Bombed out of their homes

The devastation to homes was a big issue during the Blitz.

With a high-density population coupled with often cramped living conditions and rows of houses located next door to important industrial and commercial centres, it was obvious that the homes of British civilians were going to be at the sharp end of any bombing attacks.

Homeless children during the Blitz.

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A woman made homeless by the Blitz receives a hit meal at a welfare centre in Bermondsey, London, in 1940.

Imperial War Museum

A typical bombing raid would see high explosive explosions and incendiary fire destroying nearby structures, sending shock waves and debris clouds hurtling through the air. Approximately 220,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged during the conflict, necessitating their demolition, and at least 3.5 million more homes sustained damage of some kind.

Calculating that number was challenging, in the opinion of Richard Titmuss, whose official history of wartime social policy became a vivid depiction of evacuation and the Blitz. Many people in the most severely bombed regions were affected more than once.

An ARP warden assists an east London family left homeless by the Blitz. The wave of bombing lasted nine months


Even with a conservative estimate, nearly 29% of the nation's pre-war housing stock was impacted. However, similar to fatalities, the majority of the damage was done in a small number of geographic locations.

The term "damaged" included a wide range of situations, from boarded-up broken windows to homes that were so seriously damaged that they were now uninhabitable until extensive repairs were made, or they were simply demolished. 35 civilians were bombed out of their homes during the Blitz for every fatality.

Homes in Coventry destroyed by Luftwaffe bombs during the Blitz.

Furthermore, the conclusion of the bombing was just the beginning of the issues for those many who were "bombed out." Not only did they need to locate housing, clothing, and food, but they frequently needed to replace the identity cards and ration books that had been indispensable to everyday life throughout the war. Sentimental or valuable objects were often lost forever, adding to the already considerable mental and emotional stress.

To make matters worse, the inability of several local authorities in London to quickly relocate the homeless from the rest centres established for their immediate care to safe new housing, before a fresh wave of victims poured in, caused enormous anger and a strong sense of abandonment during the autumn of 1940.

A distressed mother and children after their home had been destroyed during the Blitz.


Many people just departed the city after being bombed out or being driven to leave by the stress of living there. The majority of those who lost their homes did not go through the formal system, while some were evacuated by the authorities. Instead, they resorted to using their own resources, frequently because there was no other option. Some went to stay with family in the suburbs. Others relocated in order to work in the lucrative war manufacturing industry.

Men might stay to work and guard a wrecked house from looters but send their families to the countryside. From the smaller cities, the phenomenon of ‘trekking’ – leaving at dusk to spend the night in the countryside but returning at dawn – became notorious. The government worried it was an indicator of poor morale, before realising that it could do little but aid a form of existence that people had adopted in order to cope.

Two children looking at a sign offering shelter for a homeless family.

The government declared in 1939 that it would provide post-war compensation for homes, furniture, and clothing that had been harmed by enemy activity. It consented to provide certain bombed-out families advance payments in June 1940.

Then, in March 1941, a new War Damages Act imposed an annual fee that was required of all property owners and was backed by Treasury funds in order to give every home in the nation with contents and building insurance against bombing.

Although the bombed-out were supposed to receive advance money to assist them in relocating, the process of submitting and confirming claims took years. The programme ultimately paid out £117 million in compensation for household items (equivalent to around £4.5 billion today in real terms) and another £1,300 million over the following 20 years for building damage.

Life goes on as people walk up a shattered London street during the Blitz, 1940. In the very far left a group of Air-Raid Wardens, soldiers, and police officers can be seen pausing their efforte to have a cup of tea.

While the war was still being fought, however, rebuilding was all but impossible. Raw materials and production capacity were being ploughed into the military effort – including the construction of arms factories, army bases and airfields (some of which used the rubble from blitzed cities for foundations). Household goods and furniture were scarce or expensive.

Central and local authorities carried out more than 10 million building repairs, but the pace was slow and the work often consisted solely of enough patching to make some rooms habitable until the end of the war. New house building – a significant part of the economy in the late 1930s – effectively ceased until the end of hostilities.

Repairing bomb damaged roofs with canvas sheet.

The resultant increase in overcrowding and deterioration in living conditions was probably the most widely felt consequence of the Blitz. The war encouraged an elite urban planning movement that drew up detailed schemes to rebuild cities as modernist utopias of ring roads, flats and shopping centres. The provision of well-built accommodation for all was a fundamental part of the visions of the post-war welfare state.

A desperate popular desire simply for more and better housing played a large role in the 1945 election and would be a dominating theme in domestic politics for years to come.

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