service. In 1941 the ARP was renamed Civil Defence Service. A total of 1.5 million people served in the ARP during the war.

Sicherheits- und Hilfsdienst

Sicherheits und Hilfsdienst (SHD) translates as the Security and Assistance Service. It was established in 1935 as the German civil protection service charged with rescuing victims of bombings. In 1942 control was transferred from the Aviation Ministry to the Police and it was renamed Luftschutpolizei (LSP) which translates as Air Raid Protection Police. Working alongside technical emergency and fire services the SHD/LSP’s main responsibilities included firefighting, decontamination, rescue, repair and medical. The organisation comprised men over the conscription age who were drafted into full time civil defence service. 

Unione Nazionale Protezione Antiaerea

Unione nazionale protezione antiaerea (UNPA), which translates as National Anti Aircraft Protection Union, was an Italian civil defence body established in 1934. Membership was voluntary until the war declaration in 1940, when the organisation was militarised. Members were deployed as emergency preparedness instructors, safety inspectors, wardens, runners, and as first aid squads tasked to extricate casualties from debris. Many testimonies contain references to the UNPA’s activities in major Italian cities. Its efficiency, however, declined sharply as the bombing war progressed: most members were elderly people or men unfit for conscription and it became increasingly difficult to maintain equipment. Disbanded in 1945, its name became a byword for something ineffectual or silly.

displaced person

A person who is forced to leave their home country because of war or persecution, a refugee. See also evacuation.


Protecting civilians from the risks associated with aerial bombing of cities by moving them to areas thought to be less at risk. See also displaced person. The evacuation of civilians during the Second World War was designed to protect people, particularly children, from the risks associated with aerial bombing of cities by moving them to areas thought to be less at risk.


Extinguish fires, especially when caused by enemy action. In Britain the Auxiliary Fire Service was formed in January 1938 and fire stations were set up in schools, garages and factories. In August 1941 the Auxiliary Fire Services were reorganised to form The National Fire Service. The Fire Services were part of the Air Raid Precaution, later Civil Defence Service, including wardens and fire watchers who also played in a role in firefighting. RAF stations also had their own firefighting services to deal with crashes.

home front

The specific activities of civilians living in a country in a state of war. Used in reference to mobilisation of women, rationing, shortage of petrol and textiles, references to coupons, bartering, picking of wild fruit, home-reared animals, hardship, make-do and mend, spent ordinance picked up for scrap value, transport disruption etc. See also civil defence. With the advent of air power World War Two was total war and each nation’s civilian populations became involved through direct air attacks, industry and rationing. In Britain children were evacuated, women worked in factories, drove buses and ambulances or joined the women’s land army and some conscripted men worked coal mines instead of being allocated to the military forces.

Used for: Pippetto, il notturno

A semi-legendary aircraft which flew over northern Italy at night, remembered for the ominous droning sound it made. Tradition had that Pippo can spot even a minor light and drop bombs accurately at it. Some have tried to match accounts of Pippo with different aircraft types and specific operational missions, others have framed the phantom aircraft as an example of wartime lore spread in a context of superstitions, hearsay, lies and rumours.

Red Cross
Used for: RC, International Red Cross

A humanitarian organisation founded to protect human life and health. The International Committee of the Red Cross (often shortened to Red Cross) is based in Geneva in Switzerland. The Red Cross aims to protect war wounded, prisoners of war, refugees and non-combatants during conflicts. During World War Two the role of the Red Cross was based on the 1929 version of the Geneva Convention and involved monitoring prisoner of war camps, exchanging messages regarding prisoners and aiding civilian populations. Bomber Command casualty lists compiled by the Germans were passed to the British via the Red Cross. Allied aircrew held in prisoner of war camps were supplied with Red Cross parcels. The Soviet Union and Japan were not signatories to the Geneva Convention precluding Red Cross aid to their prisoners. The Nazis denied Red Cross access to concentration and death camps and the Red Cross acknowledges it failed to protect victims of the Holocaust.

Used for: the Underground, Maquis

Fight occupying forces by non-cooperation, disinformation and propaganda, hiding or spiriting away aircrew, or engaging with regular forces. Resistance groups, also often called Underground, formed in all countries occupied by the Germans during the war to oppose and defy the occupying troops. The Special Operations Executive was formed in 1940 to foster resistance in Occupied Europe. Organised escape lines, especially in Belgium and France, helped evading and escaping Allied aircrew.

Used for: air-raid shelter, bunker

An enclosed space or structure designed to protect people from explosive weapons such as bombs or missiles, especially dropped by aircraft. Civil defences during the war included air-raid shelters to protect civilians during bombing attacks. Shelters ranged from small dugouts to vast underground complexes intended to accommodate thousands of civilians, complete with facilities such as first aid posts, sanitation, independent water supply, auxiliary power, and emergency exits. Britain issued individual households small Anderson or Morrison shelters whereas Germany preferred Hochbunkers, or massive concrete towers which in some case doubled up as anti-aircraft fire emplacements. Across Europe existing underground structures were repurposed as shelters: tunnels, fortifications, caves, quarries, mines, cellars, basements, culverts and even catacombs. Major cities such as London, Paris and Berlin used their underground transportation systems. In German cities, people trapped in basement and cellar shelters were killed by the heat from fires above or by carbon monoxide poisoning.

D) Nazi atrocities and related concepts


Hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews just because they are Jewish. See also Holocaust, and ethnic or religious minority. Anti-Semitism is anti-Jewish racism which continues to this day. It has taken many forms over the centuries, culminating in the Holocaust during the Nazi era in Germany 1933-1945.

forced labour

Any work or service which people are forced to do against their will, especially under threat of punishment. Used for Germany and Germany-occupied territory, especially within the context of the Todt Organisation. See also Holocaust for references to death camps. Enslaved labourers were often exploited with utter brutality and working conditions were generally harsh. The concept of forced labour overlaps with the Holocaust with some concentration camps providing workforce for civilian businesses and military factories. Forced labour was used for V-weapon assembly. The Organisation Todt, a civil and military engineering group, also extensively used forced labour in a wide array of projects including concentration camps, underground shelters and constructing military emplacements. Following the armistice between Italy and the Allies in 1943 the Germans subjected Italian military internees to hard labour.

Used for: Shoah, genocide, mass murder, extermination

The systematic state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. See also ethnic or religious minorities, anti-Semitism. From achieving power in 1933 the Nazis implemented increasingly anti-Semitic policies. Denying rights, creation of ghettos, murdering Jews and then expanding such practices into conquered territories with concentration camps, death squads and the first death camp led to the 1942 Wansee Conference which set in place the organisation to implement ‘The Final Solution’ for European Jews. From then until 1945 the Nazis killed European Jews using poison gas on an industrial scale in multiple death camps with crematoria to dispose of the bodies. The Nazis also targeted Roma, Sinti, Slavs, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, the disabled and other minority groups. 


Systematic gathering together of people by a hostile force for the purpose of interrogation, searching, detention or deportation. Round-up was a widespread practice in occupied countries, whereby Waffen-SS, Wehrmacht, Fascist militiamen, or other forces forcibly captured and detained groups of civilians. It frequently involved the cordoning-off of streets and the systematic search of buildings and people. Those apprehended could be sent to forced labour, kept for prisoner exchanges, summarily executed in reprisal actions, or sent to concentration or death camps. Most round-ups took place in the context of the Holocaust or anti-partisan operations: they feature prominently in the testimonies of those who were at the receiving end of the bombing war as part of an overarching experience of fear, brutality and uncertainty.