The human cost

In the UK, enemy action resulted in the deaths of 60,595 British civilians during the war. 7,736 of them were kids. Civil defence workers put in a lot of effort to exhume bodies and portions of bodies from the wreckage of destroyed buildings so they could be identified and buried. The majority of the time, remains were given back to families for burial, with the exception of the most severe raids, where health risks mandated mass burials. Relatives who had passed away usually had a body and a gravestone to mourn over.

During the Blitz, the enemy also gravely injured 86,182 individuals, including 7,622 children. Many more people had less serious injuries that could be treated on the spot, most often cuts from glass fragments and dust-covered eyes.

3-year ol Blitz victim Eileen Dunne, recovering in hopsital.

Cecil Beaton

Nowhere was safe

Individual incidents of the war could stand out for the number of deaths even during the more quiet times. Half of the 62 people died and 82 people gravely hurt in one occasion when a stick of bombs hit a boys' school in Petworth, Sussex, during the final week of September 1942, more than a year after frequent major raids on Britain ceased. Even though such attacks were relatively rare, the bereaved nevertheless had to deal with the consequences of them.

The organisation Air Raid Precautions, which was created to protect Britons from air raids, placed a lot of emphasis on preparing homes for attack, but bombings frequently occurred outside of people's homes, including in the street, on public transportation like trains and buses, at work, or in establishments like bars, theatres, and nightclubs.

A bomb victim is pulled from the debris in London in 1940 by rescue services with a distinctive 'R' on their helmets.

Royston Leonard

Grim tragedies

One family's story painfully illustrated that it was also something that might happen to the same family over than once in various situations.

Before the war, the married couple resided in the East End of London with their two children. Mom and the kids were relocated to a village close to Cambridge early in the Blitz when the rental home was destroyed by bombing. Dad remained in London only to witness the destruction of the factory he worked at. After that, the family moved back to London where they lived with Mum's parents until a new baby was born and Dad was drafted into the army. At the end of June 1944, he was at his post in Shropshire when a flying bomb struck the family's new house, sadly killing everyone save the youngest member of the family.

Rescue workers take the names and addresses of injured air raid victims following the Nazi bombing on the city of Coventry, 15th November 1940.

A Bermondsey woman whose mother and eight-year-old daughter had both vanished after a major raid. She went to the mortuary after four days of searching: "And when I looked, I'd never experienced such a shock in all my life. I wondered, "Oh dear now, can it be true?," as I noticed that all of her tiny hair was burned and that the entire area of her face where she had placed her fingers was completely ablaze. … Afterward, I asked myself, "Well, what about my mother?" And we never did find anything of mother at all. And I don’t think a day goes by without we don’t talk of my mother and my little daughter.”

A rest centre for civilians during the Blitz, London, 1940.

During the Blitz, rest centres were established across London to provide temporary shelter for those whose homes had been destroyed or damaged in the bombings. These centres, which were often located in schools, community halls, and other public buildings, offered basic amenities like food, water, and blankets to those in need.

The rest centres also provided medical assistance, counselling services, and information on where to find permanent housing. The use of rest centres was essential in helping Londoners to cope with the effects of the Blitz and provided a vital support network for those affected by the bombings.

Original photograph by Cecil Beaton.


It is significantly more difficult to determine the full degree of the bombing's psychological and emotional harm. The psychiatric wards were not overrun, despite prewar expectations. Psychiatrists noted that despite the fact that victims of violent raids frequently displayed symptoms of acute shock, almost all of them recovered pretty rapidly and required little more help than a kind word, a warm blanket, and a cup of tea.

However, the media's celebration of stiff-upper-lip fortitude may have deterred those with more serious reactions to the horrors they witnessed from coming forward. Blitzed areas experienced an increase in stomach symptoms and chronic indigestion, which could not merely be attributed to the poor quality of wartime diet. Mental distress seems to have manifested in various ways.

A Red Cross ambulance collecting a victim of the Blitz.

Government support

Civilians who were hurt by bombs were eligible for a government pension under laws hastily passed on the first day of the war, so long as they could prove that their injuries were the direct result of enemy action. However, the Ministry of Pensions explicitly disallowed compensation for mental illnesses that were "merely brought on by trepidation and worries generated by enemy activities where there is no physical injury." The state would not make up for a mental breakdown brought on by the noise of bombs landing elsewhere.

As the case of "Mrs. T," a Hull movie usherette and air raid warden, illustrates, this could result in severe issues for patients whose interior injuries were not discovered right once. During a raid, Mrs. T was struck by a collapsing ceiling and managed to flee, but she was left dumb. She stammered when she finally spoke again. She lost her work, but she was unable to receive War Injury Allowance since her doctor would not verify that the explosion had caused her ailment.

She wasn't inspected again until the Lord Mayor's Fund stepped in; only then was she admitted to the hospital and given a payment until she was able to resume working. She rejected the suggestion to leave Hull in case there were more raids and instead opted to remain in her own house.

Further reading