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Why Britain's Achievements Astound the World

The War Illustrated, Volume 8, No. 197, Page 532, January 5, 1945.

In the sixth year of hostilities, Britain's War Cabinet has made possible the world wide assessment of our stupendous effort an almost incredible total of self sacrifice and labour which has brought us to the threshold of victory. Facts and figures hitherto secret, presented dryly in White Papers, have stirred the imagination of mankind and evoked wonder even from our Allies.

Greater than that of any other belligerent, thus can be summed up the war effort per head of the population (45 million) of Great Britain. Mobilised for every sacrifice, living and working under complete black-out for five years, "family life has been broken up, not only by the withdrawal of men and women to the Services, but by evacuation and billeting," says the White Paper (Statistics Relating to the War Effort of the United Kingdom, published by H.M. Stationery Office)

"Production has been made more difficult by the dispersal of factories to frustrate the air attacks of the enemy and by the need for training new labour to unaccustomed tasks. There have been two long periods when work was carried on under constant and severe air attacks. Since 1940, 1,750,000 men have given their limited spare time, after long hours of work, for duty in the Home Guard. Most other adult male civilians and many women have performed part-time Civil Defence and Fire Guard duties out of working hours."

Such is the background of toil and "leisure" in the Britain which, in long agony of blood and sweat and tears, has been converted to a miraculously efficient war machine. Hinging upon this, the White Paper brings generous comment from America (New York Times), as reminder to those in the U.S. of short memory, that the British were fighting Hitler, part of the time almost alone, for two years before the Japanese bombed us into the war."

Of the 13 million houses in the United Kingdom when war broke out, 4,500,000 have been damaged by enemy action. Of these, 202,000 have been totally destroyed or smashed beyond possibility of repair. Bombed out, blacked out, taxed to the extreme limit, "the people who performed these prodigies of labour," Comments Mr. Brendan Bracken, Minister of Information, "were fed on a monotonous ration and a dull diet, and have had a constant worry about coupons for this and that."

The terror by night, and oft-times by day, the privations, and the miseries of separation, have fallen heavily upon our children: 7,250 have been killed by the enemy on our home soil, the total of wounded and maimed has yet to be revealed. This grim toll of flesh and blood totalled, to the end of August 1944, 57,298 civilians killed (including 23,757 women) and 78,818 injured and detained in hospital. In the Armed Forces of the U.K., from the outbreak of war to September 3, 1944 the killed numbered 176,081, the missing 38,275, the wounded 193,788, and prisoners amounted to 154,968. Our Merchant Seamen list on their roll of honour the names of 29,629 killed.

By mid 1944 there were in our Armed Forces 4,500,000 men. In the auxiliary services, whole time Civil Defence, or industry, there were over seven million women and girls. The aircraft industry alone absorbed two million workers and up to June we had built 102,609 aeroplanes. In these five years we have produced more than 35,000 guns, heavy and light artillery for field and A.A. purposes. And in addition, 3,729,921 machine and sub-machine guns, also 2,001,949 rifles. Tanks amounted to 25,116, and wheeled vehicles of all kinds 919,111. Our shipyards have turned out 5,744 naval vessels.

The severe drain on our man and woman power for war work and services dislocated home and other living conditions to an, abnormal degree. The building trade, textile, clothing and other industries suffered a loss in workers equal to almost one-half of the pre-war total; in 1944 the number was 2,900,000 as against 5,798,000. Imports, because of the acute pressure on Allied shipping, sank to an all-time low level. Even firewood became so rare as to be unobtainable, except in districts devastated, by enemy action. Expenditure on boots and shoes was cut by a quarter; clothing by one-half, hardware (pots and pans generally) by two-thirds, furniture by three-quarters, bicycles and cars by nine-tenths. And the fighting and the working went on, increasing in volume. Our war expenditure has mounted to nearly £25,000,000,000. In direct taxation we paid in 1943 the sum of £1,781,000,000, in indirect taxation £1,249,000,000. In the same period government spending amounted to £5,782,000,000.

Equally surprising revelations, affording both friend and enemy more food for serious thought, are given in another White Paper (Mutual Aid, Second Report, from H.M. Stationery Office,) concerning Britainís reverse Lend-Lease to America and other Allies. "The total of Mutual Aid furnished by His Majesties Government in the United Kingdom to their Allies," the Report says, "exceeds £1,000,000,000. All this has been given, without payment, in furtherance of the principle that the resources of the United Nations should be pooled for the common war effort."

Success of the Allied landing in France depended largely on the prefabricated harbours, one for British the other for U.S. use, which were designed and constructed in this country. Among other items handed over to the U.S. forces were two complete floating docks; pontoon units numbering 2,110; 200 cranes; 12 coasters and 30 lighters; 3 hospital carriers.

Training requirements for U.S. forces in Britain gave rise to serious problems, but these were all surmounted regardless of cost. "In one agricultural area about 3,000 civilians were removed, and eight villages evacuated in order to give space for training with live ammunition." Movement about this country of American troops in the six months ending June 30, 1944, involved 9,225 special trains and 650,000 wagons; hundreds of thousands of tons, in addition, were transported by road and canal. British ships carried 865,000 U.S. troops across the Atlantic; the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth brought over 320,500.

In many cases our factories met the entire requirements of the U.S. forces, including sparking plugs for certain types of aircraft; 558,500 up to June 30, 1944, and a further 600,000 plugs had been shipped to the U.S. Other supplies comprised 2,104 aircraft (500 were gliders), with an additional 570 aircraft engines; 137,000 jettison fuel tanks to increase the range of fighter planes; 50,000 pieces of armour plate for aircraft; 29,000 aero tires and 22,000 aero tubes; and 7,087,802 jerricans (petrol containers) were delivered in the first 6 months of 1944.

Those jerricans, turned out by the million in British factories, played an immense part in winning the Battle of France. "Without them," declared President Roosevelt, "it would have been impossible for our armies to cut their way across France at that lightning pace, which exceeded the German blitz of 1940." The special point about these petrol tins is that they are oblong, enabling them to be packed in great numbers on a lorry or other vehicle, and they are known as "jerricans," because "Jerry" invented them. British production followed the capture of one of Rommelís petrol convoys by the 8th Army.

We supplied to U.S. forces food grown in the United Kingdom to the value of close on £8,000,000. To Russia we shipped material for the Soviet fighting forces, numerous items, in one year, including 1,042 tanks, 6,135 miles of cable, and two million metres of camouflage netting; naval supplies were represented by 195 guns of all calibres with 4,644,910 rounds of ammunition. To China, to European Allies, to Portugal and Turkey vast streams of arms, munitions, equipment or other aid flowed from our shores. As fitting conclusion to a severely condensed account of part of the Homelands effort comes President Rooseveltís declaration that all this has made a "life and death difference in the fighting this year."


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